South Carolina representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill Thursday that would combat a rising tide of anti-Semitism on college campuses across the country.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, said South Carolina college campuses have not seen an increase, but by strengthening the definition of anti-Semitism, they will be better protected.
“It sends a strong message to every other state in this nation to follow suit to stem the tide of rising anti-Semitism,” Clemmons said on the House floor. “If there is a breach of a law or of campus policy, the administrators on campus will then have this uniform definition to apply the facts to, and determine what the intent was that led to those attacks.”
The definition is based on a 2010 U.S. State Department document that defines anti-Semitism as a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.
Rep. Jonathon Hill, R-Townville, was originally a sponsor of the bill but eventually took his name off the bill and voted against it, with only two other colleagues Thursday. Using the State Department definition, developed under President Barack Obama’s administration, was one of several reasons he voted against the bill.
“It does not necessarily account for the rights of American citizens to free speech,” Hill said about the definition. “It’s designed for application in a geopolitical context.”
The bill faced strong opposition from pro-Palestinian groups that turned out in force for a hearing on the bill earlier this year and are expected to do so when the Senate holds hearings.
Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Columbia, expects, however, that the Senate will also easily pass the bill.
“It does not infringe on any First Amendment rights, it does not affect the curriculum of what a professor wants to teach in class,” Bernstein said. “This is aimed at combating all the anti-Semitic incidences that we are seeing across the nation at an alarming rate.”
Bernstein said if the Senate passes the bill, South Carolina would become the first state to have such a definition of anti-Semitism on the books.