Tennessee Puts Off Effort To Define 'Anti-Semitism' On Campus After Students Say It's Not A Problem

Apr 5, 2017

Tennessee lawmakers are delaying until next year a proposal to define anti-Semitic speech on college campuses.

The move came after several University of Tennessee-Knoxville students testified Wednesday that hate speech is not a problem at their school.

The proposal, known as the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act or House Bill 885, responded to a social media debate that erupted last fall over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some UT-Knoxville students say they received anti-Semitic comments.

But Jordan Schipowitz, a senior and the past president of the Jewish organization Hillel, told lawmakers that didn't match up with what she'd seen.

"I've never experienced anti-Semitism personally on my campus, so when I had heard that people were making comments as to there being an anti-Semitic climate on my campus, it was extremely shocking."

University officials blamed outside groups for stirring up the controversy. Many of the anti-Semitic remarks made online came from people who weren't part of the university, they say, and coverage of the dispute was distorted to keep it going.

The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law was one organization that got involved. It supported the proposed legislation, arguing that debate over the Israeli-Palestinian relationship sometimes tips into hate speech.

Ken Marcus, the Brandeis Center's president, said a clear definition of anti-Semitism would head off future disputes.