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A tip of the hat to the Department of State, which had the guts and good sense to express its opposition (sort of) to congressional legislation creating an office for monitoring “anti-Semitism.”
The bill passed both houses of Congress by voice vote and was signed into law by President Bush last week.
It’s a very silly and dangerous measure.
“We opposed creation of a separate office for the purpose and opposed the mandating of a separate annual report,” a State Department spokesman told the press. “We expressed the view that separate reports on different religions or ethnicities were not warranted, given that we already prepare human rights reports and religious freedom reports on 190 countries.” [Anti-Semitism office planned at State Department, By Nicholas Kralev,Washington Times, October 14, 2004]
But the Department isn’t dumb. Having seen how easily it passed, the spokesman explained also why the law really wasn’t a problem after all:
“It´s more of a bureaucratic nuisance than a real problem. We are not going to fight a bill that has gained such political momentum.”
You bet your pension you’re not.
The bill did not, of course, pass Congress because there was such a massive groundswell of grassroots support for it. It passed because Jewish organizations demanded it, and no sitting politician wants to get on the wrong side of these groups.
That’s why the bill passed the Senate by agreement and the House by voice vote—there’s no debate and no record of how anyone voted.
Pushed by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and most other major Jewish organizations, the bill requires the Department to record acts of physical violence against Jews, their property, cemeteries and places of worship abroad, and the response of local governments to them.
As the Department notes, it already issues reports on “human rights”abuses, and there’s no special reason why attacks on Jews should be recorded separately.
If the lobbies that represent such categories can make enough noise for it, there would be such reports. The State Department could then spend all its time recording what should be the concern of local police departments.
The Department was right the first time that the bill requires a duplication of what it already does, but that’s not what’s really wrong with the law.
What’s wrong with it is that it opens one more door to the criminalization of thought and expression.
The bill requires only that acts of physical violence against Jews be recorded, not expressions of anti-Semitism, but you can bet the bill’s promoters will soon be pushing to include what they claim are “anti-Semitic” expressions to be reported as well. As press reports noted,“among the attacks that prompted passage of the bill” was “the recent claim by former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad that Jews ‘rule the world by proxy.’”
That’s the sort of stuff the State Department will now have to record and report about?
Last year the British Parliament debated a bill that would have allowed British citizens to be extradited to European Union countries to stand trial for expressing “xenophobia and racism” if the expressions were broadcast into countries where they are illegal, as in several European countries they are. It didn’t pass, and the law just enacted doesn’t do that, but all of it is part of the same pattern.
The pattern is the criminalization of thought—for “xenophobia,” “racism,” “white supremacy,” “homophobia,” “anti-Semitism,” “patriarchalism,” and any number of other isms, manias and phobias unknown to any language a few years ago.
What really drives the crusade to criminalize thought and expression is not any legitimate revulsion against real violence (which is already illegal) but the compulsion of powerful and well-organized lobbies to muzzle criticism.
Neoconservatives are already claiming that criticism of them is really “anti-Semitism,” which is what they also said about the recent FBI investigation of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) for espionage for Israel, and what the Anti-Defamation League and many other Jewish spokesmen said about Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” and what the same groups say about criticism of Israel or of U.S. policies toward Israel.
It might be a lot simpler if the State Department had to report on what isn’t anti-Semitism.
The list would be a lot shorter.
What is worrisome about the new law is not that the Department will have to duplicate what it already does but that what is not anti-Semitism at all, let alone violence, but merely criticism and dissent will be demonized and curbed.
Maybe in some minds that was the real purpose of the law all along.
And maybe, before the congressmen and senators all shouted their approval of the measure, they should have talked and thought about it a little more than they did.