To read this op-ed by B'nai B'rith International Director of Legislative Affairs Eric Fusfield in the Jerusalem Post, click here.
It should be axiomatic in American politics: If both David Duke and Louis Farrakhan support your position, you should reconsider it.
Such is the dilemma for US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), whose repeated antisemitic remarks have drawn approbation from curious places. She remains insufficiently apologetic, though.
Omar’s intransigence is made somewhat understandable by the failure of the House of Representatives to issue an unequivocal condemnation of either her behavior or the wider problem of antisemitism. In confronting the world’s oldest and most resilient social problem, Congress did what would have been unthinkable in condemning, say, racism or misogyny: it folded the problem into a litany of horribles that included discrimination against multiple other groups.
Former presidential candidate Martin O’Malley was booed and pressured to apologize when he responded to the Black Lives Matter movement by declaring, “All lives matter.” This is because his pat, all-inclusive formulation diminished the immediate problem of racism, particularly as it pertained to black victims of police violence. But this is what Congress has done in response to antisemitism, at a time when one of its own members is practicing it. In its own “All Lives Matter” moment, Congress is avoiding dealing with antisemitism by refusing to confront it squarely.
The anti-hate resolution passed by the House condemned antisemitism as a “hateful expressions of intolerance,” at the same time as it also condemned Islamophobia and discrimination against all minorities as “hateful expressions of intolerance.” It referenced the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville and the mass synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh while simultaneously deploring the oppression by white supremacists of “traditionally persecuted peoples,” including people of color, religious minorities, immigrants “and others.”
The 19th century Dreyfus affair in France is offered as an example of a false Jewish dual-loyalty accusation, while more recent examples, such as Japanese-American internment during World War II or post-9/11 discrimination against Muslims, were used to illustrate some of the threats faced by populations in the United States.
Despite the best efforts of Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Florida), the resolution’s initial drafter, the final amalgamated product is a sweeping condemnation of all bad things, rather than a serious attempt to address antisemitism. The catch-all resolution acknowledged that antisemitism is one of many forms of discrimination in America, but there are a number of things it did not tell us. For example:
• Antisemitism is a unique and uniquely persistent social illness, featuring distinct manifestations and sometimes requiring distinct solutions. Today, it is at its greatest peak since World War II.
• Hate-crime statistics demonstrate that Jews are by far the most targeted religious group in the United States.
• Antisemitism appears both on the far Left and the far Right of the political spectrum, but its alarming growth on the Left, among minorities and among young people, is pushing antisemitic viewpoints further into the mainstream.
• Holocaust denial is a glaring aspect of antisemitism. The increase in distortion or minimization of the Holocaust speaks to the need for more education, something that is within Congress’s purview.
• The impingement on Jewish religious practices such as circumcision and kosher slaughter (shechitah) is a growing concern worldwide and poses an existential threat to many Jewish communities abroad.
• The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism and the State Department’s fact sheet on antisemitism contain definitions of the problem that should be widely circulated to increase understanding of it.
• Israel, Israel, Israel. The House resolution mentions Israel only once, in its reference to the myth of Jewish dual loyalty. But many of the most common manifestations of contemporary antisemitism involve anti-Israel hatred that crosses the line into antisemitism. We are frequently reminded that legitimate policy criticism of Israel should not be confused with antisemitism, as though that needs to be explained. However, the resolution did not speak about the appropriation of traditional antisemitic motifs in service of an anti-Israel message, something that has become a regular feature of political discourse today.
• The resolution did not explain that political events in the Middle East or elsewhere can never justify antisemitism, as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has already declared. It also skirted the harm done to the Jewish community – which is overwhelmingly pro-Israel – when the Jewish state is demonized, for example, by obscene comparisons to apartheid South Africa or Nazi Germany. Or by the imposition of double standards on Israel when it attempts to defend itself from security threats, for which most Western countries have little appreciation or understanding.
When antisemitism spiked nearly two decades ago in response to the Second Intifada, officials in Europe were slow to react to the problem, dismissing it at first as a temporary reaction to events in the Middle East. Proponents of a “holistic” approach to combating social hatreds argued that there should be no “hierarchy of discrimination,” implying that antisemitism should not receive a special focus and should instead be grouped together with other phobias. We have now heard similar arguments in the US Congress, which collectively rejected a standalone resolution on antisemitism. Nearly two decades after the start of the current wave of antisemitism, some minds have yet to change on this issue.
Eric Fusfield, Esq. has been B’nai B’rith International’s director of legislative affairs since 2003 and deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy since 2007. He holds a B.A. from Columbia University in history; an M.St. in modern Jewish studies from Oxford University; and a J.D./M.A. from American University in law and international affairs. Click here to read more from Eric Fusfield.
More than 25 years ago President George H.W. Bush signed into law, with bi-partisan support, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is legislation that provides civil rights protection for people with disabilities. Amongst the many protections the bill affords the disabled community is the ability to access places of public accommodation. Because of the ADA, disabled persons have an easier time entering doctor’s offices, shopping centers, grocery stores, restaurants and other public places.
Recently, the House of Representatives passed the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 620), which despite its name, does severe harm to disabled persons. The bill creates additional and unnecessary roadblocks for the disabled community to file civil actions for violations of the ADA regarding places of public accommodation. Under current law an aggrieved individual who can’t access a business can file a complaint with United States Department of Justice, bring litigation or talk with the business owner. It should be noted under federal law that people who file lawsuits and are victorious are only entitled to injunctive relief (removal of the barrier) and attorney’s fees. They are not entitled to damage awards.
Under H.R. 620 the burden would be unfairly shifted to disabled persons to make sure the business community is complying with the ADA. For example, this legislation would force the aggrieved party to file written technical notice, often needing a lawyer, give the offending party 60 days to respond, then force the victim to wait another 120 days to see if “substantial progress” is made to fix the problem, before the matter can legally enter the court system. Is the United States Congress reasonably expecting people with a non-legal background to understand the technical intricacies of the ADA to file notice?
In addition, if businesses are not legally required to make their accommodations accessible under the ADA, what incentive do they have to comply before a complaint is filed in court? Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) who uses a wheelchair said on the House floor, “The idea that places of public accommodation should receive a free pass for six months before correctly implementing a law that has been a part of our legal framework for nearly three decades creates an obvious disincentive for ADA compliance.”
Presently, 16 million seniors have one or more disabilities, with mobility issues being the most common. Are proponents of the bill going to argue the elderly community should have to wait six months or more to visit a hospital or doctor’s office because it’s not accessible? Not to mention being barred from everyday activities like going shopping or the movies.
The ADA has been the law of the land for the past 28 years. Are members of Congress going to argue that businesses have not had enough time to comply with the ADA’s requirements? The ADA National Network, funded by the federal government, offers no cost technical assistance to businesses about how to comply under the law. Furthermore, this assistance is offered at 10 regional centers around the country, and there are tax credits available to businesses that remove barriers for the disabled community. Having almost 30 years of notice, tax credits and the ADA National Network, it’s hard to cry foul that the ADA is too onerous.
Lastly, proponents of the bill believe it’s a necessity because of unethical attorneys who are bringing frivolous lawsuits. People on both sides of this debate can agree that unwarranted litigation is a problem in this country. However, this bill does nothing to fix that problem! First, as referenced above, federal law does not permit plaintiffs to collect damages for cases filed under Title III of the ADA. While it’s true some states permit monetary damages for violations, the current proposal does nothing to change state law. Most importantly, what other member of a federally protected class must wait months to exercise their civil rights against discrimination?
When Bush signed the ADA he said, “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.” Sadly this legislation recreates exclusionary walls for disabled Americans that the ADA fought so hard to knock down. Presently, the United States Senate has shown better judgment than the House of Representatives, with 42 Senators promising to block any vote on this shameful legislation. While that is good news for the disabled community, let’s hope these senators’ commitment does not waiver.
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Assistant Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
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