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Top Jewish groups have found themselves divided on a new bipartisan bill that would cut federal funding to any U.S. academic institution that endorses boycotts of Israel.
Two pro-Israel groups reportedly came out against the anti-boycott measure following a Thursday Washington Free Beacon report about the bill, which seeks to cut taxpayer funds to any academic group that supports Israeli boycotts.
Both the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) were said to have rejected the bill just hours after it was filed in the House, according to BuzzFeed.
However, AIPAC, the nation’s top pro-Israel lobbying shop, disputed the report when reached for comment late Thursday.
“This is not true; we have just received the bill and we are reviewing it,” an AIPAC source told the Free Beacon when asked about the BuzzFeed report.
The ADL, when reached for comment Friday, would not reject the bill, but hinted that it is opposed.
“We welcome any effort to challenge or fight the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement in colleges and universities,” Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, told the Free Beacon through a spokesman. “However well-intentioned, we are not sure that this bill would be the most effective means of recourse.”
The “Protect Academic Freedom Act,” jointly filed on Thursday by House Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (R., Ill.) and Rep. Dan Lipinski (D., Ill.), would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 “to prohibit an institution that participates in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions or scholars from being eligible” to receive federal funds, according to text of the legislation.
Sources who spoke to BuzzFeed slammed the bill as unconstitutional.
“The legislation is almost certainly unconstitutional, it’s a bad law, and it reinforces stereotypes about Jewish influence,” a source described as a pro-Israel Democratic strategist familiar with the groups’ thinking was quoted as saying. “It’s so bad that AIPAC and ADL oppose it.”
Those Jewish groups that oppose the bill find themselves standing in opposition to Israel’s most recent U.S. ambassador, Michael Oren, who helped initiate the measure.
Groups opposed to the bill are also lined up against fellow pro-Israel organizations.
Christians United For Israel (CUFI) executive director David Brog told the Free Beacon that his organization “strongly supports” the legislation.
“At a time when so many other forms of hate speech are being prohibited on our campuses, nothing in this bill limits the rights of the anti-Israel crowd to preach, teach or demonstrate their hatred of the Jewish state,” said Brog.
“I'm disappointed that important Jewish groups are failing to recognize the distinction between legitimate anti-Israel speech and illegitimate anti-Israel boycotts,” he said. “We are fortunate to have leaders like Rep. Roskam and Rep. Lipinski who have the moral clarity to understand this difference and the courage to stand by their convictions.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which combats global anti-Semitism, also threw its support behind the bill after it was made public.
"The Simon Wiesenthal Center commends this bipartisan bill,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Simon Weisenthal Center’s associate dean, told the Free Beacon. “Its introduction sends a signal to academic BDSers that there's no more free lunch for their bigotry.”
The Israel Project (TIP), a leading pro-Israel group, also hailed the legislation as a major step towards preventing “anti-Semitic” boycotts of the Jewish state.
“It makes eminent sense that Congress is considering common sense legislation to ensure the American people aren’t funding the work of extremists who seek to weaken and destroy Israel,” Josh Block, TIP’s president and CEO, told the Free Beacon.
“No U.S. taxpayer’s money should go to subsidize entities who engage in such vile behavior, because it is wrong and fueled by anti-Semitic tropes and an anti-Israel derangement syndrome,” said Block.
A senior congressional source working on the bill said that pro-Israel groups who oppose the bill are ignoring their principal mandate.
“I would be shocked to see any bona fide pro-Israel organization line up on the other side of this issue, partnering with those seeking to use higher education institutions—including their federal monies—to push a radical agenda of shutting out all Israeli universities and scholars without respect to their views or their fields of study, simply on the basis of their connection to the Jewish state,” the source said.
Anti-Israel activists quickly mobilized against the legislation.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), a group that has rallied against Israel in the past, urged its supporters to oppose the bill.
The ADC claimed the bill was proof that Congress does Israel’s bidding.
“Through the BDS movement, activists are seeking to create international pressure on Israel to abide by international law and end the occupation of Palestine,” the group said in a press release. “If passed, this bill will reveal the extent to which the American Congress instinctively seeks to protect Israel, even at the expense of time-honored American traditions like free speech and association.”
Anti-Israel activist Max Blumenthal also came out against the bill on Twitter.