House Passes ‘Antisemitism Awareness Act’ in Response to Campus Protests

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House Passes ‘Antisemitism Awareness Act’ in Response to Campus Protests  jews
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The United States House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to formally codify a definition of antisemitism, expanding the legal scope of the term to better enforce anti-discrimination laws in the education system amid a wave of pro-Palestine activism on college campuses. However, the “Antisemitism Awareness Act,” which was approved by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the House, has raised significant free speech concerns among critics given its vague language and far-reaching legal implications.

Introduced by Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY), the Antisemitism Awareness Act expands Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include the definition of antisemitism established by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. The IHRA’s current “non-legally binding working definition” says that antisemitism is “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

When put up for a vote, the House passed the bill 320 to 91, with 187 Republicans and 133 Democrats voting in favor. Only 21 Republicans and 70 Democrats objected to the measure, and nine members of each party abstained from voting.

According to the bill’s proponents, the passage of the Antisemitism Awareness Act marks an important step towards addressing the rise in antisemitism on university campuses.

“When people engage in harassment or bullying of Jewish individuals where they justify the killing of Jews or use blood libel or hold Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the Israeli government — that is antisemitic,” Rep. Lawler stated. “It’s unfortunate that needs to be clarified, but that’s why this bill is necessary.”

House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-NY) said that the act codifies an executive order from former President Donald Trump “and is an incredibly important step to ensure that Jewish students and community members at America’s universities feel safe once again on campus.”

However, according to the bipartisan minority that objected to the bill, the bill constitutes a significant threat to free speech and is ripe for government overreach.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) of the House Judiciary Committee argued in floor remarks that the expanded definition could undermine the enforcement of civil rights law rather than strengthen it. Nadler, a Jewish progressive, also took issue with the IHRA’s examples of antisemitism, which “may include protected speech in some context, particularly with respect to criticism of the state of Israel.”

Republican dissenters raised similar concerns about outsourcing speech regulations to an outside special interest group. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) pointed out that a definition of antisemitism does not actually appear in the bill itself, but rather points back to the IHRA’s list of contemporary examples. These include but are not limited to:

  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
  • Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government, or other societal institutions.
  • Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
  • Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers), or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

Under the Antisemitism Awareness Act, any of these behaviors would be considered a violation of federal civil rights law. As the bill points to the IHRA’s “contemporary examples of antisemitism” as the legal definition, it is theoretically possible for the law to change every time the group adds another example to the list.

“This is a poorly conceived unconstitutional bill,” Massie wrote on X.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) took the criticism a step further, declaring the act “a ridiculous hate speech bill” and arguing that “the Gospel itself would meet the definition of antisemitism” established by the law given the IHRA’s prohibition against “claims of Jews killing Jesus.”

“The Bible is clear. There is no myth or controversy on this,” Gaetz wrote. “Therefore, I will not support this bill.”

He followed this declaration with a selection of the Bible verses in question, including:

“Be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him this man is standing before you well.” – Acts 4:10

“For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus which are in Judea; for you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all men by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they may be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins.” – 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16

You denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” – Acts 3:14-15

After passing the House, the Antisemitism Awareness Act now moves on to the Senate, where there has already been a bipartisan push to embrace the IHRA’s definition. If the upper chamber approves the measure, the bill will pass to President Joe Biden for final approval.