House Passes Anti-Semitism Bill Amid Campus Unrest

House Democrats voted alongside Republicans on the Antisemitism Awareness Act, and House Democrat leadership announced their intention to support Speaker Mike Johnson if Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) moves to oust him.

The House on May 1 passed an anti-Semitism bill as pro-Palestinian protests escalate across college campuses in the country.

The legislation passed the lower chamber in a broadly bipartisan 320–91 vote. That included 21 Republicans and 70 Democrats who opposed the legislation, many of whom expressed concerns about a potential chilling effect that the bill could have on free speech due to some ambiguities in the way it’s written.

The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which will now go to the Senate for consideration, would apply Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to Jews. Title VI prohibits entities that receive federal taxpayer dollars from discriminating on the basis of race, national origin, or color.

This bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), would have the U.S. government adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism.

Anti-Semitism, according to the IHRA working definition, 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.”

Mr. Lawler said he hoped Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) would push the legislation through the Senate.

It’s unclear how this vote will go, as many senators were cagey about their stance on the bill when probed on the issue by The Epoch Times.

Mr. Lawler also said the recent wave of anti-Semitism on college campuses was, in part, because school administrators “have failed to do their jobs,” citing the seizure of a building by protestors at Columbia University on April 29. The New York Police Department received permission from the university on the evening of April 30 to clear the building of demonstrators.

“This is establishing, at its core, that if you are engaged in rhetoric and behavior that is anti-semitic, there’s going to be consequences,” Mr. Lawler told The Epoch Times.

The bill comes as House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) announced efforts by the House to crack down on anti-Semitism on college and university campuses. This will include investigations and hearings by multiple committees.

What Constitutes Anti-Semitism?

Every lawmaker who spoke with The Epoch Times on April 30 condemned anti-Semitism in the strongest terms, even those who opposed the legislation.

The controversy over the bill arises from concern over its definition, which some lawmakers felt was too vague or too susceptible to misuse.

Many said they were concerned that criticism of the state of Israel, or its government, would be considered antisemitic under the new rule, though IHRA’s website states that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a progressive, expressed this duality by saying, “My concern is that it violates First Amendment speech. I mean, I think we have to have space for the criticism of government, but we can absolutely condemn the vile threats and toxic rhetoric against Jewish or Muslim students.”

Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.), also a progressive, echoed these sentiments.

“I think that anti-Semitism is real, and it’s rising around the country,” she said. “What this bill will do, which is very dangerous, is to say that if I’m criticizing the Israeli government—as I have done—that is antisemitic and that is not correct.”

In response to these concerns, Mr. Lawler told The Epoch Times that “being anti-Zionist is being antisemitic.”

“You can disagree with policy decisions of the Israeli government; that’s a separate discussion,” he clarified. “But if your opposition to Israel is that it’s a Jewish state, it’s rooted in antisemitism; people can try to mask it as much as they want, but at its core, that’s what it is.”

Pro-palestinian Protests Continue At Columbia University In New York City
Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) speaks during a press conference outside of Columbia University in New York on April 22, 2024. (David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

Mr. Khanna, when asked about Mr. Lawler’s comments, said, “If that’s how someone is defining Zionism, I agree that the Jewish people should have self-determination and have the state of Israel.”

However, he continued, “When you have an expansionist view that includes the West Bank and Gaza, that’s an occupied territory, and I think it’s fair to criticize the occupied territory.”

The West Bank consists of neighborhoods under Israeli and Palestinian jurisdiction, while Gaza is controlled by Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group.

While not opposed, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, in a letter to House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), called for a comprehensive bill to combat anti-Semitism, which has been introduced, to be brought before the House floor. This bill, the Countering Antisemitism Act, would include the establishment of a White House anti-Semitism czar to deal with domestic hatred toward Jews— something the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act would not do.

“The effort to crush antisemitism and hatred in any form is not a Democratic or Republican issue,” wrote Mr. Jeffries. “It’s an American issue that must be addressed in a bipartisan manner with the fierce urgency of now.”

Nonetheless, Jewish and pro-Israel groups have called on Congress to pass the Antisemitism Awareness Act.

Democratic Majority for Israel, which supports pro-Israel Democrats, posted on X, formerly Twitter, that the bill “would be a crucial step towards defining & combatting rising antisemitism across the country.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition, which supports pro-Israel Republicans, reposted on its page on X statements in favor of the bill.

“One cannot defeat what they are unwilling to define, and this legislation offers the guiding definition of antisemitism, which has been acknowledged by a majority of states in our nation,” said Christians United for Israel in a statement.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations came out opposed to the bill, comparing it to former Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s (R-Wisc.) investigations of people and entities he accused of supporting communism in the 1950s.

The bill, stated the organization on X, “would escalate a McCarthy-era hysteria aimed at silencing criticism of the Israeli government on college campuses by pressuring colleges and universities to enforce the overbroad, widely disputed #IHRA definition of antisemitism.”

The legislation also received condemnation from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which came out in opposition to the legislation on April 26.

The civil liberties organization called the definition in the bill “overbroad,” saying it “equates protected political speech with unprotected discrimination

The ACLU added, “enshrining it into regulation would chill the exercise of First Amendment rights and risk undermining the Department of Education’s legitimate and important efforts to combat discrimination. Criticism of Israel and its policies is political speech, squarely protected by the First Amendment.”

With the bill passed by the House, it has two more steps ahead of it before it can become law.

As with most legislation, Mr. Schumer will have the final say on if it comes to the floor for a vote.

Though a similar bill passed the Senate unanimously years ago, the issue presents a political conundrum for President Joe Biden and the Democrats.

President Biden is himself an outspoken supporter of Israel, but is likely also weighing the political costs of that support as the college protests rock the nation.

Because the bill is in direct response to those protests, largely driven by left-wing student agitators who would otherwise be likely to support President Biden, the issue is a thorny one for Democrats to navigate.

Neither Mr. Schumer nor President Biden have given a clear image of their stance on the legislation.

From The Epoch Times

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