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Bipartisan members of Congress, Jewish professors oppose antisemitism bill

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A coalition of Republican and Democratic lawmakers, nearly 700 Jewish professors, and others oppose an antisemitism bill sent to the U.S. Senate arguing it’s unconstitutional and doesn’t adequately address antisemitism.

After the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks against Israel, pro-Hamas riots and violence against Jewish students on college campuses erupted, prompting U.S. Rep. Michael Lawler, R-NY, to file the Antisemitism Awareness Act.

The bill summary states it provides statutory authority to require the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights “to consider the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA’s) working definition of antisemitism when reviewing or investigating complaints of discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.” The IHRA definition states, “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.”

It cites examples of antisemitism occurring in public life, the media, schools and the workplace, including denying the Holocaust, accusing Jews or the state of Israel of inventing or exaggerating it; “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 … such as … Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions; denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination … by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” among others.

The bill passed in the U.S. House on May 1 by a vote of 320-91, with 70 Democrats and 21 Republicans opposing it. So far, the Senate has taken no action on the bill.

U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-NY, the longest-serving Jewish Democrat in the House, strongly opposed the IHRA definition of antisemitism, saying it “may include protected speech in some contexts, particularly with respect to criticism of the State of Israel. … Speech that is critical of Israel alone does not constitute unlawful discrimination.”

Nearly 700 Jewish faculty members from U.S. colleges nationwide agreed, arguing, “Criticism of the state of Israel, the Israeli government, policies of the Israeli government, or Zionist ideology is not – in and of itself – antisemitic.” They urged Congress “to reject any effort to codify into federal law a definition of antisemitism that conflates antisemitism with criticism of the state of Israel,” including codifying the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, “which has been internationally criticized for conflating antisemitism with legitimate criticism of Israel.”

Nadler argues the DOE OCR is already investigating discrimination, including claims of antisemitism. The Center Square first reported it’s currently investigating 100 claims of alleged Title VI violations at colleges and universities.

Some House Republicans also opposed the bill, arguing it’s unconstitutional and would criminalize Christian beliefs.

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, said she opposed it because it “could convict Christians of antisemitism for believing the Gospel that says Jesus was handed over to Herod to be crucified by the Jews.”

She points to an example that states, “using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus are blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.”

Bible-believing Christians believe that Jesus, a Jew, fulfills Old Testament prophecies as the Messiah and son of God. They also believe the New Testament gospel accounts, which state that Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea, ordered Jesus to be killed after Jewish religious leaders accused him of committing sedition. Christians also point to the biblical accounts of Jesus’ disciple Peter and the apostle Paul, who said he was killed by fellow Jews.

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, said he voted against the “ridiculous hate speech bill” because it was “written without regard for the Constitution, common sense, or even the common understanding of the meaning of words. The Gospel itself would meet the definition of antisemitism under the terms of this bill.” Citing biblical texts, he said, “The Bible is clear in that its words plainly, textually, would violate this law. That is nuts – and in deep conflict with the First Amendment.”

Last week, President Joe Biden said those calling for the annihilation of Israel and supporting Hamas’ “appalling use of sexual violence to torture and terrorize Jews” was “absolutely despicable and it must stop.”

Nadler and other House Democrats filed a resolution calling for the implementation of the U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism and for increased funding for DOE OCR Title VI enforcement.