House approves antisemitism bill amid pro-Palestinian campus protests

House approves antisemitism bill amid pro-Palestinian campus protests

The House approved a bill Wednesday that seeks to crack down on antisemitism on college campuses, a measure that hit the floor as pro-Palestinian protests roil universities across the country.

The chamber approved the bipartisan legislation — titled the Antisemitism Awareness Act and introduced by Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) — in a 320-91 vote, sending it to the Senate for consideration. Twenty-one Republicans and 70 Democrats opposed the measure.

The bill would require the Department of Education to use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism when enforcing antidiscrimination laws.

The group defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews” and says “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.”

The organization provides a number of examples for what qualifies as antisemitism, including calling for the harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion, and accusing Jewish individuals as inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.

The vote took place as a wave of pro-Palestinian protests on dozens of college campuses nationwide have escalated in recent days, with some demonstrators’ rhetoric veering into antisemitism. Demonstrators took over a building at Columbia University, prompting a police response.

More than 1,500 people have been arrested on college campuses since April 18, according to CNN.

The protesters have used chants and slogans such as “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and have demanded their institutions divest from companies with connections to Israel.

Lawmakers have waded into the fray, with some defending the protesters but many condemning them.

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) led a group of GOP lawmakers to Columbia last week, where the members slammed the protesters and called on them to go back to class. A group of Jewish House Democrats did the same days earlier.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), meanwhile, met with the protesters at Columbia in the same week, and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) — one of three Muslim lawmakers in Congress — spoke with pro-Palestinian demonstrators at the University of Minnesota.

On Wednesday, hours before the antisemitism vote, a group of House Republicans who sit on the Oversight and Accountability Committee visited George Washington University, the site of another pro-Palestinian protest.

The protests have triggered debates over free speech on campuses and what is considered antisemitic speech.

That debate made its way up to Capitol Hill on Wednesday as the House prepared to vote on the Antisemitism Awareness Act.

A handful of progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans opposed the legislation over concerns that it would chill free speech.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) called the legislation a “ridiculous hate speech bill.”

“Antisemitism is wrong, but this legislation is written without regard for the Constitution, common sense, or even the common understanding of the meaning of words,” he wrote on social platform X.

“The rise of antisemitism in America and especially on college campuses is abhorrent and disgusting, but I will not violate my constitutional principles to vote for a bill that tramples on the First Amendment and won’t make a positive impact on this issue,” Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) echoed in a post on X.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said despite having “devoted much of my life to combatting antisemitism,” he was against the “misguided bill” and “threatens to chill constitutionally protected speech.”

“Speech that is critical of Israel—alone—does not constitute unlawful discrimination.  By encompassing purely political speech about Israel into Title VI’s ambit, the bill sweeps too broadly,” he added in a statement on the House floor.

Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.) in a statement raised concerns about conflating antisemitism with criticisms of the Israeli state.

“While we must unequivocally stand against islamophobia and antisemitism in all their forms, it is dangerous to conflate antisemitism with the criticism of the Israeli state or the extreme and xenophobic nationalist policies they have supported. Nationalist movements deny our shared humanity and interconnectedness. Criminalizing young people who are using their voices to call for peace endangers both the well-being of the students and the health of our multiracial, multicultural democracy,” she said.

The Department of Education has numerous ongoing investigations into antisemitism on college campuses.

In a hearing on Tuesday, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona decried the action of protesters at Columbia University and did not rule out pulling federal funds if an investigation found a violation of Title IV.

“I think what’s happening on our campuses is abhorrent,” Cardona said. “Hate has no place on our campuses. And I’m very concerned with the reports of antisemitism. I’ve spoken to Jewish students who have feared going to class as a result of some of the harassment that they’re facing on campuses. It’s unacceptable, and we’re committed as a Department of Education to adhering to Title VI enforcement.”

Original co-sponsors of the legislation included Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Max Miller (R-Ohio), Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.), Thomas Kean Jr. (R-N.J.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), David Kustoff (R-Tenn.), Donald Norcross (D-N.J.) and Shontel Brown (D-Ohio).

This story was updated at 8:19 p.m. EST

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