Who’s Really Against the Antisemitism Bill? The Answer Might Just Blow Your Mind

Rena Schild / shutterstock.com
Rena Schild / shutterstock.com

On Wednesday, lawmakers decided it was time to expand the playground rules, passing a bill that broadens the definition of antisemitism. This new decree, now in the hands of the Department of Education, aims to beef up anti-discrimination laws—just in time to respond to the recent explosion of student protests nationwide stirred up by the Israel-Hamas scuffle.

The bill breezed through the House with a 320-91 vote, but not without a little drama. Some Democrats, itching for a more tailored definition that wouldn’t ruffle progressive feathers, threw in their two cents. And in a twist no one saw coming, a few right-wing Republicans also popped up to join the opposition party. Seems like politics makes strange bedfellows, doesn’t it?

Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) stressed the importance of tackling antisemitism and all forms of hatred regardless of political affiliation. He emphasized that it’s not solely a Democratic or Republican concern but rather an American one, urging bipartisan cooperation.

Dubbed the Antisemitism Awareness Act, the proposed legislation would require the Education Department to embrace the expansive definition of antisemitism employed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. This definition, utilized by an intergovernmental body, would then serve as the basis for enforcing anti-discrimination laws.

The bill aims to embed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism into Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This section of federal law prohibits discrimination based on shared ancestry, ethnic characteristics, or national origin.

The push to pass the bill was the latest fallout in Congress from the wave of protests engulfing university campuses. Republican lawmakers have vocally condemned these demonstrations, calling for measures to halt them and inadvertently placing university leaders at the heart of a heated political debate surrounding Israel’s actions in the Gaza war.

Opposition comes from figures such as Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, who argues that the bill “threatens to chill constitutionally protected speech” and is “overly broad,” according to a Politico report.

However, leaders within the Jewish community endorse the bill, citing a need to address anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses where Jewish students face assaults and threats by anti-Israel activists.

Criticism from some Democrats focuses on the IHRA working definition’s categorization of specific criticisms of Israel—such as denying the Jewish state’s right to exist or likening it to Nazi Germany—as anti-Semitic. These critics support an alternative called the “Nexus definition,” which does not view such criticisms as inherently anti-Semitic.

The IHRA definition has the backing of 34 member countries and has been endorsed by over 40 countries globally, along with at least 33 U.S. states. In contrast, the Nexus definition was developed by a coalition that includes progressive political consultants and academics, some of whom are vocal critics of Israel and advocates for boycotting the state.

The Nexus Task Force is against having a universal definition of antisemitism. They believe that such a definition would prevent discussions on U.S. policy towards Israel and the Middle East and would lead to unfair accusations of antisemitism. However, Rabbi Eric Fusfield of B’nai B’rith disagrees with this view. He argues that concerns about the definition limiting free speech are unfounded, as the definition itself clarifies that criticism of Israel alone is not a form of antisemitism. It is, however, anti-Semitic to engage in hatred, vilification, and illegitimate double standards against Israel.

The leadership of the Nexus Task Force includes Jonathan Jacoby, a progressive activist critical of Israeli policies towards Palestinians and a defender of those who label Israel an “apartheid” state. The task force also includes figures like David Biale, a history professor who supports boycotting Israel, and Mira Sucharov, a political science professor who has expressed similar views.

Additionally, Jeremy Ben-Ami of the advisory committee, who heads the group J Street, aims to reduce the Democratic Party’s traditional support for Israel. Raja Khouri, another committee member, has made strong accusations against Israel, including charges of “genocide” against Palestinian civilians.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, opposed the bill, stating to reporters on Tuesday that she believed Republicans were exploiting antisemitism for political gain.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R -GA) opposed the bill due to her disagreement with one of the examples of antisemitism outlined in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition. Specifically, she took issue with the mention of using “symbols and images” like “claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel” about Israel or Israelis.

Similarly, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) voted against the bill for comparable reasons, citing the same example of antisemitism. He emphasized his viewpoint in a statement, asserting that the biblical narrative leaves no room for debate or controversy.

The bill’s prospects remain uncertain as it heads to the Senate.