House passes bipartisan Antisemitism Awareness Act by wide margin

House passes bipartisan Antisemitism Awareness Act by wide margin

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act by a margin of 320-91 on Wednesday.

The bill, H.R.6090, would require the Department of Education to use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism when considering whether Jews had been discriminated against under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The legislation also discourages the use of other definitions, which may impair “enforcement efforts by adding multiple standards and may fail to identify many of the modern manifestations of antisemitism.”

Critics cited concerns that the measure would stifle free speech. Of the 91 who voted “nay,” 70 were Democrats and 21 were Republicans.

The U.S. Department of Education has used the IHRA definition of antisemitism in civil rights cases since 2018. The definition was given the force of law for executive agencies after former president Donald Trump issued an executive order applying the IHRA definition to Title VI cases in 2019.

Two of the House Republicans who voted against the measure on Wednesday said that they were opposed to it because the IHRA definition states that “claims of Jews killing Jesus” are “classic antisemitism.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said that she would vote against the bill because of the role of “the Jews” in the crucifixion.

“Antisemitism is wrong, but I will not be voting for the Antisemitism Awareness Act of 2023 (H.R. 6090) today that could convict Christians of antisemitism for believing the Gospel that says Jesus was handed over to Herod to be crucified by the Jews,” Greene wrote. “Read the bill text and contemporary examples of antisemitism like no. 9.”

The bill, which was sponsored by Reps. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Max Miller (R-Ohio) and Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.), includes both the IHRA definition and its “contemporary examples.”

The ninth example that Greene highlighted describes one potential case of Jew hatred as “Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) similarly condemned the bill, claiming that the IHRA definition attacked the New Testament.

“This legislation is written without regard for the Constitution, common sense or even the common understanding of the meaning of words,” Gaetz wrote. “The Gospel itself would meet the definition of antisemitism under the terms of this bill!”

“The Bible is clear,” Gaetz added. “There is no myth or controversy on this.”

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta was quick to condemn Greene’s remarks on Wednesday.

“One area that is not controversial in the IHRA definition: Blaming Jews for the death of Jesus is antisemitic,” the Atlanta JCRC wrote. “It has been the most consistent, most used excuse for Jew-hatred for nearly 2,000 years.”

‘Monumental vote will remove all doubt’

Kenneth L. Marcus, founder and chair of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, praised the House’s passage of the bill, which he called “the game-changing response that we’ve been waiting for.”

“It finally establishes as a matter of law that Jewish students are protected under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Until now, this has been only a matter of informal guidance and an executive order,” Marcus stated. “IHRA is the international gold standard for defining antisemitism. It has been embraced by more than 1,000 entities, dozens of countries, and more than half of U.S. states.”

“The Biden administration has long promised to codify the IHRA definition via regulation, but they have repeatedly missed their self-imposed deadlines. From conversations with numerous administrators, I can say that many university leaders are unaware that the IHRA definition is already woven into the Department of Education’s current, active guidance, hampering how they address soaring antisemitism on their campuses,” added Marcus, a former U.S. assistant secretary of education for civil rights. “Today’s monumental vote will remove all doubt.”

“From a federal perspective, this legislation won’t change current practice so much as it will reinforce it. From a university perspective, however, there are few U.S. universities that are consistently applying the IHRA definition in appropriate cases,” he added. “This legislation should put a stop to that.”

The Jewish Federations of North America, AIPAC, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Orthodox Union, Combat Antisemitism Movement and Christians United for Israel applauded the bill’s passage in the House.

The House’s passage of the bill “is crucial to combating the chaos spreading on America’s college campuses. The debate surrounding anti-Zionism as masked antisemitism is conclusively over and must be acted upon. This bill is an important step towards that,” stated Nathan Diament, executive director of public policy at the OU. “We urge the Senate to pass the bill. The time for words is over; we now need to act.”

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