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House passes antisemitism bill with broad bipartisan support amid campus arrests

The Antisemitism Awareness Act would require the Education Department to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of antisemitism.
Image: Speaker of the House Mike Johnson
House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., held a floor vote on a bill that would expand the definition of antisemitism used by the Education Department.Julia Nikhinson / AFP - Getty Images

The House passed a bipartisan bill Wednesday to combat antisemitism as pro-Palestinian protests roil colleges across the U.S.

The measure passed 320-91. Twenty-one Republicans and 70 Democrats voted against it.

The bill, titled the Antisemitism Awareness Act, would mandate that the Education Department adopt the broad definition of antisemitism used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an intergovernmental group, to enforce anti-discrimination laws.

The international group defines antisemitism as a "certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews." The group adds that "rhetorical and physical manifestations" of antisemitism include such things as calling for the killing or harming of Jews or holding Jews collectively responsible for actions taken by Israel.

The bill's prospects in the Senate are unclear.

Asked whether the Senate would take up the legislation, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters earlier Wednesday that "we haven't seen what the House is sending us yet."

Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., introduced the bipartisan legislation, which received backing from Democratic moderates who are supporters of Israel amid the country’s war with Hamas.

“In every generation, the Jewish people have been scapegoated, harassed, evicted from their homeland and murdered,” Lawler said in a floor speech before the vote.

"The Jewish people need our support now," he said. "They need action now."

Republicans are seeking to launch investigations into antisemitism on college campuses in response to the pro-Palestinian protests. The current version of the legislation was introduced in late October after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel but not brought to the floor until this week.

“When I spoke at Columbia last week, I told administrators that we need deeds, not words, to protect Jewish students,” Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., a co-author of the legislation, said in a statement Wednesday. “This bill is a critical step to take the action we so desperately need to stand against hate.”

In a letter Monday to House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., wrote that “there is nothing scheduled on the floor this week that would accomplish the concrete, thoughtful strategies outlined by the Biden administration” to combat antisemitism.

Jeffries had demanded a vote on the bipartisan Countering Antisemitism Act, which aims to address concerns about rising antisemitism through the appointment of a new adviser to the president who would be dedicated to implementing its coordinated strategy to counter antisemitism.

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

Lawler's bill faced opposition from some progressive and far-right lawmakers, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, which called the bill's definition of antisemitism "overbroad."

"Speech that is critical of Israel or any other government cannot, alone, constitute harassment," ACLU leaders wrote in a letter last week urging lawmakers to oppose the measure.

The letter pointed in part to an example of antisemitism included in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition, which says antisemitism could include "denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor."

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, voted against the bill after having told reporters Tuesday that Republicans were weaponizing antisemitism.

“We all have to continue to speak out against antisemitism and be clear that we don’t like — we will not tolerate antisemitism any more than we tolerate Islamophobia or any of the other hatreds and discriminations that are out there,” she said.

Jayapal also argued that the bill “has a definition that is so broad” that many Jewish groups do not support it.

“So why would you do that? Except if you want to weaponize antisemitism and you want to use it as a political ploy,” she said. “Let’s remember that many of these Republicans didn’t say a word when Donald Trump and others in Charlottesville, other places, were saying truly antisemitic things.”

Trump, as president, sparked a backlash when he suggested that "many sides" were to blame for the deadly violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, declining to single out white nationalists.

Separately, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said that the definition was so broad that it would threaten constitutionally protected free speech. He, too, voted against the bill.

Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., said in a statement after she voted against it that while she has "experienced antisemitism all my life," the bill "would stifle First Amendment rights to free speech and free assembly."

Jacobs also said she does not believe that anti-Zionism is "inherently antisemitism," saying that "conflating free speech and hate crimes will not make Jewish students any safer."

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., voted against the bill because of a disagreement with an example of antisemitism listed in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition, which referred to using "symbols and images" such as "claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel" to describe Israel or Israelis.

Greene argued on X that the bill "could convict Christians of antisemitism for believing the gospel that says Jesus was handed over" for crucifixion with involvement of some Jewish authorities, including Herod.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., voted against the bill for similar reasons, pointing to the same example of antisemitism, which many Jews consider harmful.

"The Bible is clear," he wrote on X. "There is no myth or controversy around this."

Activists working to counter antisemitism have pointed out that Jews have been scapegoated throughout history for events including the crucifixion of Jesus and that such claims have been used to justify violence against Jews.