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US House overwhelmingly passes Antisemitism Awareness Act

Representative Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) speaks to media outside the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C.,April 29, 2024. (Photo: Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA)

The bipartisan Antisemitism Awareness Act was overwhelmingly approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, with 312 votes in favor and 91 opposed.

The new bill aims to formally adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which categorizes the demonization of the Jewish state as a "racist endeavor" that opposes Israel’s right to exist.

At a time when antisemitism is exploding in the United States and globally, there is no universally accepted definition of antisemitism. This disagreement was also reflected in the voting pattern between the two U.S. parties. Republican lawmakers voted 187-21 for the bill, while the Democrats supported it, 133-70.

U.S. Congressman, Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY), who co-sponsored the bill, emphasized its importance in the 21st century.

“We need to be able to define antisemitism,” he said.

At the center of the controversy is a profound disagreement about when criticism of Israel crosses into Jew-hatred. Opponents of the bill argue that it limits legitimate differences of opinion with the nation's policies. Proponents argue that advocating for Israel’s destruction goes beyond legitimate criticism.

“When you hear ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’, that is calling for the eradication of Jews and the state of Israel,” Lawler stated.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), who is Jewish, expressed his opposition to the bill.

“Speech that is critical of Israel alone does not constitute unlawful discrimination,” Nadler claimed, without elaborating on the limits of legitimate criticism. “By encompassing purely political speech about Israel into Title VI’s ambit, the bill sweeps too broadly.”

Kenneth Marcus, the founder of the Brandeis Center and former assistant secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, believes if the bill is eventually enshrined in law, it could address the surge in antisemitism on American campuses.

“From a university perspective, however, there are few U.S. universities that are consistently applying the IHRA definition in appropriate cases. This legislation should put a stop to that,” Marcus said.

Columbia University in New York City has emerged as the epicenter of the current wave of antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment sweeping across dozens of U.S. and Canadian campuses.

U.S. Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson recently called for the resignation of Columbia's President, Minouche Shafik.

“This President Shafik has shown [himself] to be a very weak, inept leader,” he said in an April 24 interview.

“They cannot even guarantee the safety of Jewish students? They’re expected to run for their lives and stay home from class? It’s maddening!”

“Every leader in this country – every political official, every citizen of good conscience – has to speak out and say that this is not who we are in America - and we got to have accountability and that’s what my colleagues and I are going to be working on,” Johnson pledged.

The Biden administration has condemned the extreme antisemitic slogans heard among anti-Israel activists at Columbia University and other campuses.

However, with just months to go before the presidential election in November, Biden is under growing pressure from progressive, far-left Democrats, to embrace fewer Israel-supporting policies, despite Israel being engaged in a defensive war against Iranian proxies across the Middle East.

By January 2023, more than 1,000 global entities had adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism. At the time, Prof. Dina Porat, the chair for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University, welcomed this as an important development in combating the Israel-focused antisemitism of the 21st century.

“This significant adoption phenomenon, which has gained momentum in recent years, pinpoints the Working Definition of Antisemitism as a major tool in the contemporary struggle against antisemitism,” Porat said.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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