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US Congress shows rare bipartisan support for antisemitism bill

Republicans sponsor second bill to encode IHRA definition of antisemitism

US State Capitol Building (Photo: USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters)

A bipartisan and bicameral bill called the “Countering Antisemitism Act” was introduced last Wednesday in the United States Congress. 

The bill seeks to establish a domestic National Coordinator to Counter Antisemitism within the White House, who would serve as a presidential advisor for national policy to combat antisemitism. 

The act seeks to advance the strategy for countering antisemitism proposed by U.S. President Joe Biden in 2023, which focused on actions by the executive branch to reform federal agencies. 

If passed, the act would also establish a task force consisting of federal bodies, such as the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and National Counterterrorism Center, to jointly produce an annual threat assessment regarding violent antisemitism in the United States.

The bill was sponsored by the co-chairs of the Senate and House Bipartisan Task Forces for Combating Antisemitism Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), along with Reps. Kathy Manning (D-NC), Chris Smith (R-NJ), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Randy Weber (R-TX). 

Manning spoke with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) about the bill, saying the work began to establish the bill before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, but the increase in antisemitic events since then has given new urgency to passing the bill. 

“We have seen it spread on social media, the protests on college campuses are beyond what anyone expected,” Manning told JTA.

However, the “Countering Antisemitism Act” is not the only bill being put forward to tackle the issue in Congress. 

Republican Rep. Anthony D’Esposito of New York also introduced legislation last week, designed to clarify the definition of antisemitism by adopting the version published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

His “Define to Defeat Act” would require relevant authorities to use the IHRA definition of antisemitism when assessing the motivation behind illegal behavior. 

Many Jewish organizations had hoped that Biden would adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism as part of the strategy he announced last year. The definition provides a comprehensive understanding of antisemitism, encompassing various forms of discrimination, prejudice and hostility directed towards Jews. It also includes examples of contemporary antisemitism in public life, the media and religious institutions, among others.

The IHRA definition has been adopted by hundreds of national and local governments, universities and corporations across the globe. Some critics claim the definition is too restrictive regarding criticism of Israel. 

D’Esposito’s office released a statement claiming that criticism of Israel, as such, would not be prohibited by the bill. 

“The definition makes clear that ‘criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic,’ and that none of the examples, even the ones about Israel are automatically antisemitic; just that they ‘could, taking into account the overall context,’ be antisemitic,” the statement read. 

So far, D’Esposito’s bill has primarily received support from Republicans. However, if it passes the House of Representatives, the bill could garner bipartisan support in the Senate, which it would need, to become law. 

A bill introduced by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), called the "Antisemitism Awareness Act," may provide the necessary bipartisan support in the Senate. According to Jewish Insider, the bill currently enjoys backing from 13 Democrats and 14 Republicans. If passed, it would formalize an executive order from the Trump administration concerning antisemitism on college campuses, which advocated for the adoption of the IHRA definition.

In 2019, then-U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order instructed the Department of Education to regard antisemitism on college campuses as a breach of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Even though it primarily targets the Department of Education, the bill's mandate for a federal agency to adopt the IHRA definition could facilitate its adoption by other branches of the federal government.

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

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