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Ray Bogan

Political Correspondent

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Politics

Divisive college protests bring out bipartisan unity in Congress

May 1

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Ray Bogan

Political Correspondent

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The pro-Palestinian protests at college campuses around the country have divided students, administrators and observers. However, the demonstrations have also brought some lawmakers in Congress together. 

The House passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act on a bipartisan basis Wednesday, May 1. The bill codifies the definition of antisemitism used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). 

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The definition was adopted in 2016 and states: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The organization gives the following examples:

  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis. 
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination. For example, claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

The bill had 62 co-sponsors led by Reps. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., and Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J. 

“I believe deeply in speech, in free speech, but I also believe that it’s really important that all students feel safe, and that students aren’t threatened with violence,” Gottheimer said. “And that’s been the problem at a lot of these campuses right now is that students that I’ve met with don’t feel safe.”

“Once it’s passed through the House, it’s really incumbent upon Chuck Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish official in American history to act,” Lawler told reporters. 

The bill has 31 bipartisan co-sponsors in the Senate but it was just introduced on April 16, unlike the House version which was brought forward in October. This means the legislation could stall in the chamber. 

If the bill is signed into law, it would require the Department of Education to use the IHRA definition when deciding whether there has been a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

“We have a severe increase in antisemitic activities. It’s affecting the safety of not just students on campus, but in the general community,” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., told Straight Arrow News. “I think it’s important that we have a strategy that’s implemented.” 

Lawmakers have only had their resolve strengthened by the escalation of protests at college campuses. It appeared to climax the night of Tuesday, April 30, when police arrested nearly 100 people who had taken over Hamilton Hall on the campus of Columbia University. 

“It’s clear that not enough action was ever taken that even allowed these things to reach to this point,” Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa, said. “Where now you have people taking the buildings over and everything and you have to send in dozens and dozens of officers to just bring order. Protesting is an American value. But that’s not what is happening right now on these campuses.”

Cardin and Fetterman are both Senate co-sponsors. 

The bill also has its opponents. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., wrote a letter to Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., asking him to bring an alternative bill forward: The Countering Antisemitism Act. 

The most senior Jewish member in the House, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., called the Antisemitism Awareness Act misguided. 

“By effectively codifying them into Title VI, this bill threatens to chill constitutionally protected speech,” Nadler said at the Rules Committee hearing on the legislation. “Speech that is critical of Israel alone does not constitute unlawful discrimination.”

In addition to this bill, Johnson announced House committees will investigate antisemitism at college campuses. Ultimately, members could try to cut funding if they discover Title VI violations. 

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[RAY BOGAN]

The pro-Palestinian protests at college campuses around the country have divided students, administrators and observers. But it has brought some lawmakers in Congress together. The House passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act on a bipartisan basis Wednesday. It codifies the definition of antisemitism used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. 

That was adopted in 2016 and states: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The organization gives the following examples:

  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • 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.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

The bill had 62 co-sponsors led by Reps. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y. and Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J. 

[Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J.]

I believe deeply in speech, and free speech, but I also believe that it’s really important that all students feel safe, and that students aren’t threatened and with violence. And that’s been the problem and a lot of these campuses right now is that students that I’ve met with don’t feel safe.

[Rep. Mike Lawler R-N.Y.]

Once it’s passed through the house, it’s really incumbent upon Chuck Schumer, the highest ranking Jewish official in American history to act.”

[RAY BOGAN]

The bill has 31 bipartisan co-sponsors in the Senate. But it was just introduced on April 16, unlike the House version which was brought forward in October. So the legislation could stall in the chamber. 

If the bill is signed into law it would require the Department of Education to use the IHRA definition 

when deciding whether there has been a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

What do you think a codified definition for anti semitism will do to help either the Justice Department or the education department and when addressing some of these protests? 

[Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD]

Well, we have a severe increase in anti semitic activities. It’s affecting the safety, not just students on campus, but in general community. I think it’s important that we have a strategy that’s implemented,” 

[RAY BOGAN]

Lawmakers have only had their resolve strengthened by the escalation of protests at college campuses. It appeared to climax Tuesday night when police arrested nearly 100 people who had taken over Hamilton hall on the campus of Columbia University. 

[Sen. John Fetterman, D-PA]

It’s clear that not enough action was ever taken that even allowed these things to reach to this point, where now you have people taking the buildings over and everything and you have to send in dozens and dozens of officers to just bring order and all of that kinds of thing. Protesting is, is an American value. But that’s not what is happening right now on these campuses.

[RAY BOGAN]

But the bill has its opponents. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries wrote a letter to Speaker Mike Johnson, asking him to bring an alternative bill forward – The Countering Antisemitism Act. 

And the most senior Jewish member in the House, Jerry Nadler, called the Antisemitism Awareness Act misguided. 

[Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.]

By effectively codifying them into Title VI, this bill threatens to chill constitutionally protected speech. Speech that is critical of Israel alone does not constitute unlawful discrimination. 

[RAY BOGAN]

In addition to this bill, Speaker Johnson announced House committees will investigate antisemitism at college campuses. Ultimately they could try to cut funding if  they discover Title VI violations. At the Capitol, Ray Bogan, Straight Arrow News.