House Republicans Pass Antisemitism Law, But Some Critics Fear It May Endanger Freedom of Speech

House Republicans successfully passed a bill with bipartisan on May 1st, that would crack down on antisemitism on college campuses, but some critics fear that it goes too far by restricting Americans’ First Amendment rights.

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The Antisemitism Awareness Act, which was introduced by Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY), passed in the House by a 320-91 vote and is now heading to the Senate for confirmation.

H.R. 6090 was pushed through, as increasingly violent anti-Israel protests swept university campuses across the country, with many fearing a spike in antisemitic sentiment.

However, the act was opposed by 21 Republican and 70 Democrat lawmakers, including Republicans Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Matt Gaetz of Florida, and Democrat Jerry Nadler of New York.

The new bill orders the U.S. Department of Education to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) guidelines on what defines antisemitism when enforcing restrictions on hateful speech against Jews on college campuses.

The IHRA defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews” and as the “[r]hetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Regarding criticism of Israel, the IHRA said that “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis,” “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” and “applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation,” can be defined as antisemitic.

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Free speech advocates slammed the bill for dangerously expanding government powers and using guidelines which could be used to suppress opinions on Israel in academia.

The American Civil Liberties Union said in a letter to Congress. that “Federal law already prohibits antisemitic discrimination and harassment by federally funded entities.”

“HR 6090 is therefore not needed to protect against antisemitic discrimination; instead, it would likely chill free speech of students on college campuses by incorrectly equating criticism of the Israeli government with antisemitism.”

Some prominent Jewish Democrats like Rep. Nadler, a noted opponent of the bill, said on the House floor, “This bill threads to chill constitutionally protected speech — speech that is critical of Israel alone does not constitute unlawful discrimination.”

Others like Gaetz, said, that the IHRA’s guideline of what is considered antisemitic is so broadly defined, that certain parts of the Bible, particularly in the New Testament, could be interpreted as hate speech and may be used to restrict Christian worship.

He warned that under the IHRA guidelines, the depiction of Jews being involved in the crucifixion of Jesus in the Gospel could be interpreted as antisemitic.

“The Bible is clear. There is no myth or controversy on this. Therefore, I will not support this bill,” Gaetz tweeted.

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

 ”Turning the DOE into the Antisemitism police would be a deeply unfortunate victory for Antisemitism, actually,” he added in a separate tweet.

Gaetz’s fellow House Republican, Rep. Massie tweeted, “Do you agree with all of these examples of antisemitism? Should people in America be prosecuted for saying these things in all contexts? I think not. This is a poorly conceived unconstitutional bill and I will vote no..

Meanwhile, Rep. Lawler, in an interview with Fox News, said that “when people engage in harassment or bullying of Jewish individuals where they justify the killing of Jews or use blood libel or hold Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the Israeli government — that is antisemitic. It’s unfortunate that needs to be clarified, but that’s why this bill is necessary.”

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