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House Passes Bill About Antisemitism to Silence Student Protesters 

The bill was passed with 320 for and 91 against. 21 Republicans and 70 Democrats voted no.

Shutterstock/Ringo Chiu

In response to student protests across college campuses nationwide, The House of Representatives passed HR 6090 last Wednesday which would adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism “for the enforcement of Federal anti-discrimination laws concerning education programs or activities, and for other purposes.” 

The bill will include making equating Israel’s actions or policies to that of the Nazis and calling Israel an apartheid state illegal under federal law. 

For perspective, I myself have written several articles about criticisms of Israel. Just last month I wrote an article entitled: “Israel Vs Nazi Germany: Are Comparisons Valid Or Anti-Semitic?” That and other articles I have written, despite the fact that nothing I wrote down was factually inaccurate, would be problematic if this law were to take effect. 

Because I am a grad student, the article I wrote could open me up to punishments from my university like academic probation, suspension, or expulsion, and my university would be able to cite the US Department of Education as justification. 

The bill has been criticized by numerous organizations and individuals, many of whom are Jewish. The ACLU is one of the organizations that have come out criticizing the bill. The actual definition of antisemitism that was adopted in 1998 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance has been adopted by over 40 countries but is also not without criticism. 

In 2022, 128 scholars of antisemitism, Holocaust studies, modern Jewish history and other related fields signed a letter saying the definition is “vague and divisive [and] has been hijacked to shield the Israeli government,” a sentiment that is shared by very famous academics like Norman Finkelstein. 

How Did We Get Here?

The bill was sponsored by New York’s 17th congressional district representative Mike Lawler (R). Interestingly enough, Lawler is very familiar with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), one of the biggest and most powerful lobbies in Washington. 

He can be seen below attending a AIPAC reception. During the 2024 election cycle, Lawler has already received over $50,000 in donations from AIPAC for his upcoming reelection campaign, making AIPAC his fourth largest campaign donors.

The bill is coming fresh off the heels of intense and passionate student protests that took college campuses by storm over the past month. Encampments like the ones at Columbia and UCLA have received especially negative media attention and have been criticized of being antisemitic. Both encampments were targets of violence by Zionist agitators and the police.

Supporters of the Bill

The following representatives are ones who spoke in support of HR 6090.

Rep Tom Kean (R-NJ): “There has been no greater breeding ground for antisemitism than on campuses of our nations colleges and universities. Jewish parents across my district and across this country are concerned for their children away at college.”

Rep Earl Leroy “Buddy” Carter (R-GA): “The pro-Hamas protests that we are seeing now play out on TV that are taking place o college campuses are living proof of what happens when we tolerate hate and ignorance.”

Rep Kathy Manning (D-NC), who is also a cosponsor of the bill: “Over the past several years, antisemitism has risen dramatically, and since the brutal October 7 terrorist attack on Israel, we’ve witnessed an explosion of antisemitism across the country, particularly on college campuses, where Jewish students are being harassed, intimidated, and prevented from engaging in the full range of campus life.”

All three of these representatives are up for reelection this year. All three of these representatives have also received campaign donations from AIPAC.

Criticisms of HR6090

The bill has been criticized by numerous organizations and individuals, many of whom are Jewish. The ACLU is one of the organizations that have come out criticizing the bill. The actual definition of antisemitism that was adopted in 1998 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance has been adopted by over 40 countries but is also not without criticism. 

In 2022, 128 scholars of Antisemitism, Holocaust Studies, Modern Jewish History and other related fields signed a letter saying the definition is “vague and divisive [and] has been hijacked to shield the Israeli government,” a sentiment that is shared by very famous academics like Norman Finkelstein. 

A notable opponent of the bill is representative Jerry Nadler (D) of New York’s 12th district. He is currently the oldest serving Jewish member of Congress and has also declared himself as a “deeply committed Zionist.”

“As someone who is also a longtime champion of protecting freedom of speech, I must oppose this misguided bill. While there is much in the bill that I agree with, its core provision would put a thumb on the scale in favor of one particular definition of antisemitism—to the exclusion of all others—to be used when the Department of Education assesses claims of antisemitism on campus. This definition, adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, or IHRA, includes “contemporary examples of antisemitism”.  The problem is that these examples may include protected speech, in some contexts, particularly with respect to criticism of the State of Israel.”

Jerry Nadler on HR6090 violating free speech.

Other opponents of the bill include members of “the squad,” the original four members from 2018, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-OH) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), along with newer additions like Jamaal Bowman (D-NY).

AOC notably turned down $1,000,000 from AIPAC late last year. Representatives like Jamaal Bowman, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar are facing contentious reelection campaigns because AIPAC has poured millions of dollars to unseat them, mainly because they have been outspoken critics of Israel.

What Would Happen if HR6090 Gets Signed Into Law?

Police at the UCLA protest, May 2nd. Shutterstock/Josiah True

The Antsemitism Awareness Act, as it is called, has currently only been passed in the House of Representatives. The United States Senate has yet to vote on it. 

If signed into law, it would required the Department of Education to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance current definition of antisemitism when adressing accusations of antisemitism or investigations of antisemitism. 

Since this is all hypothetical, it is currently impossible to tell whether or not the current protests across college campuses would fall under this definition. It is possible, however, that students who engage in a future protests like the ones currently unfolding could potentially face retaliation and punishment from their respective universities like academic probation, suspension, and/or expulsion. 

Written By

I am a 26 year old grad student interested in politics, basketball, literature, and cooking.

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