US House okays bill codifying controversial antisemitism definition amid campus tumult

File - Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protesters camp out in tents at Columbia University on Saturday, April 27, 2024 in New York. (AP Photo)
File - Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protesters camp out in tents at Columbia University on Saturday, April 27, 2024 in New York. (AP Photo)

The US House has passed legislation that would codify a controversial definition of antisemitism for use by the Education Department in adjudicating discrimination cases at American schools.

The proposal, which passed 320-91 with some bipartisan support, would codify the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal anti-discrimination law that bars discrimination based on shared ancestry, ethnic characteristics or national origin. It now goes to the Senate for a vote.

187 Republicans voted in favor of the legislation, compared to 133 Democrats. Twenty-one Republicans voted against, compared to 70 Democrats.

Action on the bill was just the latest reverberation in Congress from the protest movement that has swept university campuses. Republicans in Congress have denounced the protests and demanded action to stop them, thrusting university officials into the center of the charged political debate over Israel’s conduct in the war against Hamas in Gaza.

If passed by the Senate and signed into law, the bill would broaden the legal definition of antisemitism to include the “targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.” Critics say the move would have a chilling effect on free speech throughout college campuses.

“Speech that is critical of Israel alone does not constitute unlawful discrimination,” Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler said during a hearing on Tuesday. “By encompassing purely political speech about Israel into Title VI’s ambit, the bill sweeps too broadly.”

Advocates of the proposal say it would provide a much-needed, consistent framework for the Education Department to police and investigate the rising cases of discrimination and harassment targeted toward Jewish students.

“It is long past time that Congress act to protect Jewish Americans from the scourge of antisemitism on campuses around the country,” GOP Rep. Russell Fry said Tuesday.

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