House Republicans push antisemitism bill amid campus unrest

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Wednesday will vote on legislation that would add language defining antisemitism to a federal antidiscrimination law.

Republicans say the change is needed to codify what counts as antisemitism and give the federal government the ability to withhold funding from schools that allow it to fester.

”We see what it’s doing on our college campuses now,” said U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-St. Simons Island. “There is no question that we need to address it. It would be irresponsible to allow this to go on.”

Carter has also sponsored separate legislation that would extend federal funding for Holocaust education programs in schools. Many Democrats and at least one Republican, Kentucky U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, expressed concern that the legislation would codify the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism. That definition includes some criticism of Israel as antisemitic speech. The definition of antisemitism includes “applying double standards” of Israel not required of other democracies, comparing Israeli policies to those of Nazi Germany and holding Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s actions.

Critics of the bill say it could infringe on free speech and there are better ways to deal with antisemitism on college campuses.

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, an Atlanta Democrat, pointed out that since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel there have been multiple votes on the House floor regarding legislation showing support for Israel or condemning antisemitism and it’s starting to feel performative.

”We are voting on this over and over just like we heard a Republican say in the Rules Committee last night that these are bills that are intended to be ‘gotcha’ bills, they are messaging bills,” she said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Mike Johnson turned up the heat on college administrators with a news conference Tuesday where he and the chairs of several key congressional committees warned them to control protests on their campuses and protect Jewish students from bigoted and threatening speech.

“This is not a gray issue. There is right and wrong here,” Johnson said.

Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, called on university presidents to end on-campus encampments and allow the return of students, threatening them with continued investigations and loss of government grants if they do not. The speaker said allegations that protesters were damaging property and harassing and threatening Jewish students were not acceptable.

“This is not the free expression of ideas. … This is threatening, violent, inciting speech,” he said. “They are breaking the law; they are destroying property.”

Republican leaders threatened to bring college administrators to Washington to answer for the continued disruptions on campuses across the nation.

“As Republican leaders we have a clear message for mealy-mouthed, spineless college leaders: Congress will not tolerate your dereliction of duty to your Jewish students,” said House Education and Workforce Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., whose committee has been investigating antisemitism on college campuses. “No stone must go unturned while buildings are being defaced, campus greens are being captured or graduations are being ruined.”

Johnson singled out slogans and symbolism heard at some protests that some say supports the destruction of Israel, and he referred to Israel as “the most precious ally that we have.”

“Antisemitism is a virus and it will spread if it is not stamped out,” he said.

Congressman Buddy Carter (R-GA) is seen at a Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing on July 12th, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for The AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Nathan Posner for The AJC