House passes antisemitism bill with broad bipartisan support amid campus arrests

May 2, 2024

The House passed a bipartisan bill on Wednesday, May 1, intended to combat antisemitism as pro-Palestinian protests roil colleges nationwide, reports NBC News.

The measure passed 320-91. Twenty-one Republicans and 70 Democrats voted against it.

The bill, entitled the Antisemitism Awareness Act, would mandate that the Education Department adopt the broad definition of antisemitism used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an intergovernmental group dedicated to enforcing anti-discrimination laws.

The international group defines antisemitism as a “certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” The group adds that “rhetorical and physical manifestations” of antisemitism include such things as calling for the killing or harming of Jews or holding Jews collectively responsible for actions taken by Israel.

The bill’s prospects in the Senate are unclear.

Asked whether the Senate would take up the legislation, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) told reporters earlier Wednesday that “we haven’t seen what the House is sending us yet.”

Representative Mike Lawler (R-New York) introduced the bipartisan legislation, which received backing from Democratic moderates who are supporters of Israel amid the country’s war with Hamas.

“In every generation, the Jewish people have been scapegoated, harassed, evicted from their homeland and murdered,” Lawler said in a floor speech before the vote.

“The Jewish people need our support now,” he said. “They need action now.”

Republicans are seeking to launch investigations into antisemitism on college campuses in response to the pro-Palestinian protests. The current version of the legislation was introduced in late October after Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel—but not brought to the floor until this week.

“When I spoke at Columbia last week, I told administrators that we need deeds, not words, to protect Jewish students,” Representative Josh Gottheimer (D-New Jersey), a co-author of the legislation, said in a statement Wednesday. “This bill is a critical step to take the action we so desperately need to stand against hate.”

In a letter Monday to House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana), Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-New York) wrote that “there is nothing scheduled on the floor this week that would accomplish the concrete, thoughtful strategies outlined by the Biden administration” to combat antisemitism.

Jeffries had demanded a vote on the bipartisan Countering Antisemitism Act, which aims to address concerns about rising antisemitism through the appointment of a new adviser to the president who would be dedicated to implementing its coordinated strategy to counter antisemitism.

“The effort to crush antisemitism and hatred in any form is not a Democratic or Republican issue,” Jeffries wrote. “It’s an American issue that must be addressed in a bipartisan manner with the fierce urgency of now.”

Lawler’s bill faced opposition from some progressive and far-right lawmakers, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, which called the bill’s definition of antisemitism “overbroad.”

“Speech that is critical of Israel or any other government cannot, alone, constitute harassment,” ACLU leaders wrote in a letter last week urging lawmakers to oppose the measure.

Research contact: @NBCNews