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Antisemitism Awareness Act passes in...

Antisemitism Awareness Act passes in U.S. House despite free speech concerns

By: Frank Corder - May 2, 2024

Students protest the Israel-Hamas war at George Washington University in Washington, Saturday, April 27, 2024. Protests and encampments have sprung up on college and university campuses across the country to protest the war. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

  • Mississippi’s three Republican Congressmen – Trent Kelly, Michael Guest and Mike Ezell – voted in favor of the bill defining antisemitism while the state’s lone Democrat, Bennie Thompson, opposed it.

Amid a rise in anti-Israel protests on college campuses across the country, the U.S. House of Representatives took up the Antisemitism Awareness Act on Wednesday, updating the definition of antisemitism used in federal anti-discrimination law.

The legislation passed the House by a vote of 320-91, with 21 Republicans and 70 Democrats opposing the bill.

Some opponents of the bill, such as New York Congressman Jerry Nadler, a Democrat Jewish lawmaker, have raised free speech concerns. Nadler, who described himself as a “deeply committed Zionist,” cautioned against the measure, saying it “threatens to chill constitutionally protected speech.”

Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida shared Nadler’s view, calling the bill a “ridiculous hate speech bill.”

“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,” Congressman Gaetz wrote on X (formerly Twitter). “The Gospel itself would meet the definition of antisemitism under the terms of this bill!”

The House bill requires the U.S. Department of Education to use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism as their standard. That IHRA definition as referenced states:

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The legislation goes on to reference the “contemporary examples of antisemitism” as identified by IHRA, some of which include:

  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

Also included in the examples is a phrase that states, “Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.” This is the example opponents such as Congressman Gaetz have pointed to that counter Christian beliefs as presented within the Bible related to the death of Jesus.

The bill’s co-author, Congressman Mike Lawler (R-NY), strongly urged his colleagues to pass the measure, saying on the floor, “Anyone who votes against this bill because they would rather put political expediency and electoral politics ahead of anything else has no business being a member of Congress.”

Mississippi’s 2nd District Congressman Bennie Thompson, the lone Democrat in the state delegation, voted against the bill. Magnolia Tribune sought comment from Thompson on why he opposed the bill, but as of press time, no statement has been received.

The state’s three Republican Congressmen – Trent Kelly (MS 1), Michael Guest (MS 3) and Mike Ezell (MS 4) – all supported the legislation.

Congressman Guest told Magnolia Tribune that the unrest on college campuses and the discrimination against Jews is uncalled for, unacceptable, and wrong.

“Throughout history, the Jewish people have faced discrimination and persecution, and I will always stand with my Jewish brothers and sisters,” Guest said. “I voted in favor of the Antisemitism Awareness Act of 2023 to fight against the unthinkable antisemitic and anti-Israel protests that are taking place at universities across the country.”

The 3rd District Congressman said the bill protects free speech and expressly states that nothing in the legislation infringes on the rights outlined in the First Amendment of the Constitution.

“It has support from groups such as Christians United for Israel and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission,” Guest added. “I will always stand with Israel.”

Fourth District Congressman Ezell said the Antisemitism Awareness Act makes it clear that calling for the death of Jews is antisemitic and ensures Jewish students on college campuses “have the same protections from discrimination as any other students.”

“I was proud to vote for the bill, which also contains provisions specifically designed to ensure that it cannot be used to diminish or infringe on any rights protected by the First Amendment, including the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion,” Ezell told Magnolia Tribune.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has not given any indication as to if or when the bill will be considered in the chamber.

About the Author(s)
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Frank Corder

Frank Corder is a native of Pascagoula. For nearly two decades, he has reported and offered analysis on government, public policy, business and matters of faith. Frank’s interviews, articles, and columns have been shared throughout Mississippi as well as in national publications. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, providing insight and commentary on the inner workings of the Magnolia State. Frank has served his community in both elected and appointed public office, hosted his own local radio and television programs, and managed private businesses all while being an engaged husband and father. Email Frank: