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How antisemitism is being politicized in Washington

Alfred Lubrano, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — At a time when Jewish people in the United States are facing "the worst crisis of antisemitism in a generation," according to the ADL, congressional Republicans are speaking out and advancing new legislation on the issue.

They've focused on anti-Jewish bias in the wake of pro-Palestinian campus protests, and have chosen to take up the cause of Jewish students who they said are being victimized by encampments at a hearing Thursday convened by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, aimed at "stopping antisemitic college chaos."

But as committee members grilled three university presidents about how they addressed allegations of harm from Jewish students and faculty, some Democrats and left-leaning academics criticized Republicans for hypocrisy and for using the hearings as an opportunity to continue their attack on what they see as higher education's "woke agenda."

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, (D., Oregon), referenced a video posted to former President Donald Trump's social media account that included the phrase "unified Reich" headlining a hypothetical news story that might be written if he wins a return to the White House in November.

"Did any of my colleagues call that out?" she asked. "It baffles me that some people are opposed to antisemitism when it's politically convenient, instead of wherever it rears its ugly head."

The hearing was "grandstanding, and not about keeping Jews safe," Lila Berman, a Temple University historian who teaches a course on antisemitism and runs the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History, said in an interview. "Meanwhile, on the right, white nationalists tap into Nazi ideas."

 

Here's what to know about how antisemitism is being fought — and politicized — in Washington, D.C.

What is the Antisemitism Awareness Act?

On May 1, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted 320 to 91 to pass the Antisemitism Awareness Act, which codifies an expanded definition of antisemitism and delineates how the federal government should combat it. The legislation would allow the Department of Education to enforce antidiscrimination laws and deny universities funding because of antisemitism as it defines the term. The measure is a response from lawmakers to pro-Palestinian student protests over the Israel-Hamas war.

The bill, now in the Senate, would codify the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) definition of antisemitism in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal statute that bars discrimination based on shared ancestry, ethnic characteristics, or national origin.

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