Trojan horse

Hanna Dasoo
Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

Over the past few months, lawmakers in Washington have pushed a wave of bills and held multiple hearings that ostensibly aim to address the rise in antisemitism. These measures have caught lawmakers and the public off-guard with their swift movement through the House.

Certainly, some of these lawmakers are well-intentioned. But by and large, these efforts mask a much larger, darker agenda: Many far-right lawmakers are seizing an opportunity to fashion yet another political weapon against free speech and thought. It’s part of a tried-and-true playbook.

Consider just a few of the recent legislative moves to address antisemitism. The House recently passed a bill to sanction the ICC for seeking an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On the day of the vote, Rep. Tracey Mann (R-Kan.) tweeted, “We can't sit by idly as antisemitism takes root in the International Criminal Court.”

Just a couple of weeks prior, the House held its third antisemitism hearing, where Republican lawmakers demanded to know how many students had been punished for participating in encampments on college campuses. Legislators blamed the leaders of UCLA, Rutgers and Northwestern universities, declaring they should be "doubly ashamed for capitulating" to protestors. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) went so far as to claim Northwestern's resolution a "unilateral capitulation to the pro-Hamas, anti-Israel, antisemitic encampment.”

Weeks before that, in the midst of nationwide college protests, the House passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act, requiring the Department of Education to incorporate the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism when assessing allegations of discrimination.

However, there are already an array of laws that address antisemitism on college campuses. So why this addition? Well, the IHRA definition – which has been roundly criticized by Holocaust scholars – conflates criticism of Israel with criticism of Jewish people. Under this definition, people could be accused of antisemitism for speaking out against Israel or Israeli policy.

It’s clear that the lawmakers leading all these efforts are strategically backing their Congressional colleagues into a corner. They know that it would be political suicide for their colleagues to push back on efforts that seems to address antisemitism. The message is clear: Either risk your career, or fall into line.

Vulnerable legislators up for reelection are falling into the trap. They’re hoping to sway voters in their favor and appear tough, especially in the wake of a growing pro-Palestine movement. But election prospects should not persuade them to gamble with our civil rights and support bills that have serious long-term implications.

Excerpted: ‘Congress’ Antisemitism Efforts Mask a Broader Assault on Free Speech’.