US lawmakers vote to smear Palestinians as anti-Semitic

Congressman Jamie Raskin, holding a pen, raises his hands

Congressman Jamie Raskin, a scholar of the US Constitution, surrendered on the First Amendment and Palestinian history with his vote for the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act.


The US House of Representatives passed the “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act” in a 320-91 vote on 1 May. Seventy Democrats and 21 Republicans voted in opposition.

On the heels of the action in the House, Codepink sent supporters an email Wednesday declaring that any future passage in the Senate would “equate pro-Palestine protests with anti-Semitism, effectively censoring our activism.”

The organization added that “this bill is a desperate attempt to silence student activists and anyone who speaks out against Israel.” Email respondents were urged to tell Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer “to not bring this repressive bill to a vote.”

Before the House vote, the American Civil Liberties Union noted, “This bill directs the Department of Education to take the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s working definition of ‘anti-Semitism’ into consideration when determining whether alleged harassment was motivated by anti-Semitic intent and violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

Senior Legislative Organizer Bethany Zaiman with Jewish Voice for Peace Action warned on Thursday that the Senate legislation would “direct the Department of Education to consider the incredibly dangerous and controversial IHRA definition of anti-Semitism when investigating Title VI (discrimination) complaints. The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism conflates criticism of the Israeli state with anti-Semitic hatred of Jewish people, in order to further repress the Palestine solidarity movement.”

The ACLU advised House members that the legislation “would likely chill free speech of students on college campuses by incorrectly equating criticism of the Israeli government with anti-Semitism.”

This is because the legislation embraces the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism.

That definition claims “applying double standards by requiring of it [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” would be regarded as anti-Semitic. The definition regards Israel as a “democratic nation,” though credible Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organizations have declared it practices apartheid.

Furthermore, the definition deems anti-Semitic activity to include “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.”

Consequently, it could be regarded as anti-Semitic if a Palestinian or anyone else were to say expelling 800,000 Palestinians to establish the state of Israel was a racist undertaking. It could easily be judged anti-Semitic to say the declared right of the Jewish people to self-determination as practiced between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea has led to apartheid conditions for Palestinians.

Palestinians merely describing their life circumstances of dispossession and apartheid could, by definition, be termed anti-Semitic simply for recounting and disliking what they and their families have endured over the past 75 years.

The limitations on political and historical speech are akin to Republicans not wanting to teach the history of slavery and racism, only this time the legislation has bipartisan support.

Raskin caves

McCarthyism and fear are spreading and yet even a scholar of the US Constitution such as Congressman Jamie Raskin is bending before the onslaught.

He has twice in recent weeks thrown in the towel on good sense when it comes to understanding anti-Semitism versus free speech for freedom and equal rights. First he supported a resolution declaring that the chant “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is anti-Semitic.

Now, this time, less than a month later, he folded again, saying, “At this moment of anguish and confusion over the dangerous surge of anti-Semitism, authoritarianism and racism all over the country and the world, it seems unlikely that this meaningless ‘gotcha’ legislation can help much – but neither can it hurt much, and it may now bring some people despairing over manifestations of anti-Semitism a sense of consolation.”

His concern about racism is striking as it apparently excludes anti-Palestinian racism both on college campuses and in the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act he voted for despite its shortcomings.

Deeming Palestinians and their allies anti-Semitic for supporting equal rights and Palestinian freedom is not going to help, but does make for a dangerous precedent. Raskin knows better – at least I think he does.

His willingness to abandon principle and side with McCarthyist intimidation of student activists and professors is an alarming signal of worse to come.

Raskin is doing this even before a possible return to the White House of Donald Trump. With friends like this, many young people will wonder at what Democrats actually have to offer other than concessions and war crimes against Palestinians.

Free speech for Palestinian rights is being dangerously foreclosed and judged as hate speech.

Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times addressed the heated environment in which the legislation landed.

“Since 2016, pro-Israel politicians have pushed versions of a bill called the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which would codify, for the purpose of enforcing federal civil rights law in higher education, a definition of anti-Semitism that includes rejection of Israel as a Jewish state. In the past, civil libertarians were able to head such legislation off, but that’s become harder in the current fevered climate.”

Raskin, she could have said, has conceded at precisely the moment his voice could have carried the most weight with fellow Democrats. But time and again most Democrats have stood squarely with President Joe Biden in funding Israel’s war crimes in Gaza and human rights abuses in other areas under Israeli control.

On-campus consequences

The ACLU expressed concern that “if this bill becomes law, political speech critical of Israel will likely be censored in several ways. The lead author of the original IHRA definition Kenneth Stern has himself opposed the application of this definition to campus speech, noting that codifying this definition would lead campus administrators to ‘fear lawsuits when outside groups complain about anti-Israel expression, and the university doesn’t punish, stop or denounce it.’”

The civil liberties organization added, “First, H.R. 6090 [as the bill is known] could result in colleges and universities suppressing a wide variety of speech critical of Israel or in support of Palestinian rights in an effort to avoid investigations by the Department [of Education] and the potential loss of funding, even where such speech is protected and does not qualify as harassment.”

This analysis from the ACLU comes even as the legislation claims “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to diminish or infringe upon any right protected under the First Amendment.”

The ACLU asserted that even without the new legislation, lobby groups have “already filed or threatened to file numerous” complaints and lawsuits under Title VI, an anti-discrimination provision in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Those complaints allege that “colleges have violated Title VI merely by condoning Palestinian rights groups, events and advocacy,” the ACLU noted.

Congressman Jerry Nadler, a staunch supporter of Israel recently described by Politico as “one of the longest-serving Jewish members of the House,” told that publication “it’s very easy to support something that claims to be against anti-Semitism, and it’s hard to start explaining to your constituents the nuances of why you didn’t.”

Nadler opposed the bill on the House floor: “I will take lectures from no one about the need for vigorous efforts to fight anti-Semitism on campus or anywhere else. I am also a deeply committed Zionist … But while this definition and its examples may have useful applications in certain contexts, by effectively codifying them into Title VI, this bill threatens to chill constitutionally protected speech. Speech that is critical of Israel – alone – does not constitute unlawful discrimination. By encompassing purely political speech about Israel into Title VI’s ambit, the bill sweeps too broadly.”

By 10 May, more than 1,000 Jewish professors had signed a letter to political leaders urging them “to reject any effort to codify into federal law a definition of anti-Semitism that conflates anti-Semitism with criticism of the state of Israel. This includes ongoing efforts to codify the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism, which has been internationally criticized for conflating anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of Israel.”

They added, “If imported into federal law, the IHRA definition will delegitimize and silence Jewish Americans – among others – who advocate for Palestinian human rights or otherwise criticize Israeli policies. By stifling criticism of Israel, the IHRA definition hardens the dangerous notion that Jewish identity is inextricably linked to every decision of Israel’s government. Far from combating anti-Semitism, this dynamic promises to amplify the real threats Jewish Americans already face.”

The third signer is Annelise Orleck, former chair of the Jewish Studies Department at Dartmouth College, who was attacked last week by police while she tried to protect students and retrieve her phone.

Violent police attacks against leftist Jews protesting for Palestinian rights – of the sort seen at Dartmouth – are not being taken seriously. The alarming phenomenon of leftist Jews disproportionately targeted in recent years in Britain by the political right and even by their own Labour Party for pro-Palestinian solidarity may well be imported to the US.

Palestinian protesters will be even more on their own as violence against supporters of Palestinian rights is fast being normalized from Dartmouth to Columbia University to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and elsewhere.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) said in a statement that it “firmly rejects this disingenuous attempt to paint pro-Palestinian and anti-war protesters as any sort of threat, particularly as these students and faculty are the ones facing a very real risk of being attacked by both police and pro-genocide agitators” as seen at UCLA where vigilantes supporting Israel’s actions were heard calling for a “second Nakba.”

Approximately 800,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes and lands by Zionist militias and later by the Israeli army in the 1948 ethnic cleansing referenced by the vigilantes.

Democrats and Republicans unwilling to resist putting a chill on speech calling for Palestinian rights during the Biden administration shouldn’t be expected to find their voices under a second Trump administration.

Other US legislation seeking to crush dissent around Palestinian rights is rampant and has been meticulously documented by Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace.


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Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune,, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.