OpinionAntisemitism

A Massachusetts congressman opposes the best definition of antisemitism

Rep. Jake Auchincloss voted against essential legislation codifying the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.) on Capitol Hill. Source: Jake Auchincloss/Facebook.
Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.) on Capitol Hill. Source: Jake Auchincloss/Facebook.
Robert Mayer
Robert Mayer

On May 1, 2024, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act of 2023 (H.R. 6090) with a significant bipartisan majority. This legislation, designed to enhance federal efforts to combat antisemitism, especially in educational settings, incorporated the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s Working Definition of Antisemitism into Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

Yet, Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.) voted against this critical measure, citing concerns about its potential to limit academic freedom and calling it unconstitutional. Notably, Auchincloss is the only Jewish-American Representative from Massachusetts. Some legacy Jewish organizations have expressed similar concerns, which has fueled skepticism about such legislative efforts.

Auchincloss’s “no” vote aligned him with a small minority within the state’s delegation. Most of his Massachusetts Democratic colleagues—Katherine Clark, Bill Keating, Stephen Lynch, Seth Moulton, Richard Neal and Lori Trahan—all supported the bill. Auchincloss, along with Jim McGovern and Ayanna Pressley, chose to oppose the bill. This highlighted deep divisions among Massachusetts Democrats regarding the legislation.

Sadly, Auchincloss aligned his vote with the likes of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), all of whom hold extremist views on Israel and Jewish people.

As do others who oppose codifying the IHRA definition of antisemitism into anti-discrimination and hate crime laws, Auchincloss argues that the definition—which has been a tool for understanding and addressing antisemitism within the Department of Education since 2019—should not be the sole standard for Title VI investigations. He suggests that codifying this definition could unconstitutionally limit the scope of academic discourse, particularly discourse critical of the State of Israel.

It is noteworthy that both, by executive order, President Donald Trump and later President Joe Biden have embraced the IHRA definition as the primary standard.

The IHRA definition is currently the most comprehensive definition of antisemitism and the most up-to-date regarding the growing forms of Jew-hatred. It provides clear examples of how antisemitism can manifest, particularly in the guise of political discourse about Israel. This clarity is essential for distinguishing between legitimate criticism of a state’s policies, debate and research on the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and discriminatory practices or speech. Codifying the definition does not limit critique but rather guides educators and administrators in maintaining environments free from hate and bias. For example, by denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination (e.g., claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor). Recent events on campus have demonstrated the extent of many students’ and faculty’s hatred of Jews. Their unacceptable discrimination and violence are masquerading as political expression.

As an Israeli-American immigrant, I’m appalled by the opposition to the IHRA definition. It is crucial to recognize that resistance to adopting the IHRA framework veils a deeper agenda: To create a permissive exception to discrimination based on national origin, specifically against Jewish individuals who have their Israeli heritage deeply rooted in their identity.

By opposing a clear and internationally recognized definition of antisemitism, detractors are effectively arguing for a selective blind spot in our anti-discrimination laws. This not only undermines the fight against antisemitism but also sets a dangerous precedent of overlooking certain forms of bigotry or, worse, legitimizing them.

We must maintain a consistent and universal approach to combating all forms of discrimination, ensuring that the rights and dignities of all individuals, including those of Israeli and Jewish descent, are upheld without compromise.

Providing a level “playing field” of protection against discrimination or hate crimes to Jewish and Israeli students—as other minorities are granted—does not stifle academic freedom. If anything, it promotes and encourages lively debate without the fear of being discriminated against for your identity or views. Moreover, that this definition is already codified by executive decree does not diminish the importance of codifying it in legislation. Legislation would protect the definition from potential future executive actions that would reverse it.

Moving forward, Rep. Auchincloss has an opportunity and a responsibility to demonstrate leadership by ensuring that the fight against antisemitism is aligned with the preservation of academic freedom. By fostering an open conversation with his constituents and carefully reflecting on his views, he can contribute significantly to creating educational environments that are safe and inclusive for all students.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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