columnSchools & Higher Education

The House bill will hinder campus antisemitism, not free speech

A bizarre coalition of left- and right-wingers opposes a measure to mandate the enforcement of Title VI protections for Jewish students on campus. They’re both dead wrong.

The UCR sign at the center of the University of California, Riverside, covered in pro-Palestine, anti-Israel and anti-Zionist symbols, April 30, 2024. Credit: Fluffy89502 via Wikimedia Commons.
The UCR sign at the center of the University of California, Riverside, covered in pro-Palestine, anti-Israel and anti-Zionist symbols, April 30, 2024. Credit: Fluffy89502 via Wikimedia Commons.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

Faced with an opportunity to do something that would actually help give the federal government the ability to punish American universities that have let their campuses become hotbeds of antisemitism, a bipartisan majority of Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives did the right thing and passed a bill that can make that possible this week by a vote of 320-91.

But the number of “no” votes was still discouraging for two reasons.

It showed that 21% of House members aren’t willing to act on antisemitism, even in the face of the surge of prejudice and even violence against Jews especially on college campuses that has been on display since the Hamas attacks on Israel on Oct. 7.

Just as troubling is the fact that significant portions of both the Democrat and Republican caucuses opposed the act for different, albeit equally specious reasons. The strength of the opposition—both from politicians and pundits on both ends of the political spectrum—is problematic because it demonstrates how distorted the debate about the issue of antisemitism has become. Even worse, the fact that 70 of the 91 voting against it were Democrats may make it unlikely that the self-anointed shomer, or “guardian,” of Israel and the Jewish people in the Senate, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), will allow the law to come to vote in the upper body.

Civil rights also apply to Jews

The Antisemitism Awareness Act builds on the historic executive order issued by former President Donald Trump in December 2019 that echoed the past rulings of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, and accepted in principle by the Biden administration, about dealing with Jew-hatred.

Trump mandated that the government extend the Title VI anti-discrimination in education protections in the 1964 Civil Rights Act to Jews and other minorities. He also took the important step of also ruling that the U.S. Department of Education must use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism when deciding whether to sanction schools that violate the rights of Jewish students by cutting off their federal funding. And that funding is the leftist educational establishment’s Achilles heel, since without it all but the wealthiest institutions would be brought to their knees.

While the Education Department has conducted a series of investigations into schools for such violations, which have grown in number and severity over the last two decades, to date no institution of higher education has yet received the ultimate penalty for violating the civil rights of its Jewish students by enabling an atmosphere of antisemitic incitement. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, intimidation, harassment and even violence against Jewish students by woke leftist mobs of students, professors and professional agitators have become endemic. With many school administrations, especially at elite institutions, paralyzed by their fear of offending the mobs and often seeking to appease them in ways that will only make the problem worse, stopping federal funding may be the only way to fix the problem in the short run.

In 2019, the principal objections to the Trump executive orders came from the political left. The main problem for liberals and leftists about his decision is that it contradicted their contrived partisan narrative about Trump being an antisemite. So they twisted themselves into knots by declaring there was something problematic with a decision that clarified that the civil-rights act would apply to Jews.

The New York Times asserted that Trump wanted to redefine Jewish identity and was “effectively interpreting Judaism as a race or nationality.” The upshot of the slanted report was that the president’s motive was to distract the country from his own alleged antisemitism and to silence criticism of the State of Israel. That was echoed by another report from CNN. Moreover, the Times and articles published elsewhere intimated that it was “inherently antisemitic” for Trump to treat Jews as a separate nationality since it somehow fit in with the views of white nationalists to whom he has supposedly been dog-whistling.

But, of course, Trump was right to acknowledge that Jewish identity has always been a matter of both faith and ethnicity. And far from dog-whistling to right-wing extremists who already opposed him because of his historic support for Israel, the order showed just how much he was influenced by Jewish supporters who had urged him to do something about a growing problem.

Woke antisemitism

Meanwhile, left-wingers, especially anti-Zionists and extreme critics of Israel like the J Street lobby, stood against it because they opposed the IHRA definition, which specifically mentions the demonization of Israel and Zionism. They sought to redefine the term in such a way as to carve out an exception for antisemites who cloak their hatred in opposition to the existence of the one Jewish state on the planet. In fact, they claimed that punishing schools for allowing a hostile environment for Jews would be an unconstitutional restriction of free speech.

Nearly four and a half years later, the left is again up in arms, claiming that the law is violating free speech—mainly because they don’t wish to be held responsible for enabling and spreading antisemitism both before and after the atrocities by Hamas in Israel on Oct. 7.

But this time, though their motives are somewhat different, the same argument is also coming from the right. Some conservatives are saying that protecting Jews under the Civil Rights Act is somehow a version of the woke diversity, equity and inclusion catechism that they oppose. Still others wrongly call it unconstitutional. Some on the far right oppose the IHRA definition because they don’t like that it correctly states that one form of antisemitism includes: “Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.”

The left’s opposition to using Title VI against antisemites is entirely hypocritical.

They are ardent supporters of the Civil Rights Act when it comes to banning discrimination against blacks, Hispanics and other designated minorities. And they are just as eager to extend the law to cover those who fall under the rubric of the LGBTQ+ label. The entire thrust of woke ideology that they aim to impose on society seeks to divide the world into two groups locked in perpetual conflict: white oppressors and people of color, who are their victims. Since critical race theory and intersectionality always define Jews and Israel as “white” oppressors, granting Jews the same civil-rights protections contradicts their immoral and essentially racist view of the world.

Indeed, the main reason for the crisis of antisemitism on college campuses is the way woke indoctrination has conditioned a generation of students and their professors to falsely see the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as an extension of their vision of a worldwide race war. Since they ignorantly see Jews as “white” (even though the majority of Jews in Israel are, by the left’s definition, people of color because they trace their origins to the Middle East and North Africa), they reflexively sympathize not just with Palestinians but with Hamas terrorists who began the current war with the largest mass slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust.

Criticizing Israel is not illegal. Mere criticism of policies is not part of this discussion. Opposing the right of Jews—and Jews alone—to the right to live in peace and security in their ancient homeland, and supporting the efforts of genocidal terrorists to wipe them out, isn’t criticism. It’s bigotry as well as advocacy for antisemitic violence.

Free speech is not the issue

By contrast, some conservatives who oppose the left’s determination to hold onto their permission slip for antisemitism are suspicious of using the government to enforce the law. But while government bureaucrats have shown a propensity to shut down the speech of conservatives for partisan reasons, extending Title VI to antisemitism will not give them any more power to misuse it in that way.

One such critic is author Christopher Rufo, whose brilliant takedown of DEI in his book, America’s Cultural Revolution, is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what is happening in education and how toxic woke indoctrination spread throughout society. He writes that the best way to stop antisemitism would be to “defund decolonization studies departments, prohibit foreign state funding of U.S. universities and to expel students who disrupt operations, occupy buildings or commit violence.”

That makes sense but what he fails to see is that the only way we will ever be able to defund these schools is by using existing laws like the Civil Rights Act, which has already been stretched to ban most other forms of discrimination except antisemitism.

When liberals such as Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), who was among the 70 so-called progressives who voted against the bill, or the American Civil Liberties Union claim they oppose antisemitism but that extending Title VI to Jews would “chill free speech,” we know what kind of speech they don’t want chilled. They don’t want to discourage “criticism of Israel” or “support for Palestinians.” But the law doesn’t do that.

It does define antisemitism as:

• Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.

• Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations. 

• 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.

• Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

• Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.

• Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

• Holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the State of Israel.

If you don’t think any of those actions are antisemitic, then your only possible goal is to enable antisemitism.

The law wouldn’t ban anyone from saying any of those hateful things. Nor is it a matter of viewpoint discrimination. It would, however, punish any school that enabled certain actions—and not speech—that amounts to harassment or discrimination under Title VI also apply to Jews.

As conservative legal scholar Will Chamberlain writes, the argument that a measure ensuring that antisemitism is covered by Title VI is unconstitutional makes no sense unless you are arguing that the Civil Rights Act and Title VI protections for anyone are themselves unconstitutional.

As Chamberlain noted, “Title VI doesn’t supersede the First Amendment, so tweaking the understanding of antisemitic discrimination within Title VI can’t do that either. The substantive effect is that if you block Jews from campus on the grounds that they are Zionists, you will very clearly run afoul of Title VI, in the same way that you would if you blocked members of a racial group from campus.”

Right-wing myths

Much less substantive, not to mention rational, are the claims from the likes of Reps. Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-Ga.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) that using the IHRA definition of antisemitism to determine Title VI violations would effectively ban the New Testament. According to Greene, its passage would mean the government “could convict Christians of antisemitism for believing the Gospel that says Jesus was handed over to Herod to be crucified by the Jews.”

Right-wing talker Charlie Kirk and former Fox News TV host Tucker Carlson, who has become an open and vicious Israel-basher since leaving his former network, agreed with Greene.

This is nonsense on stilts. The New Testament is not attacked by the IHRA definition or the Antisemitism Awareness Act. Christians may believe what they like about the fate of Jesus. What the IHRA rightly labels as Jew-hatred are instances when present-day Jews are called “Christ-killers” or traditional blood libel tropes are invoked to oppose Israel’s existence or to incite antisemitic violence.

Sadly, this shows how extremes among both parties can still unite on one thing: their opposition to those who oppose antisemitism.

While some pundits accused Congress of virtue-signaling on antisemitism by passing this bill, that accusation would be better directed at its opponents. Democrats who voted “no” are showing the left-wing intersectional base that is directly responsible for fomenting antisemitism by attacking Israel that they have their backs. The smaller number of Republicans seems to think that elements of their base that are equally hostile to Jews need the same assurance.

It remains to be seen whether President Joe Biden, who is deeply anxious about offending the antisemitic element within his party’s left wing or Schumer will stop the passage of this necessary law in the Senate. Conservatives should remember that in supporting it, they are merely upholding one of the principal achievements of the Trump administration. Through his executive order, Trump did more to combat antisemitism on campus than any president. Democrats and Republicans who are against this measure may pretend that they are protecting the Constitution, but all they’re really doing is providing cover to antisemites at a moment in history when the virus of Jew-hatred has become a pandemic sweeping across American institutions of higher education.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war.

JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you.

The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support?

Every contribution, big or small, helps JNS.org remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Topics
Comments
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates