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U.S. House approves definition of anti-Semitism as campus protests continue • Pennsylvania Capital-Star

WASHINGTON – Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday with strong support from Democrats that would define anti-Semitism for the Education Department, amid nationwide protests on college campuses with students calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The 320-91 vote would codify the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of anti-Semitism into Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – which all schools receiving federal funding are required to comply with.

But some Democrats expressed concerns that the language was too broad and could hurt free speech in schools.

“Speech critical of Israel alone does not constitute unlawful discrimination,” said the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, during debate on the bill, HR 6090.

All 17 members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted in favor, except for Democrats Dwight Evans (PA-03), Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-05), and Summer Lee (PA-12), who voted against. Republican Glenn Thompson (PA-15) did not vote.

Republicans have sharply criticized the leaders of higher education institutions where protests are taking place, calling on them to resign and send law enforcement to crack down on the protesting students.

House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana is also taking congressional measures to address the protests, such as tighter oversight of university presidents and cutting funding.

New York Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer did not commit to sending the House bill to the Senate in a news conference Wednesday.

“We haven’t seen what the House is sending us yet,” he said.

Lawmakers have focused on Columbia University in New York, where students set up a “Gaza solidarity camp.”

Students are demanding that the university break its financial ties, such as foundations, with companies that do business with Israel or produce weapons used in the Gaza war. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, more than 34,000 Palestinians were killed.

New York police were stationed on campus early Wednesday by Columbia University President Minouche Shafik. He authorized the NYPD to sweep the campus after students took over one of the buildings where there was a long history of student activism, namely Hamilton Hall spectators, according to Columbia.

However, the students occupying the building have also drawn criticism from Democrats.

“Breaking windows with hammers and taking over university buildings is not free speech — it is lawlessness, and those who did it should face immediate consequences that are not just a slap on the wrist,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Tuesday .

According to the Associated Press, more than 300 students were arrested by the NYPD.

Cotton calls for the protection of Jewish students

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton held a news conference Wednesday where he joined several Senate Republicans in calling on university presidents to crack down on the camps and protect Jewish students.

Cotton called on the State Department to revoke the visas of international students who participated in the protests and called on the Education Department to withhold federal funding from schools where protests are taking place.

“They have the right to go out and make fools of themselves and protest in the name of Hamas, but they do not have the right to build small Gazas in violation of the laws,” Cotton said, referring to the protesters and camps.

Cotton was joined by Sens. Rick Scott of Florida, James Lankford of Oklahoma, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Roger Marshall of Kansas.

Lankford said the protesters crossed a line and made Jewish students feel unsafe.

“Every university and every student has the right to be able to express their opinions and try out new ideas – it is the nature of a university campus to be able to express themselves and think about different things. Lankford said.

“We are a nation that prides itself on its right to speak out, but we are also a nation that says, 'You can't go there and intimidate someone else.'”

Kennedy and Marshall said diversity, inclusion and equity policies led to the protests on college campuses.

Kennedy said he blamed some faculty members at those higher education institutions for the protests.

“Some of these universities have faculty members who believe in diversity, equity and inclusion,” he said.

Ernst said universities need to “put an end to this.”

“If they don’t, they should say goodbye to their federal funding,” she said.

Argument against bill

Nadler was the only Democrat to speak against the bill during floor debate on Wednesday.

He argued that the language was too broad and would limit freedom of expression.

“While I agree with many parts of the bill, its core provision would result in one specific definition of anti-Semitism being used to the exclusion of all others when the Department of Education evaluates claims of anti-Semitism on campus,” Nadler said.

He took issue with some of the examples listed in the definition that could be considered anti-Semitic, such as criticism of the State of Israel.

This definition would read: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which can be expressed as hatred towards Jews.” Rhetorical and physical expressions of anti-Semitism are directed against Jewish or non-Jewish persons and/or their property, against Jewish community institutions and religious institutions. “

Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of California said the bill was needed because there has been a rise in anti-Semitism since Oct. 7, the start of the Hamas-Israel war, when Hamas carried out an attack on Israeli civilians.

“You can’t fight anti-Semitism if you can’t define it,” he said.

Republican Rep. Mike Lawler of New York, who sponsored the bill, said without a clear definition of anti-Semitism, the Department of Education and higher education administrators would have difficulty identifying what is considered anti-Semitic.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect students from discrimination based solely on religion. When a student files a complaint, the Education Department's Civil Rights Division forwards those complaints to the Justice Department, the Education Department said.

Nadler argued that the bill would endanger free speech “while doing nothing to combat anti-Semitism.”

Education and Workforce Committee Chairwoman Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina said the definition was necessary to “ensure the safety of Jewish students.”

Foxx has held several hearings throughout the year in which she and Republicans on the committee questioned university leaders about the pro-Palestinian protests on their campuses. Another meeting is scheduled for May 23 for the leaders of Yale, UCLA and the University of Michigan.

Anna Harden

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