With the Israel-Hamas conflict having sparked a wave of protests across college campuses, U.S. Sen. Katie Britt has signed onto a bill that would codify into law definitions of antisemitism.
Such definitions would allow for federally funded education programs and groups that engage in activities deemed antisemitic to be defunded under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
At a recent Senate Banking Committee hearing, Britt spoke to the wave of protests that have erupted across the country, calling them “unacceptable” and “spreading propaganda.”
Among the protests she named was an Oct. 18 rally organized by two progressive Jewish groups, in which participants called for a ceasefire in a congressional building, resulting in 300 arrests. Another protest Britt named took place on Nov. 4 that included tens of thousands marching in Washington, D.C., in which pro-Palestinian participants also called for a cease-fire and defaced government buildings, including a White House gate.
“On college campuses and in cities across the country, including in our nation’s capital city, and even in the halls of Congress, we have seen antiemetic protests justifying and even glorifying the actions of Hamas,” Britt said.
“This is spreading propaganda, and it is absolutely unacceptable. I never thought that in the United States of America, in this time we would struggle to just call evil, evil. The actions of Hamas should not be applauded, celebrated or praised by any American.”
Dubbed the Antisemitism Awareness Act, the bill, which has been sponsored by five other Senators, would codify into law the definition of antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an international organization that promotes Holocaust education, research and remembrance.
The definition of antisemitism as defined by the IHRA includes 11 key points, largely centering around discrimination of Jewish people based on their religion, or Holocaust denial. While the definitions have been adopted by many countries, states and organizations, some – including some progressive Jewish groups – have pushed back on some of the definition’s language as it pertains to the state of Israel.
Under the IHRA’s definition, “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis,” or “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” are considered antisemitic behavior. Those definitions, at least according to Joe Sterling with pro-Israel advocacy group J Street, “could threaten free speech over issues involving Israel and the occupied territories” by conflating antisemitism with critiques of the Israeli government.
Britt, appearing to touch on criticisms related to the IHRA definitions for antisemitism, argued that the continued existence of the state of Israel was a promise made by not only the United States, but several western powers in the aftermath of World War II, and the genocide of six million Jews during the Holocaust.
“Remember, the state of Israel was created following the Holocaust so that Jewish people would never have to hide again, but yet that is what we are seeing today,” Britt continued.
“As Americans, we’ve pledged since World War II, never again. Since Oct. 7, that promise has been under attack, both in Israel and here at home. We have a moral obligation to fulfill our promise, and that under our watch, never again means never again.”
The next step for the bill will be to be reviewed by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
More than a month into the conflict, more than 12,000 people have been killed as of Nov. 13, including 1,200 Israelis and 11,000 Palestinians.