US House passes controversial bill targeting student protests

The US House of Representatives has approved a bill that aims to crack down on antisemitism. (Photo/Reuters)

US lawmakers have voted to expand the legal definition of anti-Semitism amid pro-Palestine Student Spring protests that have roiled college campuses nationwide, with critics arguing the legislation unfairly conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

The bill, passed 320-91 on Wednesday, was led by Representative Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., and had 15 Democratic co-sponsors. Many Republicans and Democrats who voted against the bill said it infringes on free speech.

"I'm thankful for the bipartisan support of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act and for the support from a wide range of Jewish organisations that are standing up, endorsing this legislation, and saying enough is enough," New York Republican Mike Lawler said in a statement.

New York Democrat Jerry Nadler told colleagues on the House floor: "Speech that is critical of Israel alone does not constitute unlawful discrimination. The bill sweeps too broadly."

"Criticism of Israeli government"

The cross-party bill requires the Department of Education to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance [IHRA] definition of anti-Semitism when tackling discrimination.

The IHRA states that "denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination" by, for example, "claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour" is a form of anti-Semitism.

Critics of the bill — including the American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] — describe it as government overreach that will chill free speech.

It will "likely chill free speech of students on college campuses by incorrectly equating criticism of the Israeli government with anti-Semitism."

The measure will need to be taken up by the Senate before it can become law.

Protests against the Gaza war, with its high Palestinian civilian death toll, have roiled university campuses across the US in recent days.

Students and scholars are demanding their universities cut ties with Israel and also with firms and institutions supporting Tel Aviv’s war on Palestinians.

The unrest has swept through higher education institutions like wildfire, with protesters installing tent encampments on campus grounds from coast to coast after around 100 protesters were first arrested at Columbia University in New York on April 18.

In the last 24 hours, authorities have arrested hundreds of demonstrators at university campuses throughout the United States. In New York, approximately 300 protesters were detained overnight at Columbia University and City College of New York on Wednesday.

Additionally, at least a dozen individuals were apprehended at the University of Wisconsin.


Source: TRT