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Are We Redefining Anti-Semitism or Freedom of Speech?


Students have gathered nationwide to protest their government and education system's support of Palestinian genocide. The pro-Palestine protest has attracted nationwide coverage and sparked conversation regarding anti-Semitism, ethnic cleansing, Holocaust history and the limits of free speech in America.


On May 1, 2024, the U.S. The House of Representatives passed the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which redefined anti-Semitism in the United States and how it should be addressed. The adapted definition was created and revised by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The new definition and its contemporary examples state that "rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” The proposed bill criticizes the creation of Israel and Zionism as anti-Semitic. Ultimately, passing this bill will make it anti-Semitic to criticize Israel and their actions against Palestine. Additionally, this legislation makes protesting against Israel anti-Semitic and redefines what is considered free speech.


It is no secret that the United States heavily supports Israel's endeavors against Palestine, and the government has shown heavy opposition to these college encampments and pro-Palestine movements. The close ties between the United States and Israel have prompted speculation regarding the true intentions behind this legislation. This has led many to question whether redefining antisemitism is for the betterment of Jewish people or the government. Redefining antisemitism allows them to place limitations on freedom of speech and scare protestors into silence by providing grounds that enable them to arrest these protesters legally.


A major concern regarding this bill is its infringement on free speech. Because of the bill's ambiguity, it ultimately labels certain forms of political speech and activism as anti-Semitic. Passing this bill allows the government to suspend freedom of speech and assembly on the basis of discrimination. This defeats the purpose of the First Amendment, which allows every member of the United States the freedom of speech, assembly and religion. As Representative Chip Roy states, “When we want to insert the government into what you’re thinking and what motivates you, you are empowering that which should never be empowered. The ability of the government to police thought,” giving the government the power to redefine free speech ultimately allows them to suspend our rights and filter what we can say and do with our opinions.


Civil liberties organizations have raised objections regarding this bill. These organizations, including the ACLU, have voiced objections to the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, arguing that it equates criticism of the Israeli government with anti-Semitism and could lead to the arrest of protesters and activists. Alongside the Countering Anti-Semitism Act, this bill allows the government to legally arrest protesters and anti-Zionist activists and pull federal funding from colleges that don’t stop encampments and anti-Israel protests. Within the new definition, criticizing and denying the creation of Israel is considered anti-Semitic.


Many will argue that this bill aims to protect Jewish communities, often highlighting that anti-Semitism remains a significant problem within the United States. This bill attempts to protect Jewish individuals and communities against discrimination, harassment and violence. By associating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, this bill also undermines the efforts to address actual discrimination and hatred against Jewish individuals and communities, ultimately diluting the severity of actual instances of incidents.


While protecting Jewish individuals and communities is crucial, it should not be done at the expense of other communities and people. Redefining anti-Semitism in a way that limits freedom of speech sets a dangerous precedent for government overreach and erosion of constitutional rights. If passed, this bill could mark the beginning of a troubling trend toward censorship and suppression of dissenting voices.


Acknowledgment: The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the individual author. 

1 Comment


Fantastic piece, Mame. Indeed the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act is a concerning prospect. It seems to me, that the bill intends to conflate anti-semitism with criticism of Israel, which is an outright decietful political tactic at best. I think this bill actually sheds light on the true nature of our governance structures and political class in Washington. You are free to criticize U.S. allies such as France, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and so forth. Students could protest the exploitative neo-colonial practices of the French in Africa by setting up encampments accross the country, or perhaps they could use the same means to protest U.S. support for Saudi Arabia's brutal war on Yemen over the years. If this were the case,…

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