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Van Hollen blocks Hawley resolution condemning antisemitic campus protests

The liberal Maryland senator argued that the resolution was an an ‘attempt to smear students’ protesting the war who had not engaged in antisemitism

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) on Thursday blocked an effort by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) to request the immediate passage of a resolution condemning as antisemitic student groups and protests on college campuses that criticized Israel and supported Hamas.

Hawley introduced the resolution a day prior, with Sens. Rick Scott (R-FL), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Ted Budd (R-NC) co-sponsoring. He came to the Senate floor on Thursday to request that the bill be passed by unanimous consent, immediately without further consideration by the Senate or a formal vote. Any single senator can block such a unanimous consent request, which are often used to fast-track broadly bipartisan and non-controversial measures. (Unanimous consent requests made on the floor without prior unanimous agreement have sometimes been criticized as political stunts.)

Hawley’s resolution charges that “students at universities in the United States have praised and justified the actions of Hamas, expressed solidarity with the terrorists, and vocally supported the atrocities of Hamas, including the murder of children.”

The legislation enumerates several specific public statements from pro-Palestinian student groups that defended or excused Hamas’ actions.

It denounces “the rhetoric of anti-Israel, pro-Hamas student groups as antisemitic, repugnant and morally contemptible for sympathizing with genocidal violence against the state of Israel and risking the physical safety of Jewish Americans in the United States.”

“Maybe almost as disturbing as the facts of these terrible attacks themselves is the response of some people in this country, on our college campuses in this country, who promptly took to the streets, to the courtyards of these campuses, to the airwaves to broadcast their support for this genocide against the people of Israel,” Hawley said on the Senate floor yesterday, introducing the resolution. “And in the wake of this, campus leaders have been silent. They have refused to condemn this violent, virulent, genocidal, antisemitic rhetoric for what it is.”

Van Hollen objected to the passage of the bill, arguing that, while he fully condemned the Hamas massacre and antisemitic activity related to it, the legislation was overly broad, not accounting for students who criticized Israel but did not engage in antisemitism.

“What this resolution does is attempt to smear students — many of whom engaged in antisemitic remarks — but many who did not,” he said. “And my view is that when you come to the Senate floor to pass such a resolution, and you’re talking about freedom of speech, it’s very important not to paint a broad brush and condemn everybody engaging In speech. This is what this resolution does.”

“It’s an attempt to say even to those who had legitimate statements to make about war and peace, to smear them all as making antisemitic remarks,” Van Hollen continued. “There are student groups that may have… legitimate concerns about the loss of innocent civilian life in Gaza.”

He said, however, that he was not defending any of the specific statements enumerated in the resolution. Hawley countered that students like the ones Van Hollen described would not be condemned by the resolution.

Van Hollen said that, while many of the protests were “repugnant,” they were nonviolent, and  the only violent hate crime seen in the U.S. known to be inspired by the Hamas attack was the murder of a young Palestinian-American boy in Chicago and stabbing of his mother. He questioned why this incident was not mentioned in Hawley’s resolution. 

Van Hollen added that “there have been a lot of other antisemitic remarks around the country” and said the Senate “is going to have to think long and hard” if it wants to “make a practice” of “regularly coming to condemn hateful remarks” against a range of groups.

“I would stand with my colleagues in standing up to hateful rhetoric, condemning antisemitism,” Van Hollen said. “What this resolution does is not that.”

Hawley responded that Van Hollen’s comments constituted “defense of the most vile antisemitic rhetoric under the excuse, that to call out specifically, the specific statements and denounce them one at a time, and say this is wrong — that is somehow a smear.”

In a subsequent statement to Jewish Insider, Van Hollen characterized Hawley’s resolution as directed at colleges and students generally, rather than actually focused on antisemitism.

“There is no room for hate, antisemitism or violence of any kind in our nation. We must stand up and speak out forcefully anytime we see it. That’s why I have wholly condemned the horrific attacks by Hamas and throughout my time in Congress, have always spoken out against antisemitism, including on the floor today,” Van Hollen said. “Senator Hawley’s resolution was not about that. His resolution aimed to take advantage of this moment to make politically motivated attacks against colleges — and students writ large — with a broad brush that undermines any true condemnation of hateful speech.”

The Senate unanimously passed a resolution yesterday expressing support for Israel by a 97-0 vote; Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), the only senator who did not co-sponsor the resolution, also voted in favor of it. The three non-voting senators were absent from Washington.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul (R-TX) wrote to the administration yesterday asserting that Hamas’ attack on Israel constituted genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes against Israel and the Jewish people, and requested that the State Department formally determine and declare as much.

Highlighting that many of Hamas’ actions had been documented and shared on social media, 11 Republican senators on the Senate Commerce Committee, led by Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-TX), wrote to the heads of X, TikTok, Meta and Alphabet on Friday morning requesting that the companies not permanently delete any content showing the attack.

“While steps should be taken to curb attempts by Hamas to weaponize social media for its own ends, it is indisputable that social media platforms have already played a critical role in exposing the international community to the genocidal atrocities committed against Israel,” the letters, obtained by JI, read. “Much of this content is graphic and violent, and under normal circumstances it might be removed under your company’s content policies.”

The companies “have a responsibility to preserve [the content] in such a way that the public record and historical record can accurately document the horrific atrocities being carried out,” the Senators said.

The senators request details on the companies’ content moderation practices and potential regulations relevant to the situation at hand, and how they are being applied with regard to the situation in Israel. They also ask how the companies are ensuring compliance with U.S. sanctions on Hamas.

Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) and 35 other Democrats urged the administration to quickly ensure humanitarian access to the Gaza Strip, warning that “a humanitarian collapse in Gaza would threaten regional stability.”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing yesterday with Herro Mustafa Garg, a career State Department official nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to Egypt.

“We are partnering with Egypt on a crucial vision for addressing urgent humanitarian needs in Gaza and enabling the safe passage of Americans and those who are at immediate risk through the Rafah crossing,” Garg said. “Equally important is the U.S.-Egypt partnership on an affirmative vision for a Middle East region focused on peace and security, negotiating a two- state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians, and furthering regional integration.”

She said that her current understanding is that the specific mechanisms of the U.S.-Egypt agreement to allow humanitarian supplies to enter Gaza and U.S. citizens to leave the strip are still being finalized.

Garg said that the U.S.’ security aid to Egypt “is an investment in self-reliant, capable and accountable Egyptian Armed Forces aligned with U.S. priorities and values,” but also pledged to “consistently raise” human rights and rule of law concerns with the Egyptian government.

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