on the hill

Amid growing campus protests, House to vote on codifying Trump’s antisemitism executive order

The legislation would codify the use of the IHRA definition of antisemitism in considering campus antisemitism cases, which could prove controversial

David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY) speaks during a press conference outside of Columbia University on April 22, 2024 in New York City.

The House is scheduled to vote next week on the bipartisan Antisemitism Awareness Act, the latest move by top House lawmakers to respond to growing anti-Israel protests on college campuses over the past week.

The bill would codify the Trump administration’s 2019 executive order instructing the Department of Education to treat antisemitism on college campuses as a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and to utilize the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism in assessing cases of antisemitism. The Biden administration has continued to enforce the Trump order.

“The horrific antisemitism we’ve seen at colleges and universities, and the abdication of these campuses to antisemitic radicals, has been painful to witness in real time,” Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY), the bill’s lead House sponsor, said in a statement. “Which is why I’m thrilled to hear that the Antisemitism Awareness Act is coming up for a vote next week. This critical legislation will help put a stop to this once and for all and ensure campuses remain safe for Jewish students,” 

A coalition of 31 Jewish groups sent a new letter to House lawmakers on Thursday urging prompt passage of the bill, calling it “more timely and important than ever” as campus incidents have “reached a fever pitch.”

“The current climate certainly reinforces the need for the Department of Education to have clear guidance when investigating instances in which anti-Israel activity may cross a line into antisemitic harassment that creates a hostile environment for Jewish students on campus in violation of federal civil rights laws,” the letter continues.

A variety of Jewish community organizations have been encouraging lawmakers to exclusively back the IHRA definition. But there’s also been growing opposition to the IHRA definition among progressives both on and off Capitol Hill. Some conservative lawmakers might also be inclined to oppose the bill due to concerns around free speech.

Last year, a resolution expressing support for the IHRA definition and describing anti-Zionism as antisemitism passed by a 311-14 vote, with 92 Democrats voting present and 13 voting against.

The bill will require only a simple majority vote. In addition to Lawler, other lead sponsors include Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Max Miller (R-OH) and Jared Moskowitz (D-FL). It has 29 additional Republican and 10 other Democratic cosponsors.

“The timing of this vote is critical considering that anti-Israel and antisemitic protests are flaring up across the nation,” Karen Paikin Barall, vice president of government relations for the Jewish Federations of North America, said in a statement. “The Department of Education needs this major tool in their toolkit so that they can hold schools accountable for allowing antisemitic behavior on campus.”

JFNA, which has made the bill a priority issue, has been “the leading advocate” for the legislation, Barall continued, noting that federations have held “hundreds” of meetings with congressional staff on the issue.

William Daroff, the CEO of the Conference of President of Major American Jewish Organizations, said, “The violent and antisemitic demonstrations underway” at campuses nationwide “require us to provide the Department of Education will all the guidance and tools it needs to ensure the safety of Jewish students. In order to begin to address the problem of antisemitism, we must be using the IHRA working definition of antisemitism.”

In a letter to the bill’s sponsors, leaders of the Orthodox Union said that the bill will “make even more clear the legal obligation for universities to protect students on campuses around the country,” and that codifying the application of IHRA at the Department of Education “will play a critical role in ensuring the safety of Jewish students in classroom and on campuses around the country.”

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