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House of Representatives Paves the Path for More Attacks on Palestine Protesters

A new bipartisan bill sets the stage for new legislation targeting pro-Palestine activists by defining any opposition to the state of Israel as antisemitism.

Olivia Wood

December 9, 2023
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A protester holds up a sign that reads "Anti zionism is not anti-semitism"
Sean Gallup / Getty

On Tuesday, December 5, the House of Representatives passed a bill (H.R. 894) explicitly declaring that anti-Zionism is a form of antisemitism, with a vote of 311-14 and 92 members voting “Present.” This was a highly bipartisan bill, with all but one of the Republicans and nearly half of the Democrats voting in favor, and most of the rest of the Democrats declining to take a position. 

Anti-Zionist Jews are particularly incensed by the legislation, the idea that Congress can legislate what is and is not an acceptable way to be Jewish, and the bill’s intent to erase the political diversity within their communities and long history and current upsurge of anti-Zionist Jewish organizing.

The intent of the bill is plainly to lay the groundwork for future laws that will target pro-Palestine organizing, and to expand the scope of existing laws regarding antisemitism. For instance, another bill (H.R. 6578) was introduced on Monday to “establish the Commission to Study Acts of Antisemitism in the United States,” which many people are comparing to the House Committee on Un-American Activities and McCarthyism. The proposed bill authorizes the Commission to hold hearings and subpoena witnesses. The framing of both H.R. 6578 and H.R. 894 indicates that both bills have been created specifically to target pro-Palestine speech, people, and organizations, such as Students for Justice in Palestine, which has already been banned from public colleges in Florida.

While pro-Palestine activists of all kinds will be vulnerable to repression, it seems likely that the primary victims will be Muslim college students. The Biden administration has already allocated new funding for surveillance of college campuses, and in New York, Governor Hochul has also dedicated $75 million in new funding for “combating antisemitism,” including a special investigation into antisemitism at the City University of New York, which already has a history of spying on Muslim students. This “anti-Zionism = antisemitism” bill from the House of Representatives, if it becomes law, would also give state governments legal and political cover for further targeting anti-Zionist activists, including firing public employees who make anti-Zionist statements.

On Saturday morning, Governor Hochul released a new statement warning college and university administrators that failure to address antisemitism on their campuses according to student codes of conduct would constitute a violation of New York State Human Rights Law and Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act. The statement was addressing testimony from other university administrators in congressional hearings earlier this week, which falsely claimed that protest chants related to “intifada” (an Arabic word that can refer to many types of collective action in resistance to oppression) are a call for genocide. 

In recent weeks, other officials have claimed that “from the river to the sea” is also a call for genocide. It’s vital to understand that these supposed “calls for genocide” taking place on college campuses that Hochul’s statement and the congressional hearing refer to are not calls for genocide at all, but protests against the current genocide happening against the people of Gaza. This is a type of rhetorical sleight-of-hand is intended to demonize not actual calls for genocide, but protests in support of Palestine and common chants used at these protests. Meanwhile, actual calls for genocide against Palestinians are unremarked upon by most U.S. officials. In fact, several Republican congressmen have openly made such statements, like Representative Brian Mast questioning whether there are any innocent Palestinians at all. 

Zionist propaganda is failing, and young people in particular are overwhelmingly supporting the Palestinian people, so an escalation of suppression is needed. While antisemitism is real and must be condemned, anti-Zionism is not antisemitism, and this bill is not actually about protecting Jews from discrimination — it’s about setting up further political repression of views that threaten U.S. interests in the Middle East. The bill is an attack on all people’s right to political speech and aims to suppress future protests and other forms of political speech going forward.

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Olivia Wood

Olivia is a writer and editor at Left Voice and lecturer in English at the City University of New York (CUNY).

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