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Antisemitism Awareness Act Is the Antidote to DEI

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Raising the Flag of Israel on the occasion of the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948

Last week, something all too rare occurred: The House of Representatives passed excellent legislation with a broad bipartisan majority.

Introducing the Antisemitism Awareness Act

The Antisemitism Awareness Act, which Republicans backed 187-21 and Democrats 133-70, does far more than provide a critical tool in the fight against surging antisemitism. It’s a model of excellence in the fight against DEI and ESG, wokeism in general, the overreaching administrative state, and the erosion of free speech rights.

That’s why it’s surprising and disappointing to see opposition arising not only from antisemites – from whom it was expected – but from politicians, scholars, and pundits who normally side with freedom. Many of their critiques rail against a straw man: a nonexistent draconian bit of legislation designed to criminalize negative statements (if not negative thoughts) about Jews. Yet while such legislation would warrant opposition on many of the grounds they cite, it would also bear no relation to the bill that just passed.

The actual Antisemitism Awareness Act is a rare example of clear, modest legislation. It changes no laws. It makes nothing new illegal. It limits rather than enlarges bureaucratic discretion. Most importantly, it neuters the deconstruction – the tendency to redefine words to mean their opposites – at the heart of so many of the woke assaults on freedom.

A formal legal definition

The legislation actually passed does one thing and one thing only: It embraces a formal legal definition of “antisemitism.” Recognizing a statement as antisemitic does not render it illegal. It does, however, provide valuable evidence of intent, where relevant.

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What does that mean? Consider a simple parallel example that made the rounds last week on social media: A heckler’s taunt of Rep. Byron Donalds as an “Uncle Tom” was offensive, racist – and entirely legal. Given a different context, however, such a statement could provide evidence of invidious intent. A black employee fired by someone who disparaged him as an Uncle Tom, for example, would have an excellent employment discrimination case. The same is true of antisemitism: Seeing it where it is and as it is does not equate to criminalization.

More importantly, definitions play a critical role in the law – which is why the woke penchant for deconstruction is so deadly. Simply redefine “diversity,” “equity,” and “inclusion” to mean their opposites and … Voila! Promote conformity, discrimination, and exclusion while claiming the moral high ground.

Deconstruction as a weapon of woke

I’ve written at length about deconstruction as one of the primary weapons in the woke arsenal. I’ve also identified definition as the necessary weapon for defense and counterattack. The Antisemitism Awareness Act deploys that defensive weapon deftly.

The problem of deconstruction is rampant and accelerating – as is the need for more definition-based legislation. The Biden administration’s recent revisions to Title IX, to pick a particularly egregious example, injected biologically male transwomen into women’s sports by deconstructing terms like “woman,” “sex,” and “gender.” It was able to do so by executive order because no one in Congress had ever imagined that such words required defining.

The bottom line is that no law can be applied unless its key terms are first defined. That’s as true for contract and patent disputes as it is for civil rights protections. There can be no protection against antisemitic, racist, or sexist discrimination unless someone first defines antisemitism, racism, and sexism.

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Definition must come from somewhere. If Congress does not provide clear, consistent definitions, individual judges, administrators, and bureaucrats will craft inconsistent and “evolving” definitions to suit their tastes of the moment.

Freedom advocates should welcome and encourage legislated definitions. While anyone can, of course, accept that principle while objecting to a specific definition, the specific definition incorporated into the Antisemitism Awareness Act is excellent and of proven value.

How the Antisemitism Awareness Act achieved simplicity

Not surprisingly, this excellence was possible only because Congress bypassed the messy, petty bickering that often renders bipartisanship impossible even when the two major political parties agree on broad principles. Instead, Congress turned to an accepted, vetted definition developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Numerous countries or their agencies have already adopted the full IHRA definition, including the U.S. State Department (under Barack Obama) and the Department of Education (under Donald Trump).

The full IHRA definition – meaning the formal definition plus its illustrative examples – has been recognized as one of the most effective tools in combatting contemporary antisemitism. That’s why so many outright antisemites and their apologists keep trying to water it down.

Moreover, the IHRA definition has already proven its value in the battle against woke deconstruction. In the U.K., which adopted the full definition in 2016, the radical Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn attempted to eliminate several illustrative examples that served to highlight his own antisemitism. The ensuing controversy played a critical role in his crushing 2019 defeat. Few other definitions of anything have been comparably battle-tested.

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Ultimately, the Antisemitism Awareness Act is more than good bipartisan legislation. It’s a model of the type of legislation America will need if we’re going to reclaim our language and our country. Antisemites have an excellent reason to oppose it. All other opponents should reread the actual legislation and rethink their positions.


Editor’s Note

The views expressed herein are the author’s own and do not represent the position of CNAV. CNAV stands on its earlier position that this bill could indeed construe to legitimize legal sanctions against Christians for quoting passages of Scripture that implicate the ancient Jews (though, true enough, not the modern State of Israel) in the Passion of the Christ, and the maltreatment of the earliest Apostles and Deacons during the Principates of Emperors Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius I, and Nero.


This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.

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Executive Director, New Student and Graduate Admissions at | (941) 487-4750 | babramson@ncf.edu | + posts

Bruce Abramson is the executive director of new student & graduate admissions at New College of Florida and a director of the American Center for Education and Knowledge.

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