May 3, 2024

Suppressing Free Speech Is Not the Anti-Semitism Solution

Combatting bigotry is a great idea, but the best way to do that is with more, not less, free speech.

Leftists have been relentlessly assaulting free speech for several years now. In fact, the attack on the First Amendment might be the gravest threat to American Liberty today. So, what did House Republicans do? Pass a bill that stands on shaky ground when it comes to the First Amendment.

Yesterday, the House passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act by a vote of 320-91. Introduced in October by New York Republican Mike Lawler and Florida Democrat Jared Moskowitz, the bill adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism for the purpose of enforcing federal laws. Anti-Semitism is “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” says the IHRA. “Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” The State Department also adopted this definition in 2016.

Anti-Semitism is reprehensible, and Jews have greater reason than most people groups for fearing the escalation of such bigotry.

After the genocidal assault perpetrated by Iran-backed Hamas on Israel on October 7, the response on the American Left was often to link rhetorical arms with Hamas, not Israel. This has divided Democrats, and party pooh-bahs are increasingly alarmed by the radical campus protests roiling the nation — protests that are the hate-filled effluent of Marxist indoctrination Democrats ensure fills the nation’s schools. It’s not without reason that many see parallels with 1930s Germany, and it’s easy to see why some folks think there oughtta be a law.

That said, short of taking violent or otherwise criminal action against someone, saying racist or bigoted things is legal in America, as is the counter-speech necessary to fight it.

Even though the stated intent is now to help deal with campus protests, free speech is why the House legislation is problematic. While there are limits to what Americans can say and where we can say it — your employer is not obliged to let you publicly represent the company however you please, and colleges are not required to allow students to occupy, trash, and vandalize property — Congress’s role in restricting speech is and should be very limited.

Especially concerning for at least some of the 21 Republicans who opposed the bill is that the IHRA’s list of “contemporary examples” of anti-Semitism includes “using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.” Several of those 21 specifically said anti-Semitism is wrong, but they worry that this bill would open the door to prosecuting Christians for preaching the Gospel because of relevant details about the death of Jesus.

I’m not going to get into the debate over who killed Jesus other than to say that many of the people arguing about it are missing the point of the Gospel. I’ll add that Jesus was Jewish and spent a good bit of his ministry criticizing other Jews.

“We’re not interested in messing with the Gospel, nor does this language do that,” insisted Lawler, who is Catholic. “It’s absurd on its face,” he added, to claim that the bill would criminalize the Gospel. “It’s inflammatory and it’s irrational.”

Actually, with administrations like Joe Biden’s, it’s totally reasonable to fear expansive and terrible interpretations of federal law so as to enable the persecution of political opponents. It’s also a good idea to jealously guard free speech.

As an aside, if criticizing the Israeli government ends up being classified as anti-Semitism, the people most guilty of that are Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, and a whole heap of other Democrats.

Wyoming Representative Harriet Hageman voted against the bill because it “provides no actual relief for terrorized Jewish students and infringes on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” Specifically, she added, “By using the definition of anti-Semitism from a foreign non-governmental organization, the bill attempts to criminalize what someone’s ‘perception’ of another person might be, which is a clear violation of the First Amendment.” Anti-Semitism is “offensive,” she said, but it’s also “constitutionally protected speech.”

We’ve been slower than some to assail House Speaker Mike Johnson, knowing that he has a history of rock-solid conservatism and a tiny and fractious majority with which to work against a Democrat Senate and White House. Our Emmy Griffin tackled Marjorie Taylor Greene’s coup today, and I analyzed Johnson and the GOP herd of cats last week.

But I must say the House bill is perplexing, and Johnson has some explaining to do. “What’s happening on college campuses right now is wrong,” he said Tuesday. “It is un-American.” So is restricting free speech.

The First Amendment considerations are paramount, but there are also political reasons this was a bad idea. It comes as Democrats are tearing themselves apart and panicking that these college protests are helping Donald Trump. The least Republicans could have done would be nothing. Instead, it seems like they grabbed the rope and hung themselves.

Follow Nate Jackson on X/Twitter.

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