Congress’ Antisemitism Bill is a Disaster

Why it is Unconstitutional and Anti-Christian

The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday (May 1st, 2024) on a bill meant to tackle the problem of antisemitism (“The Antisemitism Awareness Act of 2023”). This was in response to the widespread hooliganism of leftist agitators on American college campuses protesting claimed abuses of Palestinians in the Israeli military response to the Hamas attack on Israeli civilians on October 7th, 2023. The bill is also a response to the many ways in which these leftists speak against Jews and Israel.

The bill, if made U.S. law, would make legally binding the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism (which they themselves emphasize is “non-legally binding”) with regard to “the enforcement of federal anti-discrimination laws concerning education programs or activities, and for other purposes.” In other words, currently existing non-discrimination law would begin to be applied to any instance of speech deemed antisemitic according to the IHRA’s definition.

I’m willing to grant that many, if not most, of the legislators who voted in favor of the bill had good intentions. I’m not, however, willing to grant that the consequences of this bill, if enshrined into law, will be good. This is the case for two reasons. First, it bans speech that is currently protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . . .” Second, as written, the bill bans language used in the New Testament, and must therefore be opposed by all Christians. For both of these reasons, this bill should not be passed by the Senate, or should be vetoed if it makes it to the President’s desk.

I am myself opposed to many of the things deemed antisemitic in the IHRA’s definition. I think, for example, that it is historically and morally wrong to deny or downplay the Holocaust, or to accuse “Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group.” It is wrong to accuse any national, ethnic, or religious group of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single member of that group. It is wrong to hate Jews and seek to harm them because of their ethnicity, nationality, or religion.

But it is also plainly unconstitutional, and for good reason, to make speech illegal simply because it is wrong or offensive to some. The First Amendment was never intended to protect all speech—obscene speech, for example. It was, however, very clearly incorporated into the Constitution in order to protect disfavored political speech. The standard, moreover, of what is allowed according to the First Amendment is not whether a statement is true. Policing whether a statement about a given group (in this case Jews) is true or false, however, is the effect of the antisemitism bill. One can now be in violation of federal anti-discrimination law if one is deemed to have said untrue things about Jews. Those things may very well be untrue, but the First Amendment clearly does not state that the only speech that will be allowed is true speech, or speech determined to be true by some ruling body. We know exactly where this way of approaching free speech will lead, because it is already there in the “hate crimes” legislation of the UK, Canada, and most of Europe. It leads to the criminalization of disfavored political, religious, and cultural speech, the very things protected by the First Amendment. The fact that supposed conservatives are adopting the language of hate crimes should be extremely troubling to everyone on the right. This is true completely independently of what one thinks about the Israel-Hamas war, or about Judaism, or about anything else.

The antisemitism bill claims in Section 6(b) that “[n]othing in this Act shall be construed to diminish or infringe upon any right protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.” This is an empty platitude, however. The enshrinement of the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism into federal anti-discrimination law formally contradicts the First Amendment, regardless of whether the bill’s authors intend it to or not. Doing so is simply not compatible with the Constitution.

The bill also poses intractable problems for Christians. The IHRA’s working definition says that it is antisemitic to claim that the Jews killed Jesus. I’m perfectly aware of ways in which Jews have at times been historically mistreated for supposed complicity in Christ’s death (“the blood libel” claim that the IHRA addresses). The New Testament does, however, assign blame for Christ’s death to “the Jews,” along with Pilate as a cowardly, apathetic enabler. What does the New Testament mean when it refers to this group? It does not mean that all Jews, even at the time of the crucifixion of Christ, were culpable or guilty of that act. Jesus was a Jew. His disciples were Jews. The focus is clearly on the Jewish leaders (and those who supported them) who actually condemned Christ. This is evident in the key passages that address this in the NT, among them John 18–19, Acts 2:22–24; 5:27–32; 13:27–29; and 1 Thessalonians 2:14–16. It is also the case that there was much Jewish opposition to the spread of the gospel in the days of the early church, which is also reflected in the NT, but that is, of course, different from culpability for the judicial murder of Christ.

Getting into exegetical debates about these (and other) biblical passages, however, is beside the point. Just as the bill is formally opposed to the First Amendment, regardless of what its authors intend, so it is formally opposed to explicit biblical language, despite whatever its defenders (including, bizarrely, some Christians in Congress) claim. One example is sufficient: “the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets” (1 Thess 2:14–15). One could get engaged in all sorts of debates about what this passage means, and who it is even referring to. Again, all of that is beside the point: strictly speaking, on a formal level, the New Testament says things that are antisemitic according to the IHRA’s definition, and will therefore be in violation of federal anti-discrimination law whether one thinks it should be that way or not. One could claim (naively, I should think) that the law will never be enforced in this way. But that also does not matter: it can be enforced in this way, and, therefore, every Christian who would teach what the New Testament says will instantly become liable to prosecution. The purpose of the First Amendment is not to protect our disfavored speech as long as everyone who can punish us remains happy with that speech. It is to protect our speech, regardless of what anyone thinks of it.

For these reasons, the “Antisemitism Awareness Act of 2023” must be opposed. It must be opposed by those who adhere to the Constitution; it must be opposed by those who would not have their freedom to speak determined by whether it offends others; it must be opposed by Christians who stand on the truths of the Bible.

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Ben C. Dunson is Founding and Contributing Editor of American Reformer. He is also Visiting Professor of New Testament at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (Greenville, SC), having previously taught at Reformed Theological Seminary (Dallas, TX), Reformation Bible College (Sanford, FL), and Redeemer University (Ontario, Canada). He lives in the northern suburbs of Dallas with his wife and four boys.

5 thoughts on “Congress’ Antisemitism Bill is a Disaster

  1. I 99.5% fully agreer with Dunson’s opposition to the bill. I see his reasons and add my own.

    One of my reasons would be that it would count the speech of certain Ultra Orthodox Jewish sects as being anti-Semitic. This would include sects like the Neturei Karta and Satmar Hasidism. That is because both of those sects oppose political Zionism without the presence of the Messiah. To say that, as a Jewish state, Israel does not have the right to exist is counted as being anti-Semitic by the IHRA and thus some Ultra Orthodox sects is criminal prosecution if the Bill is passed and signed into law. And so because of their understanding of the Old Testament, their words about Israel would be in violation of the law.

    In addition, Jeff Halper’s, who has dual American-Israeli citizenships, objections to Israel as being a Jewish state is because such is an ethnocracy and thus could never be a democracy would be counted as being anti-Semitic. Halper lists other possible ethnocracies as well such as if America became a Christian nation. Halper’s concern is for equality for all of Israel’s citizens. And despite Israel’s Constitution, there is ample evidence that indicates that non-Jewish citizens of Israel are not treated as equals by the Israeli government.

    We might also want to consider the fact that the Bill, like the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism, is ethnically biased. The Jewish people are not the only ethnic group that qualifies as Semites. And yet, this Bill, like the IHRA’s definition, seeks to protect Jews only. When the term Semite (a name that was used in the 19th century) was first used, it pertained those groups of people who spoke semitic languages. These languages were spoken in Western Asia (a.k.a., the Middle East) and parts of Africa. Thus semitic people would include Jews, Arabs, Akkadians, and some groups from African nations. Oddly enough, because Semite is defined by the kind of language a group speaks, some critics want the hyphen that occurs in anti-Semitism to be removed to emphasize that Semites are not defined by race. The concept of anti-Semitism being applied to the Jewish people specifically was due to European Christian hatred of the Jews. Other semitic people were not included possibly because the demographics of non-Jewish Semites in European nations did not have the same presence because of the dispersion.

    My guess is that concern for hatred of Jewish people is not the main reason for the Bill. Rather, the Bill is being pressed in order damper criticisms of Israeli governmental policies. Here we should that most of the international criticisms of Israeli government policies are called anti-Semitic by Israeli government leaders. And we should note the influence that Christian Zionists have in America especially regarding America’s policies to Israel.

    What is my 0.5% disagreement with Dunson? It is with the line from the article quoted below:

    This was in response to the widespread hooliganism of leftist agitators on American college campuses protesting claimed abuses of Palestinians in the Israeli military response to the Hamas attack on Israeli civilians on October 7th, 2023.

    Not only are those alleged abuses being considered by the ICC as being factual, but such a statement describes the pro-Palestinian encampments as being monolithic just as the use of the term ‘left’ as a pejorative describes the Left as being monolithic. Neither group is monolithic. In fact, the use of monolithic descriptions of people is most often intended to either canonize or demonize a group of people. We should note that the encampment at Columbia, for example, was planned by a joint group of Jews, such as those from Jewish Voice for Peace, and non-Jews. They held Seder services at that encampment. They had training session that defined and discouraged anti-Semitism. There were joint prayer sessions at that encampment. All of that didn’t prevent individuals from making anti-Semitic statements, but it showed that the planning for the encampment was in no way anti-Semitic. Testimony from Jewish participants at other campuses share some of practices at Columbia in common. At the same time, the anti-Semitic words and actions by some should not be tolerated and the pro-Hamas support expressed by some individuals should be condemned and not allowed be a presence at the encampments by those leading the encampment.

    We should also note that historically and currently, there is right-wing anti-Semitism. We should note that ADL reports on home grown terrorism point to right-wing extremists as causing the greatest domestic terrorism threat.

    1. Totally agree, this guy is way too biased on the right to really look at it with both sides. He probably is one of those racists who clamors against any attack on his Jewish friends, yet is perfectly fine with saying racist things to Muslims, Mexicans, Asians and every other race. He only wants a ceasefire to stop the crimes being committed to be put in the public eye.

  2. Ok didn’t read it all, but the Bible in its whole is a historical resource. You can’t change history. How people interpret it now is on them. Intelligence and common sense to use the cultural meanings of the time period it was written are needed to understand it. So if you’re using today’s definitions and so on then it’s gonna be used in the selfish manner of this society. Left will use it to victimize and the right will always defend it. But there is no reason to abolish part or all of history. If it hurts your feelings , suck it up, shake it off and grow up. It’s history and done. The Bible is meant to teach us what happened then to do better now. Like learning from bad choices.

    1. Chrissy,
      Were you a physical ed teacher or sports coach? If it hurts, take a lap or two. Doesn’t that depend on what hurts and why? When one loses family members to terrorism, regardless of whether it is IDF or Palestinian terrorism, do you tell the surviving members to suck it up? Or when you lose a family member to police violence, do you tell people to suck it up? Would you tell the victims of Jim Crow or slavery to suck it up? If history has no significant effect on today’s world, why study it? Why not go on to better things?

      Not all pains are the same. And your one-size-fit-all remedy indicates that you have fortunately lived a privileged life.

      BTW, one of the ideas behind identifying victims and victimizers to help the victims and stop the abuse.

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