Just before Congress broke for its holiday break last month, U.S. Representative Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) introduced bipartisan legislation that he hopes will stem the rising tide of antisemitism and hate in the country.
Called the HEAL Act (Holocaust Education and Antisemitism Lessons Act) the act will require the U.S. Department of Education to examine the state of Holocaust education in public school districts nationwide and report its findings to Congress.
The legislation, introduced on Dec. 22, is cosponsored by Representatives Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Kathy Manning (D-N.C.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas).
“This commonsense bipartisan legislation will help teach young people about both the Holocaust and the need to confront bigotry, hate, and intolerance whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head,” Gottheimer told the Jewish Link. “The Holocaust Education and Antisemitism Lessons (HEAL) Act makes a critical and concerted effort, at every level of government, to help combat the drastic rise in antisemitism in New Jersey and across our country.”
According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were more than 2,700 antisemitic incidents across the country in 2021, the most recent statistic available. That finding reflects the highest number of incidents since the organization began tracking them in 1979 and a 34% increase from the number of incidents in 2020.
“As we face rising antisemitism, it is critical to expand education nationwide about the history and unique nature of antisemitism, the conspiracy theories and scapegoating that have incited hatred and violence for centuries and led to the Holocaust,” said Manning, co-chair of the House Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism, in a press release.
She continued, “Education and understanding are a critical antidote to the spreading of misinformation and hate.”
And when it comes to the Holocaust there is plenty of misinformation to be found.
A 2020 study of all 50 states by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, commonly known as the Claims Conference, found that 48 percent of millennials and Gen Z could not name a single concentration camp or ghetto and 63 percent did not know that 6 million Jews were murdered during the Shoah.
“Studies have shown that Holocaust education is critically important—for raising awareness about where antisemitism can lead, for teaching respect for differences, and for reinforcing the fragility of democracy,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the ADL, said in a statement.
He went on to state “At a time when antisemitism is on the rise domestically and when pop culture figures are spreading hateful tropes, we need to do more to educate young people before prejudice can take root. ADL welcomes the Holocaust Education and Antisemitism Lessons Act of 2022 and its review of Holocaust education efforts in primary and secondary schools.”
As part of the HEAL Act, the Department of Education will identify which states and locales require Holocaust education as part of their public school curriculums and which areas do not. It will also “assess the quality” of that education.
What they are likely to find is myriad approaches as Holocaust education varies widely throughout the United States, as only around half of all states mandate Holocaust education. Even within those states with Holocaust education, it can vary significantly.
Just last summer, Governor Kathy Hochul signed a law that required the New York State Education Department to survey all public school districts statewide to ensure that they were teaching about the Holocaust as part of their classroom instruction. It found that all districts that provide secondary education, defined grade seven and above, taught about the Holocaust. In some cases, the teaching of the Holocaust was combined as part of lessons about modern genocide while in other cases it was a separate course.
The introduction of the HEAL Act comes after rapper Kayne West, who goes by the name Ye, came under fire for praising Hitler and making numerous antisemitic statements. (Ye was also named “2022 Antisemite of the Year” by the watchdog group StopAntisemitism.
“Especially now, with celebrities spewing antisemitic filth, promoting Nazism, and praising Hitler, along with mounting evidence that knowledge of the Holocaust is fading, it is particularly critical that we do everything we can to stand strong against hate in our communities,” Gottheimer said.
The HEAL Act has been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor for consideration.
By Faygie Holt