May 26, 2024
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House Passes Antisemitism Awareness Act

Pictured with Congressman Gottheimer are Ma’ayanot students Sophie Fine Miri Hochberg, Devorah Luber, Halleli Lippe, Eva Yuster, Sophia Landau and Raizel Kleinman.

As antisemitism triggered by the Israel-Hamas War surges to unprecedented levels, federal initiatives are being leveraged to protect the Jewish community.

The House passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act by a large bipartisan majority, 320-91, with 70 Democrats and 21 Republicans voting against it. The bill was introduced by New York Rep. Mike Lawler (R-Dist.17). Among its area co-sponsors was New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Dist. 5).

If passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Joe Biden the bill would mandate that the federal Department of Education use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism when determining anti-Jewish discrimination.

The IHRA states “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and cites several examples, including the “targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”

The IHRA definition has been adopted by more than 1,000 entities worldwide, including 34 states and 43 countries and the U.S. State Department, which adopted it in 2010.

Lawler said on X, formerly Twitter, the adoption of the act “gives teeth to federal anti-discrimination laws to go after those who attack their Jewish peers.

“Politics should never get in the way of the safety of students,” he wrote. “The strong bipartisan support for and passage of this legislation will ensure that it won’t.”

In a program May 3 at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, Gottheimer spoke about the bill, calling it “a framework to evaluate antisemitism and hold those who harass and discriminate on campus accountable.”

There was pushback against the bill from those who felt it painted too broad a definition of antisemitism, which is already covered under anti discrimination laws.

Gottheimer was at the school to announce that $4.8 million dollars had been earmarked through the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program for 34 institutions, which will receive grants of up to $150,000, in northern New Jersey. Included is Ma’ayanot, which “like other institutions are facing a surge of hate and antisemitism,” he said.

Those grants were awarded despite the program being “oversubscribed” with applicants requesting $679 million for a program that only had $300 million available, resulting in just 42 % of applications being approved.

However, through the $95 billion supplemental aid and security bill providing assistance to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, Gottheimer said he helped negotiate an additional $400 million in new extra funding for the program.

The funds go toward physical barriers such as bulletproof glass, technologies such as cameras as well as the hiring of security guards at houses of worship, schools and religious community centers. It also assists with training needed by nonprofits to ensure their safety and security.

“New Jersey, like the rest of the country, should be a no-hate state,” said Gottheimer. “You can’t just say it. You must do something to ensure it.”

The congressman noted that last year the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) recorded a record number of antisemitic incidents, particularly since the Oct. 7 terror attacks by Hamas.

“The numbers are way up and they aren’t showing any signs of coming back down,” said Gottheimer, who called Bergen County “a hotbed” and New Jersey “a hub” for antisemitic hate with the ADL reporting almost 10 % of incidents occurring in the state, with Bergen County topping the list.

Gottheimer said since being sworn in he has been focused on “clawing back” millions of dollars from Washington and said his legislative district, which includes Bergen County, had received more funding than any other in the state.

The surge of anti-Jewish hate makes passage of the Antisemitism Awareness Act and granting of security grants even more critical, as Gottheimer recounted receiving call after call about college students being threatened with “Jew-hating antisemitic rhetoric,” some of which called for the killing of Zionists and support for Hamas.

“Think about that,” said Gottheimer. “They’re crying out in support of Hamas, a foreign terrorist organization that would like to kill Americans even more than Israelis. It is a blatant, hate-fueled harassment, intimidation and discrimination campaign.”

The pro-Palestinian demonstrators are emboldening Hamas, which has put out statements that they are their leaders of tomorrow, he added.

“I’ll be the first one to say we need to protect innocent Palestinians who are being used by Hamas as human shields in Gaza,” said Gottheimer. “I believe we must do everything we can to get them humanitarian aid. And I believe we should all feel that way. But there’s a huge difference between supporting innocent Palestinians and the terrorist organization Hamas.”

Gottheimer also pushed for the Holocaust Education and Antisemitism Lessons (HEAL) Act, which he introduced, which would increase access to Holocaust related educational materials to schools and communities and mandate Holocaust education in all public schools.

“Education is the key,” said Gottheimer. “We’ve got to educate people about the Holocaust and Oct. 7. One of my biggest fears is that, and actually we’re seeing it already, people are trying to rewrite what happened on Oct. 7 or deny that it happened. We can’t allow that to happen…By teaching about hate we can promote peace, dialogue and understanding.”


Debra Rubin has had a long career in journalism writing for secular weekly and daily newspapers and Jewish publications. She most recently served as Middlesex/Monmouth bureau chief for the New Jersey Jewish News. She also worked with the media at several nonprofits, including serving as assistant public relations director of HIAS and assistant director of media relations at Yeshiva University.

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