WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 18: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during a news conference following the weekly Senate Democratic policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on June 18, 2024 in Washington, DC. During the news conference Senate Democrats spoke on a number of topics including the upcoming anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling and the Court recently striking down a federal ban on bump stocks. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

For decades, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has told everyone that he was the watchman for American Jewish interests and the U.S.-Israel relationship.

During a November speech on the Senate floor, Schumer said, “Vitriol against Israel in the wake of Oct. 7 is all too often crossing into brazen and widespread antisemitism, the likes of which we haven’t seen for generations in this country, if ever.”

And those left most vulnerable and defenseless against antisemitism under the guise of anti-Zionism are Jewish students who have been intimidated, attacked and stigmatized on American campuses, abandoned by cowardly university administrators and faculty. The need for action by the Department of Education is evident, but it requires defining antisemitism to enact consequences. 

The House took up the mantle. It passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act of 2023 on an overwhelming bipartisan vote, 320-91. It would codify the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, giving the Department of Education the ability to enforce federal anti-discrimination laws.

It would state that “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination,” claiming Israel’s existence is a “racist endeavor,” and drawing comparisons between current Israeli policy and Nazi policy as meeting the criteria of antisemitism. 

Schumer has chosen to slow-walk this legislation and not bring it to the Senate floor to avoid the wrath of the vocal but still minority voices of Democratic senators who are highly critical or, in some cases, have crossed the line in their criticism of Israel, claiming it is culpable for genocide and using famine as a weapon of war.

It is estimated that more than 70 senators of both parties are willing to vote for this legislation, but Schumer is giving a veto to the loud and harshly critical Democratic senators who would like to end America’s special relationship with Israel and side with pro-Hamas student demonstrators.

If this is just about politics, then Schumer should have a political motivation to bring this to a vote. If he wanted to keep the Democratic majority in the Senate, he would help the campaigns of two vulnerable Democratic senators, Jacky Rosen of Nevada and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, by bringing this legislation to the floor.

Schumer’s rhetoric in condemning antisemitism is commendable, but it seems politics has constrained his choice to take his words to their next logical step. The Antisemitism Awareness Act would give teeth to his oratory, allowing the Department of Education to protect students who are supportive of the Jewish state and for whom Zionism is a defining part of their Jewish identity to have the protection and rights that other minority communities now enjoy.

The Antisemitism Awareness Act does not impede freedom of speech, as the protestors’ right to say the most hateful things remains protected as before. What the bill does is create a definition of antisemitism to update how the virus of Jewish hatred is used today and protect a targeted minority community. One needs to imagine how similar statements and actions of intimidation against any other American minority community would be handled. A democracy is only as strong as how it protects its minority populations.

Schumer has said, “On top of feeling alone, the second dominant feeling that Jewish people have endured throughout history has been the sting of the double standard, which is the way the world has practiced antisemitism…in recent decades, this double standard has manifested itself in the way much of the world treats Israel differently than anybody else.” 

So why else is Schumer not anxious to bring this to the floor of the Senate, where it would overwhelmingly pass both Democratic and Republican support? 

He is also worried about senators like Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who have their eyes on his position as majority leader, hoping to use the passage of the Antisemitism Awareness Act as a bludgeon for political advantage.

For Schumer, this is the defining moment of public service. He must not water down this legislation to a meaningless status where our government and universities cannot define antisemitism and thereby impose consequences to protect students.

As of last summer, I believed that Biden had prioritized the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition but still needed to make it the law of the land. Now is the time for the majority leader to send it to Biden, so that he can sign it and advance both of their legacies as protectors of minority rights.

This article appeared in The Hill on July 7, 2024.

Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network, senior security editor of The Jerusalem Report and a contributor to JNS and The Jerusalem Post. He regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy advisers about the Middle East.

By mepin

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