Republicans abandoned Jewish students. The media blamed the Democrats.
If you were online this week, you may have read that the Democrats don’t care about antisemitism. Tweets, posts, and articles told us that “162 House Dems Vote Against Measure to Combat Anti-Semitism,” “70 Percent of House Democrats Vote Against Anti-Semitism Measure,” “Antisemitism Clearly Isn’t a Priority for the House,” and “Measure to Fight Anti-Semitism Opposed by Majority of House Democrats.” “If you’re one of the 164 Congress members who voted not to recognize antisemitism as an official form of discrimination (@AOC, @VoteBetty, @Ilhan, @RepJayapal @RepRashida etc) keep RBG’s name out of your mouth,” read one widely shared tweet. “She spent her lifetime fighting people like you to get on the bench.”
If you’re one of the 164 Congress members who voted not to recognize antisemitism as an official form of discrimination (@AOC, @VoteBetty, @Ilhan, @RepJayapal @RepRashida etc) keep RBG’s name out of your mouth.
She spent her lifetime fighting people like you to get on the bench. pic.twitter.com/hf2V3NGx4D
— Hen Mazzig (@HenMazzig) September 19, 2020
The only problem is, this is not what happened. And the prevalence with which the misrepresentation has spread is a perfect example of the way our toxic media and social media environment has weaponized attempts to protect America’s Jewish community.
Here’s what actually happened: Last week, the House voted on a new bill that proposed opening a new avenue of redress for students facing discrimination on public campuses. The bill sought to expand the existing legal options provided under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act for students who face direct discrimination on account of their race/ethnicity, color or national origin. What current law does not provide is an avenue for “disparate impact” discrimination claims — when seemingly neutral rules result in adverse outcomes for students with protected status. The new bill, the Equity and Inclusion Enforcement Act, sought to allow private disparate impact litigation, giving students more options to fight discrimination on campus.
This bill was never going to pass into law, given that President Trump had already signaled he would veto it. But rather than a stalemate, House Republicans spotted an opportunity to play some political football with Jewish lives. At the eleventh hour, they added an amendment to the bill declaring that antisemitism should be considered a form of discrimination.
This may sound innocuous enough, until you consider that Jews are already protected from antisemitism under the Civil Rights Act. Department of Education guidance has clearly established under both the Bush and Obama administrations that although religion is not a protected class under Title VI, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh students are protected under the “ethnic” category of the statute from discrimination. And if that wasn’t enough, the view was reinforced by an Executive Order from Trump last December.
So why add redundant language, by amendment, to a bill in which the issue in question is already covered?
It’s customary in both parties that when the minority party offers this particular type of amendment, called a “Motion to Recommit,” the majority caucus votes “no” regardless of the content.
And this was no doubt the intention of adding the language: to show up the Democrats as insensitive to antisemitism.
In fact, many House Democrats broke party rules and voted “yes” — so important is fighting antisemitism to them. But the majority — 162 House Democrats — did what they were expected to do on these types of amendments, and they voted “no.” With the help of those Democrats voting “yes,” the amendment passed and was added to the EIEA.
Moreover, when it came time to vote on the EIEA, with antisemitism now the only explicitly-mentioned form of discrimination in the bill, it passed with 229 Democrats voting in favor and not a single one opposing it.
But — and here’s the kicker — 188 Republicans voted against it, and only three voted to support it! After throwing in the amendment as a partisan wedge, almost the entire Republican caucus voted against making that amendment enforceable law, and giving Jewish students expanded access to the courts to enforce their rights.
And still, despite the fact that Democrats voted unanimously to create a new law that would protect Jewish students, along with all students, from discrimination, while Republicans voted nearly-unanimously against it, Twitter — with the help of numerous headlines — declared Democrats opposed to protecting Jews on college campuses.
With the full context of the vote, you can see that the headlines cherry-picked one piece of an extraordinarily complex legislative process, which actually resulted in the opposite outcome than what the headlines described. Why? To suggest that those who care about fighting antisemitism should vote for Republicans, not for Democrats, and to undermine an urgent, bipartisan consensus on fighting this vicious, violent, steadily rising form of hate.
That anyone would use this moment to manipulate, fearmonger for partisan political gain, and make an already vulnerable minority population more afraid, is perverse and simply unconscionable.
Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have a monopoly on perpetuating antisemitism, nor on opposing it. Both parties, and all political movements, struggle with antisemitism, because it is a form of hate that unites people across the spectrum, around the world, in every era and under every form of political leadership.
I implore our people to do better, look deeper, think more critically, and be vigilant against this threat.
Amanda Berman, Esq. is a civil rights attorney and the Founder and Excecutive Director of Zioness.