Bend the Arc: Jewish Action urges NO vote on the Antisemitism Awareness Act (H.R.6090)

Bend the Arc: Jewish Action urges NO vote on the Antisemitism Awareness Act (H.R.6090)

April 26, 2024

Bend the Arc Jewish: Action urges NO vote on the Antisemitism Awareness Act (H.R.6090)

Dear Members of Congress:

As the Washington Director of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, I write to urge you to vote against Antisemitism Awareness Act (H.R. 6090). As the largest national Jewish organization focused exclusively on domestic policy with supporters across the country, Bend the Arc is deeply concerned about antisemitism in our country today. We work to fight antisemitism for the safety of our multiracial, multiethnic American Jewish community, and also for the health of our democracy more broadly. We therefore appreciate Congress’s desire to be attentive to this issue, but we are deeply concerned that this legislation is more likely to undermine the safety of Jews and act as a gag bill, rather than achieve its stated goals, and must therefore oppose this legislation.

This legislation would codify the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism as the definition of antisemitism that our government uses. In short, we—and other Jewish organizations—do not believe that the IHRA definition should be codified into law. Rather than a codified definition, we need a multi-pronged approach to fighting antisemitism and all forms of bigotry that uses the existing tools of government as well as structural reforms that ensure a thriving and inclusive democracy where every single one of us is safe, no matter our race, class, or faith. Indeed, we know from decades of work with government entities that not having a codified definition does not prevent necessary and important work to fight antisemitism and other forms of bias-motivated harm. Indeed, no other form of bias has a legally codified definition, and that fact does not hinder governments from enforcing statutes preventing discrimination and doing other important work to prevent bias-motivated harm. One important recent example is the Biden Administration's national strategy to combat antisemitism that was developed last year, without such a codified definition.

Such a singular focus on the IHRA definition is both unnecessary and a potentially harmful distraction from the real work of dismantling antisemitism. In this present moment, we are concerned not merely for Jewish safety, but for our democracy. The freedom to protest and to disagree on matters of policy is essential to the health of our democratic society and must be protected, and we firmly stand against antisemitism being used as an excuse to threaten free speech. To be clear, criticism of American policy towards Israel is not inherently antisemitic. Unfortunately, the IHRA definition and its examples undermine the fight against antisemitism because of its broad characterization of criticism of Israel, which can be used to obfuscate what antisemitism actually is and to instead stifle genuine debate. Even Kenneth Stern, one of the core authors of the definition, has spent years flagging his concerns about the definition being used in law and the way that the definition has been used to challenge free speech and progressive organizing.

Again, we appreciate and welcome Congress’s attention to fighting against antisemitism and for the safety of Jews and indeed all people in our country today. But as this legislation does not achieve that critical goal and could instead do more harm than good, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action urges all Members to vote NO on the Antisemitism Awareness Act (H.R.6090).


Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block
Washington Director, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action