Dec 13, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Antisemitism measure causes deep split among Democrats

Reps. Jamie Raskin and Jared Moskowitz. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

House Democrats splintered on Wednesday over a bipartisan resolution condemning antisemitism on college campuses and calling for the presidents of Harvard and MIT to step down.

Why it matters: The vote nearly failed, and the episode highlighted stark Democratic divisions that have been bubbling up to the surface during the Israel-Hamas war.

Driving the news: The resolution passed 303-126, with 84 Democrats voting in favor of it and 125 voting against it. All Republicans except Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) voted for it.

  • The measure was voted on under a process known as suspension of the rules, meaning it needed two-thirds, or roughly 290 votes, to pass.
  • Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.), one of the Democratic co-leads on the measure, acknowledged ahead of the vote he was genuinely uncertain how it would go: "We'll see if we have two thirds."

Details: In addition to condemning antisemitism on campuses, the three-page resolution condemns testimony from the presidents of Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania to a House committee last week.

  • In response to a question from House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) about whether calls for the genocide of Jews would violate their colleges' codes of conduct, each president said it would depend on context and whether the calls were targeting specific people.
  • The presidents faced intense backlash internally and externally for their testimony, with Penn President Liz Magill resigning in the aftermath.
  • In addition to Moskowitz and Stefanik, the resolution was led by Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) – who, like Moskowitz, is one of the most moderate Jewish Democrats in the House.

What they're saying: At issue for many Democrats was language calling for Harvard President Claudine Gay and MIT President Sally Kornbluth to "follow suit" with Magill and resign.

  • "It's an outrageous resolution to use the power of the House of Representatives to call for private citizens to resign from their jobs," said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.). "That's just unprecedented."
  • Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.), who has been strongly critical of the testimony, said in a statement the resolution "does nothing to help Jewish students," calling it "an attempt to score cheap political points off of the clear and present threats to Jewish Americans."
  • A senior aide to another Jewish Democrat said many lawmakers are growing weary of what they see as Republicans trying "weaponize" antisemitism.

The other side: Several Democrats who voted for the measure noted that the controversial language was in a "whereas" clause – an introductory statement that explains the reasoning behind the resolution – rather than a "resolved" clause, which contains the resolution's actual declarations.

  • "I think it's a pretty moderate resolution and in the resolved section, it ... says we're condemning antisemitism on campuses and that we're condemning the testimony," said Moskowitz. "Some of the whereas clauses may not be perfect, but we don't vote on perfect resolutions here."
  • Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) told Axios, "If you look at the body of the resolution, it did not call for their resignation."
  • Frankel said it "would have been a little tricky" had the language had been in the "resolved" section, but "I still would've voted 'yes'."

Between the lines: Some Democrats who backed the measure said they felt doing otherwise would open them up to GOP attacks for voting against condemning antisemitism.

  • "I'm a yes because I'm just not willing to deal with the fallout anymore," said one House Democrat. "It's just another gotcha bill."
  • The National Republican Congressional Committee was quick to hit Democrats on the vote, issuing a statement saying they "refused to vote to condemn Antisemitism on university campuses."
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