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Critics say bill targeting anti-Zionism is new McCarthyism

HR 6578 would build a commission with subpoena authority to force Americans to testify and produce evidence to “investigate the facts and causes of antisemitism in the present day”

Lisa Kwon, Prism, December 12th, 2023

color photograph of an outdoor protest in an urban center. in the middle of the frame, someone waves a large palestinian flag
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES – DECEMBER 11: People gather in front of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations (USUN) building across the street from United Nations Headquarters to protest U.S. veto of U.N. Security Council resolution requesting urgent humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza on Dec. 11, 2023, in New York. (Photo by Fatih Aktas/Anadolu via Getty Images)

A new bipartisan bill introduced Dec. 4 aims to target critics of Israel. Civil rights groups and organizers worry that House Resolution 6578, also known as Commission to Study Acts of Antisemitism in the United States Act, would usher in a new era of McCarthyism during a pivotal time of resistance and legitimate criticism of the apartheid state of Israel and its violent occupation of Palestinian territories. 

“This should have every American worried that we are going down a road where people are going to be targeted simply for what they believe in,” said Abed Ayoub, the national executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). “We haven’t seen anything like this in the U.S. in our generation. It’s going to have some serious ramifications on this country.” 

HR 6578, which was introduced by Iowa Rep. Mariannette Jane Miller-Meeks, cites the “Hamas deadly invasion of the nation of Israel” on Oct. 7 and a subsequent purported rise of antisemitic activity as substantial reason to build a commission with broad subpoena authority to force Americans to testify and produce “evidence” related to the committee’s mission to “investigate the facts and causes of antisemitism in the present day.” Additionally, any American called to testify or produce evidence cannot decline to do so based on the Fifth Amendment, legally requiring them to self-incriminate before the committee. However, the bill appears to protect people from criminal prosecution on the basis of any self-incriminating testimony if a witness does indeed invoke the Fifth Amendment.

Two of the most vocal supporters of the Commission to Study Acts of Antisemitism in the United States Act are the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). 

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“The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) takes the threat of antisemitism very seriously, and groups like the ADL have watered down this term to apply it to critics of Israel,” said Robert McCaw, the government affairs department director of CAIR. “When we look at this bill that would create a commission with subpoena power to investigate claims of antisemitism, it is alarming to think that the ADL itself could get subpoena power to investigate critics of Israel whom they wrongly claim are antisemitic.” 

The ADL is often cited by political groups as a perpetrator of coordinated attacks on Muslims, Arabs, immigrants, and communities of color. In 1993, the organization was investigated for funding and orchestrating a surveillance operation to collect information on a wide range of individuals and organizations deemed anti-Jewish or hostile to Israel. One of their targets was ADC, which was already in a vulnerable period of rebuilding after three of their offices were bombed or set on fire, killing West Coast Director Alexander Michel Odeh and injuring other staff members. 

With firsthand insight into the illegal and violating ways that ADL stifles social justice movements, Ayoub fears the future of unchecked powers with a bill like the Commission to Study Acts of Antisemitism in the United States Act. 

“If you now have a committee to review antisemitism, and they take action or hold people accountable like taking away your right to remain silent, it’s trying to chip away at the Constitution,” Ayoub said. “They’re beginning with Arabs and Palestinians because we’re the lowest-hanging fruit—no one will defend us, historically—but this is a buildup to strip away the rights of every American.”

The introduction of HR 6578 comes at a critical time as youth-led movements around the liberation of Palestine gain momentum. The recent increase in American student groups rallying and protesting for divestment from deals with Israel has consequently made them recent targets by supporters of the bill, such as ADL.

In a statement to Prism, Maryam Iqbal of the Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine writes, “The ADL has historically spied on anti-apartheid South African activists, is the single largest non-governmental police trainer in the country, demonizes nonviolent tactics by Palestinian activists such as BDS, supports antisemites such as Donald Trump and other right-wing influencers, has advocated for surveillance of Muslim communities in America, validated groups orchestrating online smear campaigns like Canary Mission, attacked the Black Lives Matter movement for support of Palestine, and erases anti-Zionist Jewish groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace.”

The crystalline understanding of ADL’s history among student-led groups has also led to a greater resolve to continue protesting and calling for immediate and total divestment even amid recent university-sanctioned suspensions of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace. 

Similarly, the Palestinian Youth Movement has felt further moved to continue organizing through the increased law enforcement, censorship, and targeting of their communities because of the growing changing public opinion on the Palestinian people’s struggle. 

“Although this moment has clarified that elected officials do not stand for the interests of the people, it has also proven that popular support from the masses are with Palestine,” said Selena, an organizing member of the Los Angeles chapter of the Palestinian Youth Movement who asked to withhold her last name due to safety concerns. “If this bill were to be conceived, we will continue to organize through increased law enforcement, surveillance, censorship, and the targeting of our communities, we will continue to develop and disseminate education on the realities of the Zionist occupation and the realities of our liberatory struggle, and we will continue to take to the streets and take action until all of our demands are met because we know that power lies in the streets and not in government offices.”

Much of the fight against HR 6578 is to push back against the pro-Zionist objective of suppression after the events of early October led to a complete siege of Gaza. Since the State of Israel began its genocide of Gazans, violence against Palestinians has increased in the U.S. In October, a white man stabbed a 6-year-old Palestinian boy named Wadea al-Fayoume to death in his home in Chicago and also stabbed and wounded al-Fayoume’s mother. In November, three Palestinian college students were shot by a white man on their way to a Thanksgiving dinner in Burlington, Vermont. As of Dec. 7, CAIR has received a “staggering” 2,171 complaintsof anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian bias over the past two months. The total requests for help and reports of bias represented a 172% increase over a similar two-month period the previous year, legitimizing a need for vocal solidarity with the Muslim and Palestinian populations.

“Far too many people and institutions have spent the past two months weaponizing Islamophobia and anti-Arab bias to both justify the ongoing violence against Palestinians in Gaza and silence supporters of Palestinian human rights here in America,” writes CAIR Research and Advocacy Director Corey Saylor in CAIR’s official press release of the report. 

In addition to the Commission to Study Acts of Antisemitism in the United States Act, on Dec. 5 the House of Representatives passed a resolution to condemn the rise in antisemitism in the U.S. and around the world. With a 311-14 vote, the resolution affirms that the House “clearly and firmly states that anti-Zionism is antisemitism.” 

The recent fervor for government authority on the definition and ramifications of antisemitic activity, backed by the likes of ADL and AIPAC, has galvanized groups like ADC and CAIR to continue fighting the coordinated misunderstanding that equates antisemitism with anti-Zionism. 

“There are people out there willing to sabotage and lie and create falsehoods, misinformation, and misunderstandings in the public simply to fulfill their political objectives even though they know they are wrong,” Ayoub said. “We see that happening here with the constant need to change the definition of antisemitism and move the goalpost to fulfill their political objectives … This is dangerous.”


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In the Shadow of the Holocaust, Masha Gessen, The New Yorker, December 9, 2023
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