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Ranking Member Nadler Opening Statement for the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government Hearing on “Antisemitism on College Campuses”

Today, Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement, as prepared, for the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government Hearing on “Antisemitism on College Campuses”:

"Mr. Chairman, I have devoted much of my life to combatting antisemitism, and I am as attuned as anyone to threats and bigotry aimed at Jewish people.  I will take lectures from no one about the need for vigorous efforts to fight antisemitism on campus or anywhere else.  

I am also an unapologetic and deeply committed Zionist.  But I believe—and I hope every Member at the dais, and each of our witnesses here today would agree—that criticism of Israel’s government or political criticism of Zionism on a college campus is not inherently antisemitic. 

I also hope our witnesses and Members agree that our democracy’s commitment to free speech requires each of us to tolerate criticisms of even some of our most deeply held beliefs—especially in an academic setting where the freedom of inquiry is necessary to the teaching of critical thinking.  

That said, I am extremely disturbed by instances when political criticism of Zionism or of Israel does verge into antisemitism, such as when it is used as a proxy or a “dog whistle” for hatred of Jewish people.  

To the students appearing before us today, Mr. Yakoby and Mr. Kestenbaum, I am sorry that you and your fellow Jewish students have endured threats, harassment, and intimidation simply for being who you are.  That is completely unacceptable, and I appreciate your being here today to share your experiences with us.

Since the House Judiciary Committee held a full committee hearing last November on “Free Speech on Campus”, protests over the deaths of Palestinian civilians and the mounting humanitarian crisis in Gaza have increased, if not in number, then certainly in intensity. 

Much of the protesters’ activity—even expression that I consider disgusting and despicable—constitutes legally protected speech.  Too often, however, the protests have exhibited vile antisemitic conduct, and the Department of Education will rightfully investigate them and their institution’s response for unlawful discrimination.

And there have been, of course, obvious examples of activities that are wholly unprotected, like threats and intimidation.   Some students and protesters have even crossed the line into vandalism, destruction of private property and willful disruption of campus life.  They, too, should face disciplinary action by their institution, if not legal consequences for conduct that is obviously not protected by the First Amendment.

There is no excuse for bigotry, threats, violence, or other criminal conduct directed at anyone, anywhere, and it is imperative that we confront the scourge of antisemitism.  And Congress can help.

But with respect, Mr. Chairman, we don’t need more hearings. We need to take concrete action. We need to put our money where our mouth is.

Last year, the Biden Administration outlined a comprehensive National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, the cornerstone of which was increasing enforcement actions by the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education.  President Biden’s budget called for a 27 percent increase in funding for that office.

If my Republican colleagues were serious about antisemitism, they would have fully funded that request.  Instead, they bragged about proposing to slash funding by 25 percent and ultimately insisted that funding be kept flat despite the marked increase in Title VI complaints. 

We should be considering H.R. 7921, the Countering Antisemitism Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by our colleagues Kathy Manning and Chris Smith, which would codify this national strategy’s whole-of-government approach to confronting antisemitism.

And we cannot stay silent when calling out antisemitism is inconvenient.  I appreciate my Republican colleagues’ concern for antisemitism on college campuses, but where were they when Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville chanted that, quote, “Jews will not replace us”?

Why did they not speak up when President Trump declared that there were, quote, “very fine people on both sides” of that rally, or when he said that the Charlottesville rally was a “little peanut” compared to ongoing campus protests regarding the Israel-Gaza war.

And we hear nothing from our Republican colleagues when some conservatives repeat antisemitic tropes about George Soros or others.

If you mean what you say here today—if you believe that the threats and vitriol that Jewish students face on college campuses is unjust and that combating antisemitism is more than just a convenient talking point in a larger crusade against institutions of higher education—then it is time to move beyond hearings, pointless gestures and posturing.  We know what the problem is, what we need is action that actually helps protect Jewish students. 

Fully fund the Administration’s efforts to counter antisemitism and other forms of discrimination.  Pass the Countering Antisemitism Act.   Our Nation’s students deserve no less.

With that Mr. Chairman, I yield back."

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