AIPAC-Funded Senator Pushes Antisemitism Definition That Could Silence Critics of Israel

After taking more than $1 million from AIPAC, Sen. Jacky Rosen is pushing the government to apply a definition of antisemitism that human rights groups say could be used to silence legitimate criticism of Israel.

AIPAC-Funded Senator Pushes Antisemitism Definition That Could Silence Critics of Israel
Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) speaks to members of the press after a weekly Senate Democratic policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) 

Democratic Nevada Sen. Jacky Rosen recently proposed bipartisan legislation that would create a new national coordinator to lead efforts to counter antisemitism, including steps to address the spread of antisemitism online. 

“There have been countless disturbing stories of Jewish families accosted and assaulted on streets, Jewish businesses and places of worship vandalized and desecrated, and Jewish students threatened at colleges and universities,” Rosen said in a press release announcing her bill. “My bipartisan legislation would establish a National Coordinator to Counter Antisemitism for the first time ever, and take other much-needed steps across the federal government to fight anti-Jewish hatred, bigotry, and violence in the United States.”

Rosen’s office says her bill, titled the Countering Antisemitism Act, would help implement the Biden administration’s National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, unveiled in May of last year, but a review of the legislative text reveals it differs from the administration’s plan in a key way. While the Biden plan declined to endorse a particular definition of antisemitism, saying “there are several definitions of antisemitism,” Rosen’s bill endorses a definition of antisemitism that has been promoted by U.S. Jewish groups including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), but one that human rights organizations argue could be used to label criticism of Israel as antisemitic. 

Rosen’s bill would declare it is the sense of Congress that the definition of antisemitism that was adopted in 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) should be utilized by all federal state and local agencies. AIPAC, along with other pro-Israel organizations including the American Zionist Movement and the Anti-Defamation League, have been lobbying Congress to endorse and adopt the IHRA definition. In a February letter to Congress, the groups argued that “adoption of any alternate definition of antisemitism would undermine efforts to protect Jewish communities.”

The IHRA’s “working definition of antisemitism” is relatively simple – “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews…” – but it is accompanied by a series of “contemporary examples of antisemitism” that civil society groups say are used to silence dissent

The IHRA examples of antisemitism include “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” and “Applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” According to a letter by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other groups, the example of calling Israel a racist endeavor could be used “to label as antisemitic documentation showing that Israel’s founding involved dispossessing many Palestinians.” The groups also argue that the “double standards” example “opens the door to labeling as antisemitic anyone who focuses on Israeli abuses as long as worse abuses are deemed to be occurring elsewhere.”

Rosen’s bill would not make the IHRA definition legally binding, but it says that Congress wants agencies to use it.

Rosen has been among the largest recipients of money from AIPAC during this session of Congress. Since January 1, 2023, her campaign has received more than $1.1 million in bundled contributions from AIPAC’s PAC, according to disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission. The House version of the bill is sponsored by Rep. Kathy Manning (D-N.C.), who has also received substantial AIPAC funding. According to OpenSecrets, AIPAC has given her $216,000 so far this election cycle. The money did not come from AIPAC itself, but rather from its members or employees. Rosen and Manning, both of whom are Jewish, are the co-chairs of their chambers’ bipartisan task forces on combating antisemitism. 

Asked if the AIPAC donations influenced her legislation, Sen. Rosen’s press secretary told Sludge to reach out to the senator’s campaign. Rosen for Nevada did not respond to a request for comment. 

The Republican co-sponsors of the bill include Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), and Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas).