On Thursday, Sept. 17, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2574, the Equity and Inclusion Enforcement Act of 2019, with a vote of 232-188. This bill is an attempt to amend Title VI of the Civil Rights act of 1964, in order to “restore the right to individual civil actions in cases involving disparate impact, and for other purposes,” as stated by the bill’s sponsor, Virginia Representative Bobby Scott.
This bill is necessary in combating inequalities in our nation, and I sincerely hope it gets through the Senate, but it’s what happened before it was passed that’s alarming. On Thursday, there were in fact two roll call votes, the second being the aforementioned one that put it through to the Senate, but the first being on a proposed amendment to the bill from North Carolina Representative Virginia Foxx, where she asked to add: “In carrying out the responsibilities of the recipient under this title, the employee or employees designated under this section shall consider antisemitism to be discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin as prohibited by this title.’’
This successfully made it onto the bill with a vote of 255-164, but the partisan split was almost opposite from the later confirmation vote. Democrats voted 66-162, and Republicans voted 189-1, as opposed to the later vote where every Democrat voted yea and all but three Republicans voted nay. The justification for why Democrats didn’t like this amendment came from Scott, who said: “This is just a political attempt to insert religion into Title VI. That is controversial … while we are picking just one religious kind of discrimination, antisemitism, what about the other religions? Wouldn’t they deserve attention, too?”
Both of these statements are very antisemitic, and coming from the person who is literally spearheading a campaign for equity and inclusion in our government, the hypocrisy of it all is incredible. First off, Jewish people, while they are not a race, are not simply a religion either, and the persecution and discrimination they have faced in their millenia-old history would usually not fall under the umbrella of “religious discrimination.”
Many Jewish people view that as the only ethnicity they can call their own, as while Jews have lived in many parts of the world throughout history, very few have welcomed them. Meanwhile, I’ve never met a Catholic who would say that their ethnicity is Catholic. Sure, maybe “Irish Catholic” or “Roman Catholic,” but both of those are much more tied to a specific nation than “Ashkenazi Jew” or “Sephardic Jew.” (Not trying to pick on Catholics by the way, I just happen to have one side of my family that is; this analogy works with many other religions.)
Now back to the vote. Other than Rep. Scott and his horribly antisemitic reasoning for voting no, we have no written explanation for why the other 164 representatives followed suit, and it puts me in a weird place. One one hand, Foxx is not someone I want to be aligned with in any context. She supports defunding Planned Parenthood, doesn’t even mention social justice in the issues section of her website and condemned the protestors after the George Floyd murder as “anarchists and bad actors.” On the other hand, many Democrats that I truly respect, such as New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and my own Rep. Jim Himes in Connecticut, were among the nays for this vote. All this shows is that Jews in America are caught between a rock and a hard place. The Republicans most likely use them as a bargaining chip to get the issue of religion in the door, and then the Democrats, also seeing Jews as solely a religious group, shut that door without thinking that that bargaining chip might actually need to be included in an intersectional discrimation protection bill.
All I can say in conclusion is that when Jews are brought up in Congress in this way, it makes me sad. Neither party seems to understand who the Jews as a people are at all, and that is becoming increasingly more dangerous, as antisemitic attacks are seemingly becoming more and more frequent in the news. Anyone that can say antisemitism doesn’t deserve a place in a bill to protect against discrimination in education less than a month removed from the University of Delaware Chabad arson is either blind or needs to educate themselves further before casting harmful votes.