Reps. Gaetz, MTG cite claim that Jews killed Jesus in voting against antisemitism measure

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) at the 2021 AmericaFest in Phoenix, Ariz. Credit: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.

While many House Democrats opposed a bill defining antisemitism on the claims that it might criminalize anti-Israel rhetoric, some Republican opponents used an even older argument — that it would criminalize Gospel claims that Jews killed Jesus.

Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Matt Gaetz of the Pensacola area of Florida made that claim in defending their vote against the Antisemitism Awareness Act, which passed the House 320-91 on May 1. There were 70 Democrats who voted against the bill, and 21 Republicans.

The bill, aimed at combating rampant antisemitism on U.S. college campuses, adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism in determining whether a crime is antisemitic. It would require the Department of Education to use the IHRA definition when considering whether Jews had been discriminated against under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The IHRA definition is not binding under law.

The U.S. Department of Education has used the IHRA definition of antisemitism in civil rights cases since 2018. The definition was given the force of law for executive agencies after former president Donald Trump issued an executive order applying the IHRA definition to Title VI cases in 2019.

Opponents of the IHRA definition, which has been adopted by dozens of countries and a majority of U.S. states, claim the definition goes against First Amendment rights of freedom of speech, but the IHRA definition comes into play only after a crime has been committed, as an advisory opinion of whether or not antisemitism was part of the crime’s motivation.

Those simply making statements defined by IHRA as antisemitic could not be prosecuted for their speech, but if they committed a connected crime, that speech could be used as a factor to determine whether hate crime status should be used.

One example cited is that a school administrator could not be targeted for online posts that run afoul of the definition. However, if there is a Title VI suit against the university by Jewish student organizations who are the only ones running into “no available space” responses to routine facilities requests, and that administrator is in charge of coordinating those spaces, the hostile posts become germane in determining if discrimination is at play.

Greene said that she would vote against the bill because of the role of “the Jews” in the crucifixion.

“Antisemitism is wrong, but I will not be voting for the Antisemitism Awareness Act of 2023 (H.R. 6090) today that could convict Christians of antisemitism for believing the Gospel that says Jesus was handed over to Herod to be crucified by the Jews,” Greene wrote.

Crucifixion was a Roman form of capital punishment, and in those days the Jewish leaders did not have the authority to condemn anyone to death.

Greene cited the definition’s ninth example, “using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.” The claim that Jews killed Jesus fueled church-sanctioned antisemitism and mass murder for centuries.

In modern-day usage, anti-Israel groups routinely use imagery of Israel and Jews in general crucifying Palestine, killing Jesus a second time, or tying Israel’s actions against Palestinians as having its roots in the Jewish treatment of Jesus.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta said there is no controversy in the IHRA’s definition of that argument as antisemitic. “Blaming Jews for the death of Jesus is antisemitic. It has been the most consistent, most used excuse for Jew-hatred for nearly 2,000 years.”

Gaetz said “This legislation is written without regard for the Constitution, common sense or even the common understanding of the meaning of words,” Gaetz wrote. “The Gospel itself would meet the definition of antisemitism under the terms of this bill!”

“The Bible is clear,” Gaetz added. “There is no myth or controversy on this.”

Gaetz further quoted Acts 4:10, “Be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified,” and 1Thessalonians 2:15, “for you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets.”

He then stated that “To be clear — I take no view on who killed Jesus in how I voted on this measure. It was a matter of the Constitution. The Bible is clear in that its words plainly, textually, would violate this law. That is nuts — and in deep conflict with the First Amendment.”

He later defended his vote to Politico, saying he condemns antisemitism, but approving a “poorly drafted bill that could literally deem the Bible antisemitism is our response, then the antisemites win.”

The pro-Israel Christian organization Passages blasted Greene and Gaetz, with CEO Scott Phillips saying “It is exactly at this moment, as the Jewish people are under attack across our country that Christians are called to be firm allies… Unfortunately, there are some Members of Congress, who have a history of flirting with conspiracies against Jews who have tried to appropriate Christian Scriptures to defend their unjustifiable beliefs.”

In 1965, the Catholic Church repudiated the idea that Jews were collectively responsible for the crucifixion, and in a 2011 book, Pope Benedict XVI specifically said there is no scriptural evidence to back the idea of Jewish culpability.

The Jewish Federations of North America, AIPAC, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Orthodox Union, Combat Antisemitism Movement and Christians United for Israel applauded the bill’s passage in the House.

On the Democrat side, Rep. Jerry Nadler opposed the “misguided” bill on First Amendment grounds. Rep. Ritchie Torres of New York, one of the Democratic co-sponsors, said Nadler’s objections were “complete nonsense.”

He told NPR “If you can figure out how to critique the policies and practices of the Israeli government without calling for the destruction of Israel itself, then no reasonable person would ever accuse you of antisemitism.”

Kenneth L. Marcus, founder and chair of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, praised the House’s passage of the bill, which he called “the game-changing response that we’ve been waiting for.”

“The Biden administration has long promised to codify the IHRA definition via regulation, but they have repeatedly missed their self-imposed deadlines. From conversations with numerous administrators, I can say that many university leaders are unaware that the IHRA definition is already woven into the Department of Education’s current, active guidance, hampering how they address soaring antisemitism on their campuses,” added Marcus, a former U.S. assistant secretary of education for civil rights. “Today’s monumental vote will remove all doubt.”

“From a federal perspective, this legislation won’t change current practice so much as it will reinforce it. From a university perspective, however, there are few U.S. universities that are consistently applying the IHRA definition in appropriate cases,” he added. “This legislation should put a stop to that.”