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Casey reaffirms support for antisemitism awareness bill while in Pittsburgh

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey was in Pittsburgh on May 6, 2024, to discuss his previous work around hidden "junk fees" attached to delivery services and ticketed events.
Julia Zenkevich
90.5 WESA
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey was in Pittsburgh on May 6, 2024, to discuss his previous work around hidden "junk fees" attached to delivery services and ticketed events.

During a stop in Pittsburgh’s Hill District Monday, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said he hopes to move forward soon on legislation aimed at addressing antisemitism at educational institutions.

Casey was in town to discuss the hidden “junk fees” tacked on to some everyday purchases, like internet services and ATM withdrawals. But in recent weeks, the Democrat’s reelection bid — like almost every other aspect of national politics — has been dominated by questions about Israel’s controversial war in Gaza.

The Antisemitism Awareness Act passed the House last week, by a vote of 320 to 91. The bill lays out the kind of on-campus speech and behavior that would be defined as discriminatory under federal law, and would enshrine the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of antisemitism into law. (The Department of Education has used the IHRA definition in its investigations into allegations of discrimination against Jewish people on college campuses since 2018, according to Casey’s office.)

Casey is a co-sponsor of the Senate version of the legislation, which he has supported in various forms dating back to 2016. Last week he tried to get the measure approved through unanimous consent, which would have allowed supporters to shortcut the body’s otherwise complicated rules. Though that initial effort failed, Casey told reporters Monday he plans to try again.

He also said he would support a bill to allocate an additional $280 million for the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education, money that would fund efforts to investigate antisemitic and racist incidents at schools that receive federal funding.

“If they make a determination that there's a hostile environment on that campus for a Jewish student due to antisemitism, or for a Black student because of racism by white nationalists or others, then that school will lose federal funding if that determination is made,” Casey said.

The bill’s critics say the IHRA definition is too broad and could chill legitimate criticism of Israel's war in Gaza. But Casey said Monday that campus debates shouldn't cross into mistreatment of Jewish people.

“We can still have robust free speech but not have these places where — and this isn’t every campus, but in some places — a hostile environment for a student who happens to be Jewish,” he told reporters.

Late last week, Casey’s Republican opponent Dave McCormick condemned Casey’s response to the ongoing pro-Palestinian protests at college campuses across the country, saying he had “said too little, too late to condemn rampant antisemitism after the horrific Oct. 7 terrorist attack.”

“The right to free speech is a right that we guard zealously,” Casey said Monday after being asked about his reaction to protests at Pennsylvania colleges and universities. “But the right to free speech does not allow somebody to engage in violence, to perpetuate antisemitism on campus or anywhere else, nor does it allow people to destroy property.

“So, if that happens, on a campus or in any other setting, there has to be a sanction for that. And that's why some people were arrested, some might be suspended or expelled, and that's that determination that the schools make.”

Reports over the weekend indicated that ceasefire talks were deteriorating, but Casey urged the groups to free hostages and deliver food, water and medicine to Palestinians.

“There's already reporting now that famine might already be underway,” he said. “We've got to use every tool possible, and the Israelis have to push in a lot more food aid than they're pushing in now.”

Julia Zenkevich