Monday, May 6, 2024

It’s Monday, May 6, 2024. 

I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Right Motivation, Misguided Legislation: The House Votes to Pass the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act

Last week, the United States House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation known as the Antisemitism Awareness Act. That bill, now being sent to the Senate, would require the Department of Education to apply a definition of antisemitism, and furthermore, would instruct the Department of Education to take action against persons, whether protesters or otherwise, who may make openly antisemitic charges, may make use of that kind of language, may incite that kind of antisemitic action. Of course, the action itself would be dealt with in a separate part of legislation in the criminal code.

But it did pass overwhelmingly, and I think we can understand why. There is a widespread understanding right now that we are experiencing an outbreak of antisemitism in the culture. And at least at first glance, this would appear to be an action undertaken by the United States House, now being sent for consideration to the Senate and with bipartisan support, by the way, it would appear to be a good faith effort to try to shut down antisemitism, and to label it for the anti-humanism that it is, a very clear moral statement.

The problem is that legislation like this, though intended to send a very clear moral statement, might not always have exactly that effect, and that’s why many conservatives are quite concerned about this legislation. And that includes a good many conservative Christians and conservative Christian organizations. And those individuals and organizations are solidly against antisemitism. They are some of the most stalwart defenders of the Jewish people and of Israel, but they have big, big concerns about how this kind of legislation will be applied, not only on campus but in the courts.

And that deserves, indeed it demands, a much closer investigation on our part. So this is a good point for us to understand that even if everyone’s well-intended, let’s just say everyone basically shares a consensus, everyone in a room that we need legislation to address this particular issue, we’ll just call it issue X.

And thus in the room you have absolute unanimity that everyone wants to do the right thing on X. But you also have different understandings of how X should be defined. If indeed X is something you want to prohibit, something you want to sanction, something you want to prevent, then in legal and legislative terms you have to define what it is you’re talking about. That in itself can be a problem or the source of a problem. And in this case, when it comes to the Antisemitism Awareness Act, I’m going to suggest that’s where one of the problems first arises.

Because if you are going to identify, legislate against, and sanction antisemitism, you’re going to have to say what it is. Now just at face value, you understand the words. Semitism, which means an inclination towards the Jewish people. That’s the most common contextual usage of the word. Anti means that your disposition is opposed to the Jewish people.

Now, one of the interesting debates that has been taking place in recent days, particularly on the left, here’s what’s really important. This has been taking place particularly on the left, is people who’ve tried to say, “You can make a very clear distinction and definition between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.” And they mean by that, that when you criticize or perhaps even call for the non-existence of the State of Israel, that’s not necessarily anti-Semitic. Now, what’s interesting is that I have been one of the people and conservative Christians have been among the front lines of people saying that any really clear distinction in those definitions is impossible. That actually, if you are talking about anti-Zionism, which amounts to an open antipathy to Israel, if not a call for Israel’s non-existence, then that is anti-Semitic because we are talking about Israel as the Jewish nation. You cannot separate those two things cleanly.

Now, it’s not to say that you can’t criticize the government of Israel. And for that matter, you have conservative Christians who’ve made many criticisms about government actions and government positions on the part of Israel over the course of history since the middle of the 20th century. That’s not what we’re talking about. But we are talking about the fact that just at the operational level, intellectual honesty compels that we say that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, those are not clearly separable terms. But, frankly, both of those also require definition. And if you’re going to have an anti-Semitism Awareness Act as the house just overwhelmingly supported, then you’re going to have to define it.

So where did Congress, where did the House go to get a definition? They went to what is called the working definition of anti-Semitism offered by the IHRA, that’s the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Now, what did the IHRA say is the proper definition of anti-Semitism?

Here it is, “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed towards Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Now, it’s interesting that just before you read that text on the website of the IHRA, this is the definition that is now adopted by the House in the House version of this bill. It introduces its definition as, “non-legally binding.” Well, if Congress adopts it, guess what? It’s going to be legally binding.

Now, as a Christian looking at that language, the first thing that strikes me is there just isn’t that much here. You look at the IHRA definition, “A certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews.” It says, “Maybe,” it says, “a certain perception of Jews.” How in the world do you legislate against a certain perception of anything?

The definition goes on. “Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed towards Jewish or non-Jewish individuals.” Well, if it says Jewish or non-Jewish individuals, well, doesn’t that include just about everybody on planet Earth? But then it says, “towards Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” 

I think right now perhaps the most influential Jewish intellectual in the world is Yoram Hazony. And in response to this, Hazony posted a tweet that says, “Anything that relies on the confused IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is a problem.” And I think Hazony is absolutely right there. By the way, I was reminded of a previous tweet that Mr. Hazony had offered and how much I agree with it, “Orthodox religious traditions, Christian and Jewish are the only thing that will survive the blast furnace of ongoing Cultural Revolution. Make sure you’re on the right side of the struggle.”

I think he’s absolutely right there. It is going to be the Orthodox religious traditions and in particular, Christianity and Judaism that alone will, in his words, “survive the blast furnace of ongoing Cultural Revolution.” But my point in his previous statement is that he himself calls the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism as confused. “Anything that relies on the confused statement,” he says, is, “a problem.”

But it’s also interesting that even as evangelical Christians are among the most significant and the strongest allies of Israel and of the Jewish people, it’s interesting that this International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s statement also comes with illustrations. There are many of them, but I want to get to illustration number nine. This is an illustration of anti-Semitism. “Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism.” I’m not going to address everything in that, but just the “claims of Jews killing Jesus.”

Now, just to state what should be obvious to Christians. There is more to the story of the crucifixion of Jesus than the betrayal of Jesus by the Jewish people, but that is nonetheless a central part of the biblical narrative. And thus, you look at this and realize that according to this definition, the Gospel of John would be considered anti-Semitic. And if this legislation actually becomes law, it’s not so much that I think those who brought the law had any such intention, but it is nonetheless going to have the effect of being used and abused by the cultural left in the name of fighting anti-Semitism, when quite frankly, it is going to be an instrument to be used against Christian preaching.

And I say that because this has already happened in terms of cultural intimidation. And again, it’s so important that Mr. Hazony said that the only force that can fight back against the secular tide are the Orthodox religious traditions. He mentions Christianity and Judaism. But it’s also true that liberal Christians and many liberal members of the Jewish community have accused evangelical Christians of committing a form of anti-Semitism by the preaching of the Christian gospel.

Now, it’s very interesting that just in the last few days, it is clear that opposition to this bill is coming from the left and the right, and I think it’s important that we distinguish those two sources of opposition. On the left, the big issue is their absolute idolatry of the freedom of speech. Now, I say absolute idolatry because I think they often misuse it and do so intentionally. And for them, because they are largely not a part of any Orthodox or religious tradition, when you are looking at one of their key doctrines, freedom of speech is frankly in their 10 Commandments, if not in say the top one or two. And they get to define what that means. Now in this case, I think you’d have some conservatives say at least there is the point that you could characterize this legislation as a legislation that is directed at hate speech.

That hate speech, however, is going to be a very difficult thing to define. We’ve already talked about that. This definition is very problematic. And not only is it difficult to define, even if the vast majority of Republicans, the vast majority of conservatives approve this bill for the absolute right moral reason of seeking to oppose anti-Semitism, I think you can predict that regulatory bureaucracies, that the administrative state, and progressive courts, and those who seek to use those progressive courts will try to use the same kind of legislation, and its logic, against conservatives, and in particular, conservative Christians.

So on the left, the opposition is largely allied by the concern for what they declare to be freedom of speech. On the other hand, and by the way right now, those on the left, they’re politically aware of the fact that if they were to support this kind of legislation, it would be a direct slap at the protesters that are now getting so much attention for the Palestinian cause on America’s elite college campuses.

So again, politics is always mixed into all of this. On the right, much of the opposition is towards the understanding that this is the definition of a form of a hate crime. And even though it is well intended, it will be used by others. It will be used in a way that will be virtually the opposite of what the intenders of the legislation we’re seeking to bring about. Now, as you look at this, it’s important to also just be reminded of the numbers.

Part II

Legislation Has Intended and Unintended Consequences: The Major Concerns of the Potential Fallout of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act

When just days ago the bill passed in the House, it was overwhelming, 320 yea, 91 nay. The partisan breakdown is important. 187 Republicans voted yes, 21 voted no. 133 Democrats voted yes, 70 voted no. If nothing else, the legislation is likely to slow down in the United States Senate. And it’s going to be really important this week to note the level of conversation. And this is where I felt morally responsible to discuss this on Monday because the issues coming out from last week. I think you’re going to see a lot of conversation about the legislation this week. And that conversation may bring further clarifications, it may also raise further issues.

Again, I think for Christians, the bottom line is this. The understanding that anti-Semitism is a horrible thing that we need to confront at every opportunity. We need to name it for what it is. It is a hatred of the Jewish people, which is often extended to a hatred of the Jewish state. We need to support every rightful push back on anti-Semitism, and we need to make very clear that the main legal failure, and that means on the part of law enforcement, also on the part of political authorities, more specifically on the part of college administrators, has been failing to take action when anti-Semitic speech openly has become a threat to Jewish safety.

At that point, we’re not just talking about speech, we are talking about speech that carries an implicit threat. There is a good legal basis for understanding that distinction. But Christians also need to understand that in a fallen world, legislation often comes with complications that were not intended, and it is often used in ways that the authors or original sponsors of the legislation surely did not intend.

So at this point, particularly on the conservative side, I want to say that I give full faith and credit to the conservatives who voted for this legislation because I believe they were driven by a very noble cause, and concern, and ambition. I am just very concerned that the net effect of their legislation is going to be the opposite of what they intend, or at the very least, that it is going to bring about challenges to Christian speech, even the gospel speech, that were clearly not intended by the many conservatives who voted for this bill, including many of them conservative Christians who were doing so in solidarity with the Jewish people.

So at the end of the day, this legislation is problematic just because of the structure of this kind of legislation in the first place. Very dangerous. You have to question how will it actually be used?

On the other hand, of course, it could do some good. And where legislation could do some good, we need to understand that, but we need to understand where it brings peril as well. But I want to go back to the definition issue. If you are going to legislate on anti-Semitism, you’re going to have to define what it is. And at the very least, at the very least, this legislation needs a more adequate definition of anti-Semitism.

Part III

A ‘Professional Agitator’ on Liberal Campus? The People of the Left Protesting on Campuses Include More Than Students

But next, while we’re on this topic, we need to do at least a short update on what is taking place on many of America’s college and university campuses. I guess one word would just be mayhem. And you have seen the police called out coast to coast, and at many spots in between. And here’s where we need to know something new has arisen. Now, it hasn’t arisen as a new thing we didn’t know about, it has arisen a new thing the left didn’t want to talk about. And it really came up, for example, in the conversation of New York Mayor Eric Adams, who made the statement that many of the people who were arrested in the arrest made at The City College of New York, CUNY, and at Columbia University, they weren’t actually students or even members of the community.

Now, almost immediately you had the mainstream media come back and say, “Well, that’s exactly what they said during the Civil Rights Movement.” There was the language about outside agitators. But over time, even the mainstream media have to come back to this kind of story and say, “Well, was it true or not?” And over the course of the weekend, several came back and said, “Well, turns out that was true.”

Okay, so here’s what the New York police are saying. The New York police are saying, “At the City College of New York, 60% of those arrested were not students. They were not part of the community.” So we’re not talking about an insignificant fringe, in that case, 60%. Now, you would think that at an elite institution, Ivy League, after all, kind of the opposite of The City University of New York in terms of ethos, blue collar, historically, white collar, elite, Ivy League, at Columbia, according to the reports from the New York City police, at least 29% of those arrested were not students.

So you have the media continuing to call these student protests when 60% of those arrested at The City University of New York and 29% arrested at Columbia University, now the police say weren’t related to the university. That’s not all. You also have major news reports now on some of the people who were involved, who as it turns out clearly are not students. For example, The New York Times just yesterday ran a major half-page news article with the headline, “The Longtime Activists Among the Students Protesting at Columbia.” Here’s the subhead. “Videos show woman, 63,” that means age 63, “working with demonstrators who stormed building.” 

Now, let’s just state that there aren’t any 63-year-old freshmen at Columbia University, not in any traditional sense. And the videos, which are now, by the way, instantly used for both propaganda and potential evidence, they showed this woman and she was identifiable and she is a well-known political activist. She tends to show up at this kind of event. Surprise, surprise.

As the report in The New York Times began, “Among the throng of Columbia University student protesters gathered outside Hamilton Hall on campus early Tuesday morning was a gray-haired woman in her 60s.” Now remember, this isn’t a far right news site, this is The New York Times. “The woman at the center of this encounter on the night protesters stormed and then occupied the building,” that means Hamilton Hall at Columbia, “was Lisa Fithian, a longtime activist and trainer for left-wing protesters whom the New York Police Department would later publicly describe as, ‘a confirmed professional agitator.'”

So once again, you’re talking about language from the New York Police Department. You’re talking about language used by The New York Times. You’re talking about the fact that the video revealed exactly who she was. Now, this goes back to what I was talking about on The Briefing last week, which is that on the cultural left, you have a disposition to protest. They’re just waiting to see what issue might occasion the latest, newest opportunity for protest.

Now, Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, it was almost assuredly going to bring this kind of protest somewhere at some time. And now we understand in retrospect how it came, but we also know that criticism of Israel began on campuses like at Columbia before Israel had taken any military action against the terrorist organization, Hamas, at all after the deadly October the 7th attack. Some of the criticisms of Israel were being made as early as October the 8th and October the 9th, which makes very clear the opposition to Israel was there long before the Hamas attack and long before Israel did anything to fight back.

This is the question morally of the legitimacy of Israel in the first place. And the left has been opposed to the existence of Israel in any defensible sense going back for decades now. And that’s not always been the case. We need to understand that there was a time when Israel was in one sense, the darling of the American left, but that’s worn off since you had in the 1960s and the ’70s, the American left began to identify the Palestinian cause as their latest new anti-colonial, anti-imperial cause. And that gets mixed in with identity politics and intersectionality and all the rest.

But we also need to understand something else, and that is that Israel today as a society is arguably a good deal more conservative than it was in the period of the 1950s and ’60s when there were people on the left who thought that Israel might be the new model of a socialist state.

And it’s not only more conservative, it is decidedly more theological. There’s still a lot of secular Jewish influence in Israel, but the growth, and by that I mean perhaps most importantly, the reproductive growth there in Israel, it’s overwhelmingly among Jewish believers. And those very same Jewish believers are very much aware of the theological stakes when it comes to those who are Israel’s enemies.

Now also last week, The New York Times ran an article with the headline, you got to love this one, “Outsiders were among Columbia protesters, but they dispute instigating clashes.” Oh, I guess the argument is they just happened to be walking by when they saw the innocent students out there protesting and they thought that they were so overcome by moral persuasion that they would join them. 

I don’t think you believe that. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe many of the readers of The New York Times believe that either.

Part IV

Crackdowns on College Campuses Should Send a Clear Message: Behave or Go Home, or Go to Jail. A Clear Lesson from History

But I want to end today by reminding us that you see a true test of leadership on America’s college campuses. I think pretty predictably, you see on these elite Ivy League campuses and many leading prestigious state university campuses, you see the administration absolutely folding. And it’s moral abdication, it’s moral irresponsibility. And you see this even when they try to say, “Okay, here’s a red line,” and then they allow that to be crossed.

And frankly, when they allow all kinds of behavior, including threatening behavior to take place. As you’re looking at this, you need to recognize there’s some campuses where you do have administrations, you do have presidents like at the University of Florida as an example, where you do have a strong administration that’s set down some very clear rules. But I want to go back in order to just remember what’s at stake here, not just to the last several months or the last several years, I want to go back to 1969. I want to go back to February the 17th of 1969.

And you’ll recall the campus unrest, the riots and all the rest going on on those campuses, 1968, 1969. And I just want to remind us that there are models of leadership that do tell us something about moral courage and about clarity in the midst of all of this. And one of them was the president of the University of Notre Dame at the time. His name was Theodore Hesburgh, Father Theodore Hesburgh, often known as Ted Hesburgh. He was one of the iconic educational leaders of the 20th century.

On February the 17th of 1969, he sent a letter to the University of Notre Dame community, and I appreciate the fact The New York Times printed part of that letter just in recent days. He goes on to say, “I now have a clear mandate from this university community to see that,” And he goes on to say, “We’re going to set down some rules, including civility and rationality. There’ll be no violation of rights or obstruction of the life of the university.” Those things are, “Outlawed as illegitimate means of dissent in this kind of open society.” 

So Father Hesburgh, President Hesburgh went on to say what will and will not be allowable on the Notre Dame campus. Remember, this is 1969. “Anyone or any group that substitutes force for rational persuasion, be it violent or nonviolent, will be given 15 minutes of mediation to cease and desist. If they do not within that time period, cease and desist, they will be asked for their identity cards. Those who produce these will be suspended from this community as not understanding what this community is.”

Well, there you also have the issue, if they’re not members of the community, they’re out. If they are members of the community, if they misbehaved, they will be put on some kind of suspension. Indeed, suspended from that community as not understanding what this community is. However, I want to say, you got to love Father Hesburgh for taking the issue one step further. “Those who do not have or will not produce identity cards will be assumed not to be members of the community and will be charged with trespassing and disturbing the peace on private property and treated accordingly by the law.”

He didn’t stop there. “After a notification of suspension or trespass in the case of non-community members, if there is not within five minutes a movement to cease and desist, students will be notified of expulsion from this community and the law will deal with them as non-students.” In other words, it comes down to this, behave or go to your room, or behave or go home, or if necessary, behave or go to jail. Those were at the very least words of moral clarity, rarely heard these days.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. 

For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter or X by going to For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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