Congress Passes Antisemitism Legislation In Attempt To Quell University Protests | Crooked Media
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In This Episode

  • New York police officers arrested more than 100 pro-Palestinian protesters who’d occupied Hamilton Hall at Columbia University, on Tuesday night, while pro-Israeli counterprotestors attacked a pro-Palestinian encampment at UCLA.
  • Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority of House lawmakers on Wednesday voted in favor of passing the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, a bill that critics say could create an overboard definition of what counts as anti-semitic speech on college campuses and other educational institutions. Todd Zwillich, a longtime Washington reporter and friend of the show, explains how the bill is part of a cynical ploy on the part of Republicans to divide Democrats.
  • And in headlines: Arizona lawmakers voted to reverse the state’s Civil War-era abortion ban, the Federal Reserve moved to keep interest rates flat, and the U.S. could have more than 100 million doses of bird flu vaccines available for people within four months if the disease jump to humans.


Show Notes:




Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Thursday, May 2nd. I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I’m Josie Duffy Rice and this is What a Day where we too are afraid of bees. A little girl in North Carolina complained of hearing monsters in her wall, and it turns out she was hearing more than 50,000 bees in her wall. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Horrifying. Objectively worse than whatever she could have been imagining. How do you, as her parents, convince this little girl that it is safe to go to sleep ever again? 


Josie Duffy Rice: No. 


Priyanka Aribindi: It’s just a nightmare. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I’d rather the monsters. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Truly. [music break]


Josie Duffy Rice: On today’s show, Arizona lawmakers rescind the state’s abortion bill from the 1800s. Plus, vaccines are being shipped to the U.S. to combat the possible transmission of bird flu to humans. 


Priyanka Aribindi: But first, as pro-Palestinian protests continue to escalate on college campuses all across the country, we saw victories for student protesters at both Northwestern University and Brown University this week. At Brown, administrators agreed to discuss and later vote on divesting funds from Israel and entities that profit from the war in Gaza. And at Northwestern, the university did not commit to divestment, but they did promise to be more transparent about their financial holdings and to create scholarships for five Palestinian undergraduate students, as well as slots for visiting Palestinian professors. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Okay, so what does this mean moving forward? 


Priyanka Aribindi: Obviously, divestment has been a big goal of many of these student protests. So in that respect, the protesters at Brown clearly got what they wanted from their administration, evidenced by them dismantling their encampment. But this is very starkly different than, you know, the scenes that are playing out on other campuses around the country, many of which have escalated into violence between police officers and student protesters. You’ve probably seen clips, footage all over the internet, social media, the news. More than 1300 protesters around the country have reportedly been taken into custody from campuses, including most recently at the City College of New York, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Tulane University, and the University of Texas at Dallas. Since the arrest of the students at Columbia University in New York on April 18th. At the time of our recording on Wednesday night, UCLA declared an unlawful assembly and moved to shut down the encampment on their campus. That follows an attack by a group of pro-Israeli counterprotesters, many of whom did not appear to be students, on a pro-Palestinian encampment on campus, according to a UC Divest at UCLA spokesperson, 25 protesters were hospitalized overnight after that. We will continue to follow what happens there. But earlier we spoke with Joey Scott, who is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles who covers policing and protests and who was on campus at UCLA on Tuesday night. He witnessed an incident between counterprotesters and students in the encampment. Take a listen. 


[clip of Joey Scott] The use of clashes is very inaccurate. A clash implies that two people are on equal footing and this was not the case. I believe that it should be well clarified. There was one group who instigated all of this, who has been for the past week harassing and attacking students within the encampment. These students on campus, they did not antagonize. Within half an hour of my arrival, the counterprotesters overtook the metal barricades that were separating the two groups and began launching them into the encampment. They deployed pepper spray. They threw fireworks. They were wielding broken parts of pallets that they had taken from the barricades and using them to strike people. Protesters were able to get away with this violence for four hours, uninterrupted by any outside police. Security fled as soon as the confrontation started, leaving everyone for themselves. 


Priyanka Aribindi: He described the scene as one of the most violent things that he’s ever witnessed in his career as a reporter. 


[clip of Joey Scott] It was a surreal experience. It was one of those situations where it felt like somebody could die or somebody could be gravely injured. 


Priyanka Aribindi: That is LA based reporter Joey Scott. We will link to his work in our show notes. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Thanks, Priyanka. Meanwhile, the House on Wednesday passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act. It’s a bill that would require the Department of Education to use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism when enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws. The bill passed 320 to 91, so it got broad bipartisan support and broad bipartisan opposition. Critics of the legislation say it would severely infringe on the right to free speech. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Okay, I know we will get into the politics behind this bill in just a second, but let’s start with the substance here. Obviously, anti-discrimination laws should include discrimination against Jewish people. So how is this bill different from what’s already out there? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. Like you said, antisemitism and discrimination against Jewish people should be prohibited under federal law. No question. It already is under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But this bill goes much further. It would allow certain criticisms of the State of Israel to be considered prohibited antisemitism at universities and certain other educational institutions. You know, this is really alarming, and I believe it should–


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Josie Duffy Rice: –be alarming to everybody, regardless of your perception of Israel, whether you support Israel’s policy choices. I truly can’t think of another instance where Congress has tried to legally prohibit criticism of another country’s domestic or foreign policy. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s just kind of unheard of. And again, as we’ve stated, anti-Semitism is unacceptable. No question. But this is a fairly brazen attempt to qualify certain criticisms of a country, Israel, as discriminatory. And to quote the ACLU, speech that is critical of Israel or any other government cannot alone constitute harassment. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. Okay. So tell us about who voted against this legislation. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. As I mentioned, it passed by a significant margin. So a lot of people voted for it. 91 people voted against it, and many of those were on the far right. Some were also the left wing of Congress, but it was also opposed by a number of Jewish members of the House, including Democratic Representative Jerry Nadler and Representative Sara Jacobs. She said she voted against the bill because, quote, “It fails to effectively address the very real rise of anti-Semitism, all while defending colleges and universities across the country and punishing many, if not all of the nonviolent protesters speaking out against the Israeli military’s conduct. And it would distract from real anti-Semitism and our effort to address it.” For more on the politics behind the bill, I spoke to Todd Zwillich. He covers Washington and is a friend of the show. I started by asking him the reasons why lawmakers voted against the bill. 


Todd Zwillich: Well, I think that there might be some First Amendment issues. There are members of Congress who are civil libertarians who would tell you that, look, hate speech is still legal, so they don’t want the federal government to be regulating it. Even detestable or disgusting speech shouldn’t be outlawed or have Congress involved at all. So I think there’s some members in that regard. I think there are some members also with political concerns about the timing of this bill. And I think apart from the specifics of this bill about a Department of Education regulation, I think far beyond that, the political context is way more important here. I think that this bill really falls into a time where Republicans have spent months now doing their very best to capitalize and exploit divisions and protest over the rights of Palestinians and the war in Gaza for their own political gain. I think there’s plenty of evidence that they’ve been moving aggressively to sow division in the country and among Democrats here, and in quite a cynical way. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I guess I would ask what the next step is here, because it’s also relevant to your point. A few years ago, the very author of this definition of anti-Semitism, Kenneth Stern, testified in front of Congress that this was not drafted or intended to be a tool to target or kill speech on a college campus. 


[clip of Kenneth Stern] My fear is if we [?] enshrine this definition to law, outside groups who try to suppress, rather than answer political speech they don’t like, the Academy, Jewish students and faculty teaching about Jewish issues will all suffer. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Do you see this as something that they really want to be policy, or more as a way of scoring political points right now and making the Democrats look bad? 


Todd Zwillich: What’s clear over the last couple of months is that Republicans have been intent on exploiting protests over the war in Gaza and the confrontation between Israel and Hamas for their own political gains. Now, how do I know that? If you look at just the last couple of weeks, if you like, and since campus protests have really, really ramped up, Republicans with their political strategy and their social media have almost uniformly cast the protests as anti-Semitic, really, nothing else as anti-Semitic protests devoid of nuance, devoid of any real content, of what protesters are protesting for, really trying to use it to sow division, really, among Democrats. And why would that work? Well, American Jews by and large, generally now American Jews, at 70% vote Democratic mostly. They’re also mostly pro-Israel and at the same time overwhelmingly against the Netanyahu government and its military action in Gaza. Therefore, a two state solution. It is a complicated situation. But look at Republican messaging. All of the protesters are anti-Semitic. All of their actions, all of their demands are anti-Semitic, a very binary situation. On the one hand, you might say, ah it’s just like a cynical play for Jewish voters. But really, I think what it is, is an effort to portray chaos in Joe Biden’s America, that these protests can’t be anything of substance. They can’t be anything having to do with human rights or a ceasefire or the dignity of Gazans and Palestinians. It must be just about anti-Semitism. I think the vast majority of Jews in America would tell you that’s wrong. But for Fox or Newsmax viewers or people on the right, it really boils the debate down to a cynical binary of anti-Semitism, when it’s really so much more. And that’s a pretty cynical political strategy. And I think there’s a lot more evidence to the point too. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. Related to the strategy, Republicans have announced another round of hearings on campus antisemitism this week. Representative Virginia Foxx of North Carolina said she summoned administrators from Yale, UCLA, the University of Michigan to appear in front of lawmakers later this month. Are these hearings part of this Republican effort to divide Democrats on the issue? 


Todd Zwillich: I think that they are, and I think they’re part of another part of the strategy, too. We’ve seen presidents of Ivy League universities, Penn, Harvard had disastrous appearances in front of that same committee. The president of Columbia had an appearance in front of that committee under the guise of anti-Semitism, where their real point is to bolster long running Republican politics, hey, out of wokeness and DEI and sort of campus wokeness, right? Republicans have really a newfound and vehement opposition to anti-Semitism, but you wouldn’t know it if you looked at just their very recent record on the issue. I mean, go back to just 2018 around the midterms, when Kevin McCarthy himself said that we can’t let George Soros, Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg buy the American election. Elise Stefanik, one of Donald Trump’s chief spokesperson and sycophants in the US House, has been one of the people responsible. She just had a press conference against anti-Semitism the other day. She’s been one of the people responsible in her fundraising activities, promoting and importing the idea of the great replacement theory into the center of Republican politics over the border. Now, the Great replacement theory is a conspiracy theory that Democrats want migration because they can convert those illegal immigrants into votes. The OG great replacement theory is that Jews engineer the entire thing to help Democrats change the demographics of America. Why is it such a big deal that Republicans have smuggled that into the center of their politics? It’s on Fox News all the time. Not the Jewish part, but the great replacement Democratic voting part. It’s the very lie that the assassin at the Tree of Life synagogue used to justify the murder of 11 Jews in Pittsburgh. Also, the shooting in Buffalo at a grocery store, also the shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, and the mass murder in Christchurch, New Zealand a couple of years ago by a gunman there. So it’s an extremely lethal and extremely dangerous theory. There are lots and lots of other examples as well. Donald Trump himself is we know, sat down to dinner with one of America’s most notorious and famous neo-Nazis, Nick Fuentes. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Holocaust denier. 


Todd Zwillich: Holocaust denier, neo-Nazi, who has shared his conference with Marjorie Taylor Greene herself. All up and down the Republican ranks now is either acceptance, promotion of neo-Nazis. Donald Trump, we all remember after the Charlottesville march, refusing to condemn tiki torch carrying neo-Nazis, chanting Jews will not replace us, he said there were fine people on both sides of that protest. So I say all of that to say that the Republicans newfound objections to anti-Semitism really ring hollow. If they really, really cared about it, they wouldn’t have built a political movement on all of that innuendo and all of that hosting of neo-Nazis. And I think that their recent newfound vehemence against anti-Semitism is a way to drive a wedge among their political opposition and portray an America in chaos when their candidate isn’t the incumbent president. 


Josie Duffy Rice: That was Todd Zwillich, longtime Washington reporter and friend of the show. And that is the latest for now. We’ll get to some headlines in a moment. But if you like our show, make sure to subscribe and share with your friends. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break]




Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s wrap up with some headlines. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Headlines. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Arizona lawmakers voted on Wednesday to reverse the state’s Civil War era abortion ban. Two Senate Republicans joined Democrats to send legislation rescinding the law to Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs’ desk. Governor Hobbs said in a statement that she looks forward to signing it quickly. And that, quote, “while this repeal is essential for protecting women’s lives, it is just the beginning of our fight to protect reproductive health care in Arizona.” Last month, the Arizona Supreme Court revived the state’s 1864 near-total abortion ban. How could any of us forget it was batshit bananas. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Which only included an exception for the life of a pregnant person. The court said Arizona officials could enforce the law after the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v Wade two years ago. This is just the aftermath that we continue to live with day after day after day. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday they’re keeping interest rates flat, citing concerns that inflation was taking longer to come down than they had hoped. The fed kept the short term borrowing rate in the same range, around 5.5%, the same it’s been since last July. This is the highest level it’s been in over two decades. But Wednesday’s announcement isn’t a huge surprise to economists, since inflation has ticked up in the first few months of 2024. Fed Chair Jerome Powell still expects inflation to wane, but there are still a lot of unknowns. 


[clip of unknown speaker] When we get that confidence, then rate cuts will be in scope. I don’t know exactly when that will be. 


Priyanka Aribindi: The US could have more than 100 million doses of bird flu vaccines available for people within just four months, should the disease jump to humans. That is according to health officials who spoke with NBC news. The virus has been spreading quickly among livestock all across the country. 90 million chickens have been infected, and more than 30 herds of dairy cows across nine different states have seen infections since 2022. The infection spread to humans isn’t a concern quite yet, so no need to freak out entirely. There have only been two reported cases in the U.S. of people contracting the virus with this current outbreak. But health officials are still worried that the virus could make a more pronounced jump to humans, especially if it mutates. Two vaccines are ready to go, and a third mRNA vaccine is reportedly being developed. How long until people are drinking bleach after they eat uh steak or eggs? I don’t know.


Josie Duffy Rice: I need viruses to quit it. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Quit it. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Just stop mutating. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Quit it. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Just stop being in my life. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Give us a break. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Give us a break. 


Priyanka Aribindi: We need a timeout. What aren’t you getting about our signals here? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Ten year break on viruses. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Read the room. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Read the room. Former Nickelodeon producer Dan Schneider filed a defamation lawsuit against the filmmakers of the hit Max docu series Quiet on Set, The Dark Side of Kids TV. The series made headlines when it dropped in March, detailing how two network employees were convicted of sexually abusing children on set. The five part documentary featured bombshell testimony from former child stars who witnessed inappropriate behavior while acting on Nickelodeon shows like All That, The Amanda Show and Zoey 101. Schneider is mentioned throughout the series as the man behind many of Nickelodeon’s hit shows. He alleges that the documentary falsely implies that he had any part in abusing the children who worked on his shows, and that the documentary has, quote, “destroyed his reputation.” Schneider named Investigation Discovery, the production company behind quiet on set, in his complaint. Investigation Discovery has yet to comment on the matter. And those are the headlines. 




Priyanka Aribindi: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Listen to little kids when they tell you that something is hiding in the walls, and tell your friends to listen. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you’re into reading and not just news on mutating viruses like me, What a Day is also a nightly newsletter. So check it out and subscribe at! I’m Josie Duffy Rice. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


[spoken together] And I bee-lieve in monsters. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Bees, look we have to save them but they’re also monsters. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I agree they are amazing and terrifying at the same time. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Amazing and terrifying. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Two things can be true. 


Josie Duffy Rice: All things can be true. 


Priyanka Aribindi: [laugh] I don’t know about that, but maybe. Maybe. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, not all things, but those two things. [music break]


Priyanka Aribindi: What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our associate producers are Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf. We had production help today from Michell Eloy, Greg Walters, and Julia Claire. Our showrunner is Erica Morrison, and our executive producer is Adriene Hill. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.