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Rep. Ritchie Torres brings bill to place antisemitism monitors on college campuses

The young Democrat, largely funded by the pro-Israel lobby, is cosponsoring the COLUMBIA Act with a GOP congressman from his native New York.

U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres of New York at the Israeli-American Council National Summit in 2021 in Hollywood, Florida. (Noam Galai/Getty Images)

Amid rising tensions over campus protests concerning the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Democrat U.S. Rep Ritchie Torres is introducing legislation in Congress that would place federally mandated antisemitism monitors at all publicly funded colleges and universities.

The bipartisan COLUMBIA Act (College Oversight and Legal Updates Mandating Bias Investigations and Accountability) is in the works from Torres and freshman GOP Rep. Mike Lawler, a fellow New Yorker and Catholic whose district includes a significant Jewish population.

The Catholic-raised Torres is one of several Democrat legislators in Washington whose support of Israel has largely gone unabated amid the Israel-Hamas War, which has now raged for nearly 6 months with repeated human rights violations by the Israeli military. The fighting began with an invasion and terrorist attack on October 7 in Israel by operatives from Hamas, the ruling government of the Gaza Strip.

More than 34,000 Palestinians—mostly women and children—have since been killed in retaliation by Israeli fighters, sparking accusations of genocide from various Western nations. Torres and Lawler are part of a strong American faction that nevertheless lends largely unflinching support to the Israeli regime, led by right-wing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In New York, anti-Zionist campus protests and a student occupation at Columbia University beginning on April 17 made international headlines as hundreds of demonstrators called on the school to financially divest from Israel. 113 were arrested after university president Minouche Shafik called on the NYPD to break up the encampment, resulting in widespread violence and public outcry.

Demonstrators at Columbia have ranged in ideology from left-wing supporters of the Hamas regime to far-right agitators from outside of the school community. Both extremes, as well as more moderate protesters, have been accused of anti-Jewish hatred.

“Campus antisemitism is at an all-time high, and American universities are not capable of handling it when left to their own devices. My office and I have spoken with countless Jewish students from campuses across America who feel deeply unsafe, purely as a result of their religious and ethnic identity. This is a blatant violation of Title VI and the federal government cannot allow this to continue unchecked,” said Torres in a statement announcing the COLUMBIA Act. 

“I urge all of my colleagues in the House, from both parties, to join me in this crucial action. Jewish students have told my office that they feel completely abandoned by their university administrators and they view Congress as the only avenue for accountability and safety.”

Torres during a visit to Israel this month, at a kibbutz near the site of the October 7 Re'im music festival massacre. (Marc Israel Sellem)

Torres and Lawler say their new legislation would compel publicly funded colleges and universities to have antisemitism monitors appointed by the U.S. Department of Education. Failure to do so would result in a loss of federal funding.

“The monitor would release a publicly available online quarterly report, evaluating in detail the progress that a college or university has made toward combating antisemitism on campus and issuing policy recommendations to Congress, the Secretary, and state and local regulators as needed,” reads a description released by Lawler’s congressional office.

The proposed bill reflects a stance foreshadowed by pro-Israel lobbying groups, many of which have been involved with clandestine reconnaissance on student groups seen as favorable to the Palestinian cause. Taken together, Torres and Lawler have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the pro-Israel lobby—including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), currently the single largest contributor to Torres’ 2024 reelection campaign.

In recent days, Torres has used his personal social media presence to toe the pro-Israel line, dismissing concerns of genocide in Gaza and criticizing protestors at Columbia and elsewhere, as anti-Zionist demonstrations spread to college campuses across the nation. 

“A lead organizer of the deceptively “peaceful” protest at Columbia University is seen proudly asserting that Zionists (i.e. most Jews) ‘don’t deserve to live,’” he wrote on April 26.

“Remember those words whenever you find yourself being gaslit about ‘the very fine people’ of the encampment movement.”

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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