Any Inclusion of Nexus Will Severely Undermine Biden’s Antisemitism Plan

While not as problematic as the so-called Jerusalem Declaration, the Nexus Document not only provides a weaker standard, it provides cover to those that perpetrate in anti-Zionist forms of anti-Semitism.
May 22, 2023
Chip Somodevilla / Staff / Getty Images

In economics, it is an iron law that bad money drives out good. Known as Gresham’s Law, after sixteenth century English financier Sir Thomas Gresham, the rule is that when two currencies have similar face value, the more valuable will eventually disappear from circulation. This may be the fate of the gold-standard International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of anti-Semitism if President Joe Biden introduces the baser Nexus Document into public policy usage.

This week, President Biden is expected to issue his much-anticipated all-of-government White House anti-Semitism plan. Expectations are sky-high, since the White House has previewed the plan with considerable fanfare. The context is historically high levels of anti-Semitism, as the Anti-Defamation League has reported. Biden claims that he was motivated to run for president by his disgust for the anti-Semitic Charlottesville “United the Right” rally. And yet, of the of two hundred policy recommendations that the plan will apparently contain, the most important will be a fail.

The mainstream Jewish community has pushed Biden hard to embrace the IHRA Working Definition and to omit its counterfeit alternatives, i.e., the Nexus Document and the even-worse Jerusalem Declaration. IHRA has already been embraced by over thirty nations and more than half of U.S. states. The Biden State department has lauded it, as have prior administrations of both parties. No other definition has any such international or national support. To its credit, the Biden administration is said to be featuring the IHRA definition in its plan, although it is not yet clear whether it will do so with the same forcefulness as did President Trump in his Executive Order on Combating Anti-Semitism.

The problem is that reportedly the current Biden draft, as a compromise with Biden’s hard-left supporters, includes both IHRA and the Nexus Document as well. Highlighting a lesser standard jeopardizes international efforts to coalesce behind the uniform approach that IHRA provides. This could lessen the international prestige of the IHRA definition, which the Biden administration claims to support. This could also completely undermine efforts to combat anti-Semitism in Europe as well as in the United States. In fact, the inclusion of Nexus will do more harm than good.

While not as problematic as the so-called Jerusalem Declaration, the Nexus Document not only provides a weaker standard, it provides cover to those that perpetrate in anti-Zionist forms of anti-Semitism. Nexus was developed as an IHRA-Light by left-wing academics and activists under the aegis of the University of Southern California’s Knight Program in Media & Religion. The purpose of the Nexus Document is to completely insulate political anti-Zionism, even in some of its extreme forms, from being properly identified as an outgrowth of historical Jew-hatred. The definition provides, inaccurately, that most criticism of Israel and Zionism is not anti-Semitic.

There are real-life situations in which the IHRA definition would allow government officials to properly identify and address instances of anti-Semitic discrimination and harassment, whereas the Nexus definition would not. In the University of Vermont anti-Semitism case, for example, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights required the university to resolve a situation in which a Teaching Assistant boasted of a “serotonin rush of bullying zionists on the public domain.” The instructor had boasted that “its [sic] good and funny” “for me, a TA,” to “not give Zionists credit for participation” and otherwise to reduce their grades. Under IHRA, as well as the Executive Order, this is properly understood as anti-Semitic bullying by a university employee. By contrast, unless this bullying were accompanied by “physical harm” or “violence,” it would not be considered anti-Semitic under Nexus but instead as “criticism of Zionism and Israel, opposition to Israel’s policies, or nonviolent political action directed at the State of Israel and/or its policies.”

Federal officials, who have been bound to use IHRA in campus anti-Semitism cases since President Donald Trump signed the Executive Order on Combating Anti-Semitism (E.O. 13899), should not be encouraged to use the Nexus Document. To the extent that the Nexus standard is intentionally weaker, it will be easier to satisfy the requirements of Nexus than those of IHRA.

It is as if the F.B.I. were to embrace both the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China. Since the Chinese Constitution is more permissive of governmental authorities, agents would be empowered to disregard the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment when executing no-knock searches, provided that their encroachments satisfy Chinese requirements. By embracing two standards, the federal government would effectively be elevating the weaker one. The stronger standard would eventually be disregarded.

As with dual currencies, Gresham’s Law always spells trouble for the stronger standard when a weaker standard is introduced. While many in the Jewish community may celebrate a Biden endorsement of IHRA, it will be regrettable if the price is that the White House recognizes a lesser standard as well. Until the White House is officially released, it is not too late for the Biden administration to withdraw support for Nexus. If President Biden is sincere in his many statements of opposition to antisemitism, he should insist on this immediately.

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