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Biden Administration Releases Antisemitism Plan

The strategy consists of more than 100 actions and four pillars, according to a fact sheet on the White House’s website.
[additional-authors]
May 25, 2023
U.S. President Joe Biden (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Biden administration released the inaugural National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism on May 25, prompting mostly positive reactions from Jewish groups while some expressed disappointment.

The strategy consists of more than 100 actions and four pillars, according to a fact sheet on the White House’s website. The first pillar focuses on educating the United States on the pernicious threat of antisemitism and how Jews have bettered American society. As such, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum will be establishing their first-ever Holocaust education research center in America to “undertake systematic, rigorous, and actionable research into teaching and learning about the Holocaust and study the impact and effectiveness of Holocaust education in the U.S. Agencies will also create new materials on contemporary antisemitism and Jewish American heritage and history,” per the fact sheet. “The U.S. government will also bolster research on antisemitism, its impact on American society, and its intersection with other forms of hate through funding opportunities, resources, and outreach from several agencies.” The first pillar of the strategy also pledges that the federal government will provide education on antisemitism in the workplace, on campus and to the media, and will include antisemitism in various bias trainings for federal agencies.

Notably, the full 60-page plan states that “there are several definitions of antisemitism” and notes that the “most prominent” definition that “the United States has embraced” is the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition. The IHRA definition includes the demonization and delegitimization of Israel––such as comparing Israel to the Nazis––as well as double standards against the Jewish state “not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” Additionally, the plan states that “the Administration welcomes and appreciates the Nexus Document and notes other such efforts.” The Nexus Document says regarding double standards: “There are numerous reasons for treating Israel differently or devoting special attention to Israel, among them that Israel receives more military aid than any other country or that someone has a special religious connection with Israel. Singling out Israel because it is a Jewish state, using standards different than those applied to other countries, is antisemitism.” It also says that criticism of Zionism and/or Israel may not be antisemitic since some might be against “nationalism or ethnonationalist ideology” or “may have been adversely affected by the creation of the State of Israel.” The Nexus Document does list various instances in which criticism of Israel and/or Zionism can be antisemitic, such as invoking antisemitic tropes, attacking Jews over their personal relationship with Israel and “advocating a political solution that denies Jews the right to define themselves as a people.”

Pillar 2 of the Biden strategy focuses on “improving [the] safety and security of the Jewish community,” noting the rise in harassment and violence against Jews. This aspect of the strategy involves the Department of Homeland Security providing “a series of workshops on countering antisemitic and other forms of hate-motivated violence against communities impacted by targeted violence,” and the Department of Justice will be meeting with various Jewish leaders. Additionally, the Biden administration urges Congress to provide $360 million to the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, a $55 million increase from the year before.

Pillar 3 involves efforts to fight the “normalization” of antisemitism in American society. “The Biden-Harris Administration will, first and foremost, continue speaking out clearly and forcefully against antisemitism and those who peddle it, and urge all sectors of society to do the same,” the fact sheet states. “In addition, the U.S. Government will take steps wherever it can to tackle the rise of antisemitism online. We also call on Congress to hold social media platforms accountable for spreading hate-fueled violence, including antisemitism; impose much stronger transparency requirements on online platforms; and pass legislation requiring platforms to enable timely and robust public interest research, including on the spread of antisemitism and other forms of hate.” The administration will also fight antisemitism in schools by reminding them they must follow Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and the Department of Education’s Antisemitism Awareness Campaign.

The final pillar involves “cross-community solidarity and collective action to counter hate” and lists several partners in this endeavor, including the National Basketball Players Association, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), American Jewish Committee (AJC) and Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog tweeted congratulations to the administration over their antisemitism plan. “Thank you, @POTUS, for prioritizing the need to confront antisemitism in all its forms,” he said. “We welcome the re-embracing of @TheIHRA
definition which is the gold standard definition of antisemitism. Less than a century after the Holocaust, rising antisemitism in America and across the globe is cause for alarm. This report is an important first step in the long fight against this venomous hate.”

Several Jewish groups applauded the Biden administration’s plan to fight antisemitism.

“As the U.S. Jewish community is experiencing antisemitism at levels not seen in generations, we deeply appreciate that the White House has stepped up and delivered this significant, comprehensive strategy,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement. “It’s particularly notable that this approach recognizes that antisemitism is not about politics – it’s about principles. We are pleased that this strategy comprehensively addresses hate and antisemitism on campus, online, and from extremists on both the far-right and the far-left.”

“In adopting this national strategy, the White House has sent a clear, unequivocal message that antisemitism is a problem that affects all of society, not just Jews,” AJC CEO Ted Deutch similarly said in a statement. “This is a historic day for America and its Jewish community. AJC was proud to be part of the process to develop this strategy and is glad to see a whole-of-government approach to counter this persistent and pernicious threat.”

Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean and Director for Global Social Action Agenda Rabbi Abraham Cooper said in a statement, “The Simon Wiesenthal Center applauds President Biden’s speech committing the United States and all the relevant federal agencies to fight anti-Semitism and to urge internet companies to take specific action against the continued use of their powerful platforms in mainstreaming Jew hatred. We also applaud the call for the involvement of faith leaders to take action against anti-Semitism and the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its renowned Museum of Tolerance, institutions committed over decades to this fight, to do its share in working together with the government, faith leaders and social media companies to defeat the scourge of anti-Semitism that threatens not only our community but the foundations of our democracy.

“Central to this fight is the adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism by all agencies, internet companies, universities and cultural institutions across our country,” Cooper added. “For without a single definition, accountability for anti-Semitic acts and hate crimes would be made that much more difficult. Finally, we must also remember that a significant portion of the anti-Semitic hate generated against the Jewish people specifically targets genocidal and murderous rhetoric and acts against the democratic Jewish state of Israel which today is home to the largest Jewish community in the world.”

Joanna Mendelson, Senior Vice President of Community Engagement at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said in a statement: “In all its forms, antisemitism poses a significant threat to the fabric of our communities by undermining the fundamental values of our society. This is a vital recognition of the current climate. We are grateful to the Biden administration for providing a clear all-of-government framework aimed at rooting out antisemitism, creating a road map forward, and establishing a multi-pronged approach to address this form of hate. As an organization committed to fostering understanding, promoting social justice, and seeking to nurture our most joyous Jewish selves, we pledge our full support.”

The USC Shoah Foundation tweeted, “We applaud the launch of the @whitehouse
U.S. National Strategy to Combat Antisemitism, with 100 new actions and dozens of partner organizations. Governmental leadership is essential to galvanizing a comprehensive response to surging #antisemitism.”

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said in a statement, “In an era of rising antisemitism in the U.S. and around the world, we appreciate the clarity and urgency demonstrated by the White House in releasing its National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism. We welcome the embrace of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism, which is a continuation of longstanding U.S. policy and a critical tool in the fight against anti-Jewish hate and bias. We look forward to collaborating with the White House and Congress to ensure the implementation of this National Strategy.”

The Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California (JPAC) said in a statement, “Jewish Americans have felt our collective sense of security continue to deteriorate for several years now. It makes a huge difference, practically and psychologically, to have a coordinated approach to address the rising tide of antisemitism coming from the highest levels of our government. This strategy works to fight antisemitism at each stage across its lifespan: where it is learned, spread, and acted upon. It reinforces many of JPAC’s priorities in recent years, including increased funding for community security initiatives, expanding Holocaust and genocide education, stopping the spread of hate online, and incorporating Jewish American heritage and antisemitism awareness into our school curricula.

“We look forward to working with our partners in California to implement appropriate parts of this strategy at the state level and across industries and civil society in California,” they added. “We know too that other vulnerable communities are victims to similar increases in hate-motivated harassment and violence. Armed with this plan, we’re going to double down on our coalition work to drive statewide culture and policy change to root out hate and promote equity and prosperity for all.”

Jewish Democratic Council of America CEO Halie Soifer lauded the plan as “the most ambitious and comprehensive effort in U.S. history to fight this dangerous scourge of hate.” “Jewish Dems not only support the actions outlined in the President’s strategy, but the principles upon which they are based, which include increasing awareness of antisemitism and Jewish American heritage, improving safety and security for Jewish communities, reversing the normalization of antisemitism, and building cross-community coalitions against all forms of hate,” she said.  “By mobilizing the full force of the U.S. government, President Biden is aiming to restore the soul of our nation by safeguarding Jewish Americans. Now is the time for the Republican Party and all people of conscience to end the GOP’s embrace of right-wing extremism that has threatened our community, freedom, and rights.”

Democratic Majority for Israel President and CEO Mark Mellman said in statement that the Biden plan is “comprehensive” and “innovative.” “We thank the Administration for prioritizing the fight against antisemitism and all forms of bigotry from day one,” Mellman said. “Following years of an alarming rise in antisemitic acts, Holocaust distortion, right-wing violent extremism, and anti-Zionist antisemitism across the country — including a record-high number of hate acts and crimes against Jews reported to the FBI in 2021 ­— the Biden-Harris Administration is taking concrete action to identify and combat antisemitism with this vitally important strategy.” Despite the inclusion of Nexus, Mellman argued that “the IHRA definition is the only one embraced by the Administration.” “The IHRA definition has been endorsed by 1,000 entities, including some 40 nations, such as close U.S. allies like Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, South Korea, and the United Kingdom,” Mellman said, later contending that IHRA “is not intended to be legally binding, does not in any way preclude criticism of Israel. It states, ‘criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic,’ but, at the same time, the IHRA working definition affirms that singling out Israel by requiring a behavior that is not demanded of other nations can be regarded as antisemitism. The Administration today sends a clear message that it will not give cover to antisemites who attempt to disguise their Jew hatred as mere criticism of Israeli government policies.”

StandWithUs CEO and Co-Founder Roz Rothstein said in a statement, “We applaud the comprehensive nature of the plan and its ‘whole-of-society’ calls to action, which recognize that effectively combating antisemitism requires the commitment of not only the government but also law enforcement agencies, civic and religious organizations, corporations, and educational institutions. We are pleased that the administration recognizes the preeminence of the IHRA Working Definition in helping to identify and raise awareness about antisemitism. While we maintain our concerns that the reference to alternative definitions could create unnecessary confusion, we are hopeful that the administration’s embrace of the IHRA definition will be evident in the implementation of the overall plan. We are encouraged in this hope by the plan’s expression of unequivocal support for the State of Israel’s legitimacy and its condemnation of antisemitic attacks against the Jewish State.”

Others expressed disappointment in the plan.

“Our country’s crisis of Jew-hatred needs to be addressed clearly, completely, and as a phenomenon unto itself, and the Biden Administration’s plan falls short on all counts,” Stop Antisemitism said in a statement. “Against the advice of major antisemitism advocacy organizations, the plan does not use the IHRA definition to delineate what counts as antisemitism, instead relegating it to a brief paragraph that also includes the inferior, competing Nexus definition. This flies in the face of the plan’s assertion that ‘If we cannot name, identify, and admit a problem, we cannot begin to solve it.’ Not using IHRA as a foundational guide creates a gaping hole; while the plan acknowledges that Jews have been targeted because of their connection to Israel, it fails to name anti-Zionism as a primary form of antisemitism.”

Stop Antisemitism added that “the plan will not even allow antisemitism to stand alone, repeatedly mentioning planned executive actions to fight ‘antisemitism, Islamophobia, and related forms of bias and discrimination.’ Fighting Islamophobia and other bigotries is an excellent goal, but it does not belong in this particular antisemitism strategy. The Administration grossly missed its chance to make a clear statement on what constitutes antisemitism, and America’s Jews will suffer as a result.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) similarly said in a statement that the administration “blew it” by including the Nexus Document in the plan. “Hours before a Jewish holiday and in the waning days of Jewish American Heritage Month, the White House is attempting a last-minute straddle – undermining the IHRA definition by promoting alongside it an alternative definition that says applying double standards and singling out the Jewish state for criticism is not antisemitic,” the RJC said. “This decision seriously weakens the White House strategy. It is yet another instance of Biden caving to the anti-Israel radicals who constitute a growing Democratic constituency at both the elected and grassroots levels. It’s clear that only a Republican president will fully embrace the IHRA definition and put the full force of the federal government behind the fight against antisemitism in all its forms.”

Zionist Organization of America National President Morton A. Klein also criticized the Biden plan, calling the Nexus Document “dangerous.” “The Nexus Document states that opposition to Zionism – i.e., the right of the Jewish people to self-determination and to live as a nation-state in their religious and ancestral homeland – is not necessarily antisemitic,” Klein said. “The Nexus Document fails to appreciate that for many if not most Jews, their connection to their religious and ancestral homeland is an essential part of their Jewish identity. The Nexus Document also states that ‘disproportionate focus on Israel and treating Israel differently than other countries cannot necessarily be considered antisemitic.’ But if Israel – the one and only Jewish state in the world – is singled out for criticism and punishment, then there can be no doubt that antisemitism is at play.” Klein argued that “the Biden Strategy failed to mention the IHRA examples of antisemitism,” as “those examples make it clear that antisemitism can be masked as singling out Israel for attacks.” He added that the plan failed “to explicitly identify or deal with any source of antisemitism by name other than white supremacy.”

Some Jewish organizations defended the inclusion of Nexus. A joint statement signed by more than 50 Jewish leaders stated that they “are encouraged that the strategy acknowledges the necessity of employing a diverse toolkit to combat antisemitism, including the Nexus Document. In this way, the Administration makes it possible to address antisemitism in a manner that reflects the contemporary political and historical landscape, specifically concerning the interactions between antisemitism, Israel, and Zionism. This guidance is invaluable for policymakers and community leaders navigating the complexities intersecting these issues.” Jonathan Jacoby, director of the Nexus Task Force, said in a statement: “The Biden administration is tackling complex issues that too often become weaponized in political debates. Antisemitism is not a political question, it is a violent and disturbing reality that must be rooted out of our society, and now, we have a commitment from the government and a united path forward.”

J Street similarly said in a statement, “Importantly, the strategy avoids exclusively codifying any one specific, sweeping definition of antisemitism as the sole standard for use in enforcing domestic law and policy, recognizing that such an approach could do more harm than good.” “While some voices have pushed the White House to give the full force of US law to the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism and its accompanying examples, the Biden Administration rightly cites this definition as just one of a range of illustrative and useful tools in understanding and combating antisemitism.”

“We’re glad the administration recognized codifying a definition of antisemitism would be counterproductive, make it harder to identify antisemitism in context & make it easier to violate 1st Amendment rights,” Tr’uah: The Rabbinical Call for Human Rights tweeted. “IHRA was never meant to be used as a broad code for hate speech. Of course, a plan is not a magic cure for antisemitism. There is a long and challenging road ahead. We look forward to continuing to work with the White House to fight antisemitism and other forms of bigotry, so people of all backgrounds can live without fear.”

Some specifically took issue with the administration’s partnership with CAIR as part of the plan. “I stopped reading Biden’s #Antisemitism plan when I saw @CAIRNational listed as a partner,” Bryan E. Leib, the newly installed executive director of CASEPAC, tweeted. “CAIR is an outspoken supporter of the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] movement, and they have a track record of terrorizing Jewish students on college campuses.”

Stop Antisemitism similarly tweeted that “CAIR is one of the leading proponents of Jew hatred, disgusted as ‘anti-Zionism’ in the U.S. For @POTUS and his administration to partner with such an organization in their efforts to fight antisemitism is frightening to say the least.”

For their part, CAIR National Deputy Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said in a statement, “We welcome President Biden’s commitment to confronting the threat of antisemitism, a dangerous and pervasive form of bigotry that has become even more widespread in recent years, largely due to the rise in extremist, far-right political leaders. We plan to continue working with our friends in the Jewish community to oppose the hate that threatens both of our communities, and we also look forward to the release of the White House’s strategic plans to confront other forms of bigotry, including Islamophobia.”

He added: “We also appreciate the White House’s use of language which makes clear that these national strategies should not be used to either infringe upon the constitutional guarantees of free speech or to conflate bigotry with human rights activism, including advocacy for Palestinian freedom and human rights.”

Kenneth L. Marcus, founder and chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, said in a statement, “President Biden has invested significant attention addressing record levels of anti-Semitism, and importantly and appropriately recognizing that Jewish Americans are facing discrimination based not only on our religion but also our ethnic and ancestral background. This is to be commended. The Biden administration has also forcefully embraced IHRA, despite regretfully muddying the water by also acknowledging a lesser standard.

“Deeply troubling, however, is that the administration appears to be retreating from a longstanding commitment to issue regulations on combating anti-Semitism,” Marcus added. “Instead of issuing a new regulation that strengthens protections for Jewish students, the administration is promising only to issue informal guidance to remind institutions of their existing commitments. In short, the rhetoric is very strong and the intent is good, but the substance doesn’t always measure up. There is a serious retreat from earlier commitments, and the implementation could be seriously flawed and rendered ineffective if this plan opens the door to using any definition of anti-Semitism other than IHRA.”

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