Jewish Organizations, Rabbis, Weigh In On Biden’s Strategy to Counter Anti-Semitism
Edited by: Fern Sidman
President Joe Biden on Thursday announced what he said is the most ambitious and comprehensive undertaking by the U.S. government to fight hate, bias and violence against Jews, outlining more than 100 steps the administration and its partners can take to combat an alarming rise in anti-Semitism, the AP reported.
Speaking during a videotaped address at the White House, Biden said the first U.S. National Strategy to Counter Anti-Semitism sends a “clear and forceful message” that “in America, evil will not win, hate will not prevail” and “the venom and violence of anti-Semitism will not be the story of our time.”
Months in the making, the strategy has four basic goals: increasing awareness and understanding of anti-Semitism, including its threat to America, and broadening appreciation of Jewish American heritage; improving safety and security for Jewish communities; reversing the normalization of anti-Semitism and countering anti-Semitic discrimination; and building “cross-community” solidarity and collective action to counter hate, the AP report said.
Jewish organizations largely applauded the administration’s effort.
“Jewish safety is inextricably linked to the safety of other communities and the health and vibrancy of our multiracial democracy,” said Amy Spitalnick, CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “As we see anti-Semitism and extremism increasingly normalized in our politics and our society, the urgency of this framework is even more clear.”
The strategy also calls on Congress, state and local governments, tech companies and other private businesses, faith leaders and others to help combat bias and hate directed at Jews.
The AP also reported that tech companies are asked to establish “zero tolerance” policies against anti-Semitic content on their platforms. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has committed to launching an education research center. The AP report said that professional sports leagues and clubs are asked to use their platforms and clout to raise awareness. The White House public engagement office will invite members of the public to describe how they have supported Jewish, Muslim or other communities that are different from their own.
Doug Emhoff, who is married to Vice President Kamala Harris, said at the White House that hate crimes against Jews accounted for 63%, or nearly two-thirds, of all religiously motivated hate crimes in the United States in 2022 although Jews make up just over 2% of the overall population.
“I know the fear. I know the pain. I know the anger that Jews are living with because of this epidemic of hate,” said Emhoff, the first Jewish spouse of a U.S. president or vice president. The AP reported that he has become the administration’s point-person on combating anti-Semitism.
Emhoff, formerly an entertainment lawyer in California, said he never envisioned that this issue would become “my cause” as second gentleman of the United States, “ but now, more than ever, we must all rise to the challenge and meet this moment,” the AP reported. He said the plan will save lives.
“We are committed to making sure that everyone can live openly, proudly and safely in their own communities,” Emhoff said, the bAP reported. “It’s on all of us to put an end to the visceral hate we are seeing across our nation. We cannot normalize this.”
In a sign of the administration’s support for the strategy, Emhoff was flanked by White House domestic policy adviser Susan Rice; homeland security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall; and Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.
Harris slipped into the auditorium for a few minutes to watch her husband from the back of the room and flashed him a thumbs-up before departing.
The AP also reported that on his videotaped remarks, Biden said hate does not go away, that it only hides until given oxygen. He recalled the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, and noted that the anti-Semitic chants by participants led him to run for president in 2020.
“Silence is complicity,” the president said.
Last fall, Biden hosted a White House summit against hate-fueled violence. The AP reported that Emhoff led a White House discussion with Jewish community leaders last December to discuss the rise in anti-Semitism and how to counteract it. Days later, Biden created a government working group to develop the new strategy.
Lipstadt said the strategy’s release is a “historic moment in the modern fight against what’s known as the world’s oldest hatred. For the first time, the United States government is not only acknowledging that anti-Semitism is not only a serious problem in this country, but laying out a clear plan to counter it,” she said, the report added.
Some Jewish organizations voice criticism and others offered praise for the strategy and policies of the first U.S. National Strategy to Counter Anti-Semitism. In a statement sent to the media, the Combat Anti-Semitism Movement said: “We appreciate the Strategy’s comprehensive, whole-of-government approach. It is important that the Administration has devoted significant time and effort to confront what has become a growing threat to Jewish Americans and to American values.
A national strategy is only as good as its implementation, and we hope that all Americans, especially elected officials, will grasp the importance of this struggle and will implement important points of the Strategy. A few examples of critical recommendations, which CAM has worked on, are to hold social media and tech companies accountable for hate speech, to improve the safety and security of Jewish communities, to address anti-Semitism in schools and universities, and to celebrate Jewish American heritage.
We stress the Strategy’s reiteration that the United States has “embraced” the Working Definition of Antisemitism put forth by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. The IHRA definition must be the sole and exclusive global standard for defining antisemitism. This is why the United States has previously signed on to the definition, and the definition has now been adopted by nearly 1,200 entities worldwide. The federal government, and state and local governments, must continue to adopt and implement the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, including anti-Zionism as part of the eleven explanatory examples.”
Also in a statement sent to the media, the Coalition for Jewish Values (CJV), which represents over 2,500 traditional, Orthodox rabbis in American public policy, welcomed the announcement of a U.S. National Strategy to Counter Anti-Semitism, but noted that it was “deeply flawed.” The rabbis suggested further discussions, including a more substantive effort to incorporate the expertise, knowledge, and lived experience of the observant Jewish community, the favored targets of random hate crimes targeting Jewish Americans.
“The new U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism is an excellent idea,” said CJV Midwestern Regional Vice President Rabbi Ze’ev Smason, “for which the Administration must be commended. However, its current version is built upon several deeply flawed foundational principles that will mask and even legitimize contemporary forms of Anti-Jewish hate. Whether the strategy will do more good than harm remains to be seen.”
Though Holocaust education is a worthwhile endeavor, there is little evidence that focusing upon Jews victimized in Europe combats bigotry against Jews in America, and there is little explanation for the prominence of Holocaust remembrance in the proposed strategy. The long and widespread history of workplace discrimination against Jews in America goes unmentioned by contrast, despite surveys indicating a dramatic resurgence.
The President’s statement also highlights the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville in 2017 and seems to tie anti-Semitism exclusively to white supremacy. This distracts attention from other sources of anti-Semitism; the vast majority of attacks upon Jews in New York are perpetrated by People of Color.
Alarmingly, the accompanying fact sheet touts ‘commitments’ from the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Southern Poverty Law Center, both of which were previously condemned by CJV and other organizations for demonstrations of obvious anti-Jewish bias, while no organization representing the Orthodox Jewish community is mentioned.
“The strategy document credits two contradictory definitions of Anti-Semitism,” added CJV President Emeritus Rabbi Pesach Lerner. “One of these, the Nexus Document, misrepresents classic tropes and tactics, such as economic warfare against segments of the Jewish community, as political positions. We urge the Administration to immediately and fully incorporate both the working definition of Anti-Semitism from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance with its examples, and also the expertise and lived experience of Orthodox Jews, the favored target of random Anti-Semitic violence, into its strategy.”
The Agudath Israel of America which represents Torah Jewry in the United States and Canada said in a statement that they “congratulate the Biden Administration in the wake of the release of its National Strategy to Combat Anti-Semitism. It is a historic, comprehensive, “all-of-government,” initiative that seeks to fight Jew-hatred and its various ugly manifestations. Equally important, it sends a clear message that the United States – in its fundamental values, laws, and policies – finds anti-Semitism an unmitigated evil that is repugnant and intolerable and must be rooted out of the mindset and actions of American society.
As we approach the Jewish holiday of Shavuos, there is little time to review in detail all the pillars of the strategy, and we will have to delay that analysis until after the festival. We are pleased to note, however, that in it many Agudath Israel priorities are addressed – boosting the security of our people and institutions; the teaching of the Holocaust and its hate-filled horrors; combatting anti-Semitic discrimination and violence, so much of which is directed toward the Orthodox Jewish community; accommodating Jewish and other religious needs in federal programs run by the USDA, HHS, ED and other agencies; and many other areas in which we have worked for decades.
The Agudath Israel also expressed its deep personal appreciation to President Joe Biden, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, Ambassador Susan Rice, Dr. Liz Sherwood-Randall, and Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, among so many,” for their vision, commitment, and extraordinarily hard work in undertaking and completing this initiative. We are proud to have been a contributing partner in this endeavor, invited to participate in several sessions at the White House and federal agencies with these and other officials to offer our thoughts and perspectives, and to engage in in-depth discussions, regarding the nature of the dangers facing the Jewish community in general and the unique threats to our Orthodox constituency in particular.”
They added that they remain committed to this outstanding initiative and to working with the Biden Administration in helping it live up to its great promise.
Also issuing a statement on the matter was Kenneth L. Marcus, renowned anti-Semitism scholar and legal advocate, author of ‘The Definition of Anti-Semitism’ and ‘Jewish Identity and Civil Rights in America’, founder and chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights for two presidents, and a distinguished senior fellow at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School.
He said, “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. 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.”
He added that, “The new plan, however, retreats from the White House’s longstanding commitment to issue regulations strengthening the civil rights protections of Jewish students. Instead, the new strategy only proposes to remind institutions of their existing obligations. The Biden administration has repeatedly promised to issue Education Department regulations that apply the Executive Order on Combating Anti-Semitism. This rulemaking, which the White House recently postponed until December 2023, will be a much-needed response to anti-Semitism on college campuses. The White House’s failure to mention this crucial activity is deeply disappointing.
Instead, the new strategy would apparently downgrade this important rulemaking to a Dear Colleague Letter with lesser legal status. This is an unfortunate reduction in the federal government’s commitment to admit Jewish students at a time when the White House acknowledges that they are under attack. It is not enough for the administration to remind institutions of their existing duties; instead, the administration should be moving the ball forward and strengthening these protections.
In addition, the White House has unnecessarily muddied the waters by praising the Nexus Document, which is inconsistent with the national strategy’s stated goal of addressing all contemporary forms of anti-Semitism and which could undermine the proper and effective usage of of IHRA. Use of any definition other than IHRA will enable the continued normalization of anti-Semitic hate and prevent uniform and effective enforcement measures to combat it. Indeed, the third pillar of the national strategy – reversing the normalization of anti-Semitism and countering anti-Semitism discrimination – relies on the ability to recognize and identify anti-Semitism. To that extent, the definition used to label anti-Semitic conduct is essential.”
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and member organizations released the following statement in response to the White House National Strategy to Counter Anti-Semitism:
“In an era of rising anti-Semitism 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 Anti-Semitism. We welcome the embrace of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Anti-Semitism, 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 Conference of Presidents said.
The movement known as StopAntiSemitism.org said in a statement that they are “extremely disturbed by several key aspects of the White House’s anti-Semitism strategy. 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.
Against the advice of major anti-Semitism advocacy organizations, the plan does not use the IHRA definition to delineate what counts as anti-Semitism, 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 anti-Semitism.
The plan will not even allow anti-Semitism to stand alone, repeatedly mentioning planned executive actions to fight “anti-Semitism, 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 anti-Semitism strategy.
The Republican Jewish Coalition under the leadership of CEO Matt Brooks expressed “deep disappointment in the Biden administration for not exclusively using the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, the definition favored by mainstream Jewish organizations across the political spectrum, in his long-promised national strategy to counter anti-Semitism:
In a statement, the RJC said, “Joe Biden had a chance to take a strong stand against anti-Semitism and he blew it.”
The statement added that ” the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is the definition endorsed by every mainstream Jewish organization. Biden’s own Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism has urged other countries to “embrace” it as an “integral” tool against the rising tide of Jew-hatred. The IHRA definition is indispensable because it recognizes that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic when it delegitimizes, demonizes, or applies double standards to Israel.
After initial reports that its new strategy would enshrine the IHRA definition, the Biden administration came under heavy pressure from the anti-Israel left, forcing a delay in the roll-out. Now, 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 anti-Semitic.
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 anti-Semitism in all its forms.
The Administration grossly missed its chance to make a clear statement on what constitutes anti-Semitism, and America’s Jews will suffer as a result.”
The American Jewish Congress said in a statement on Thursday that they “applaud the release of the White House National Strategy to Counter Anti-Semitism. The Strategy acknowledges the need and calls for a whole-of-society approach to responding to anti-Semitism, and this demonstrates a deep understanding of the problem and the seriousness of what is needed to respond to it.
We strongly commend President Biden for positioning the fight against anti-Semitism, the most ancient of hatreds, front and center in the Administration’s priorities. This first-of-its-kind initiative comes at a pivotal moment, considering the exponential rise in anti-Semitic incidents and rhetoric, discrimination against Jewish students on college campuses, and the proliferation of anti-Jewish speech on social media.
In light of the pervasiveness of anti-Jewish hatred, we appreciate the fact that the Strategy highlights the government’s embrace of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism. The IHRA definition remains the most clear, comprehensive, and broadly accepted definition of anti-Semitism to date, and it should serve as the foundational tool in the implementation of the Strategy and its priorities.
We have stated this before: our communities can no longer afford a method of “wait and see.” Now comes the difficult part of making sure that the valuable pillars, perspectives, and recommendations highlighted in the Strategy are successfully applied.
Towards that end, we look forward to working with the Administration on the Strategy’s implementation and on making sure that we succeed in guaranteeing a safer and hate-free future for American Jews and all Americans.”
Also weighing in on this issue was the Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim which represents over 950 American rabbis. In a statement to the media, the RAA said that they “commend President Joe Biden on the unveiling of a comprehensive national plan to fight anti-Semitism. This plan, referred to as the “whole of society” approach, is hailed by the President as the most ambitious and comprehensive effort led by the US government in the history of combating anti-Semitism in America.
Developed in consultation with stakeholders throughout society, this strategy consists of over 100 actions to be implemented by the federal government. The strategy includes workshops to address bias in hiring and the workplace, enhanced funding for security of Jewish communities, an interagency initiative to remove obstacles hindering the reporting of potential hate crimes, and much more.
Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, executive vice-president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America stated, “the President has unveiled a groundbreaking plan to counter anti-Semitism and hatred. The success of this plan lies in the country uniting behind this effort and joining together to eliminate hatred and ensure peace within our society. Freedom and equality requires constant work. This plan serves as an outline of the hard work ahead of us. History has taught this country that if we work together, we can accomplish great things.”
Mirocznik continued, “how appropriate it is that on the eve of the Shavous festival and Memorial Day, President Biden unveiled his national plan to fight anti-Semitism. Shavous is the holiday that commemorates the defining moment of the Jewish people, the time when the Al-mighty at Mount Sinai gave the Torah, to which we dedicate our lives and efforts. Shavuos marks the beginning of our hard work to study and observe the Torah.”
Mirocznik added, “on Memorial Day, we pay respect to the fallen members of our armed forces and recognize their sacrifice in protection of the great freedom afforded by this country. We recognize their hard work and the ultimate sacrifice they paid to secure the freedom that hundreds of millions of Americans enjoy every day. On the beginning of this Holiday weekend, we join together with President Biden and all the many people involved in shaping this plan to fight together to defend liberty and freedom for all Americans. May the Al-mighty bless President Biden’s plan in combating anti-Semitism with success and may it be His will that the scourge of anti-Semitism be eradicated permanently.”