White House unveils antisemitism strategy but stops short of adopting IHRA

The strategy includes 100 actions the administration will take 'to raise awareness of antisemitism and its threat to American democracy'


WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 16: U.S. President Joe Biden departs a celebration marking Jewish American Heritage Month in the East Room of the White House on May 16, 2023 in Washington, DC. Tony Award nominees Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond performed music from "Parade" during the event, which focused on the Biden Administration's efforts to combat rising antisemitism. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

(JNS) The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden unveiled its national strategy to counter antisemitism on Thursday, marking the first such whole-of-government approach to combating Jew-hatred in America.

“This U.S. national strategy to counter antisemitism is a historic step forward. It sends a clear and forceful message that in America evil will not win. Hate will not prevail,” Biden said in a pre-recorded statement during Thursday’s live-streamed rollout.

The strategy includes 100 actions the administration will take “to raise awareness of antisemitism and its threat to American democracy, protect Jewish communities, reverse the normalisation of antisemitism and build cross-community solidarity,” according to a release from the White House.

The strategy is the culmination of months of work on an interagency task force that engaged with a wide range of American Jewish leaders and organisations.

Outgoing White House Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice, who helped author the strategy, said on Thursday that her parting request to all who were listening was “to do whatever you can in your communities, in your schools, your dorms, your houses of worship and your workplaces to counter antisemitism.”

JNS sources indicate that the widest dispute in the leadup to the plan’s release—and the one that generated the most public comment and lobbying—was how the Biden administration would define the word “antisemitism.”

Mainstream Jewish groups had pushed for the White House to utilise the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition, while more progressive elements called for a different definition that would avoid mention of Israel, which they feel would allow more freedom to criticise the Jewish state in ways that go beyond just its policies.

Ultimately, the White House noted that the IHRA definition—written in part by the United States and adopted by the U.S. State Department—while “the most prominent,” is “non-legally binding” and the one “which the United States has embraced.”

It didn’t mark a full-on adoption of the definition, and the plan document noted that “the administration welcomes and appreciates the Nexus Document and notes other such efforts.”

Further into the document, the administration made it a point to say that “Jewish students and educators are targeted for derision and exclusion on college campuses, often because of their real or perceived views about the State of Israel.”

It added that when “Jews are targeted because of their beliefs or their identity when Israel is singled out because of anti-Jewish hatred, that is antisemitism. And that is unacceptable.”

The strategy noted Israel in multiple places, including a pledge to “combat antisemitism abroad and in international fora, including efforts to delegitimise the State of Israel.” It also aimed to reaffirm the administration’s “unshakeable commitment to the State of Israel’s right to exist, its legitimacy and its security” and the “deep historical, religious, cultural and other ties many American Jews and other Americans have to Israel.”

The strategy emphasised increasing awareness and understanding of antisemitism, including its threat to America. To that end, the administration pledged that next year, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., is expected to launch the first-ever U.S.-based Holocaust-education research center, it said. The government will further “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 administration said it would implement antisemitism education across federal agencies, including about workplace religious accommodations.

It also pledged to improve safety and security for Jewish communities through improved data collection and hate-crime reporting processes; Department of Homeland Security workshops on anti-Semitic violence; Department of Justice engagement with community-based groups; and National Security Council assistance to state and local agencies, including on prevention training.
The FBI and National Counterterrorism Center are also set to conduct a shareable annual threat assessment “on antisemitic drivers of transnational violent extremism.”

Second gentlemen Doug Emhoff—the Jewish husband of Vice President Kamala Harris—who has led the administration’s messaging on Jewish issues, said on Thursday that “antisemitism delivers simplistic, false and dangerous narratives that have led to extremists perpetrating deadly violence against Jews.”

He added: “I know the fear. I know the pain. I know the anger that Jews are living with because of this epidemic of hate.”

The plan also includes a section on reversing the normalisation of antisemitism. The Department of Education is set to launch an antisemitism awareness campaign this year, including a letter to schools sent out on May 25, “reminding them of their legal obligation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to address complaints of discrimination, including harassment, based on race, color, or national origin, including shared ancestry, such as Jewish ancestry, and ethnic characteristics.”

The strategy promotes visits by senior officials, partners and influencers to schools with the intention of helping to stamp out antisemitism, to highlight their efforts, as well as to assist “schools and (institutes of higher learning) that need help responding to an uptick in antisemitic activity.”

The Department of Agriculture will work to ensure equal access to all USDA feeding programs for USDA customers with kosher dietary needs.

While less actionable, the administration said it calls on Congress “to hold social-media platforms accountable for spreading hate-fueled violence, including antisemitism.” 

Lastly, the strategy calls for the building of “cross-community solidarity and collective action.”

That includes the launching of the White House Office of Public Engagement’s “Ally Challenge,” which will invite Americans to “describe their acts of allyship with Jewish or other communities that are not their own.”

To these ends, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will produce a solidarity toolkit to help religious communities counter antisemitism.

A number of external partners to the strategy were announced, including various professional sports leagues, the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, the Asian American Foundation, the Sikh Coalition, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and others.

The strategy notes in a number of places that the administration intends to go beyond countering antisemitism and focus on other forms of hate as well.

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