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May 25, 2023 4:32 pm

‘A Big Victory’: Biden Plan on Antisemitism Broadly Welcomed by US Jewish Groups, Activists


avatar by Dion J. Pierre

U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 24, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

American Jewish groups on Thursday welcomed the release of the US National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, a first of its kind document containing best practices for turning the tide of an unprecedented wave of anti-Jewish discrimination, hate, and violence sweeping across the country.

Announcing the plan during an event in the South Court Auditorium of the White House, President Joseph Biden said “the venom and violence of antisemitism will not be the story of our time” and called for “restoring the soul of America,” a message that Jewish groups universally welcomed with some notable objections regarding the administration’s citing an alternative definition of antisemitism — found in the so-called “Nexus Document” — against the wishes of a majority of Jewish and non-Jewish leaders who have maintained that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism is the best resource for understanding and addressing the problem.

Arsen Ostrovsky, a prominent pro-Israel human rights lawyer, summed up many reactions that pointed out flaws in the plan while nonetheless welcoming its unprecedented scope.

“Was the White House Action Plan to Counter Antisemitism perfect? No,” he wrote on Twitter. “But is it the most comprehensive, multifaceted plan to combat antisemitism and Jew hatred in all its manifestations? Yes. It was also a big victory for IHRA supporters, with the WH reaffirming its ’embrace’.”

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The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Jewish Organizations, representing more than 30 of the country’s largest Jewish groups, and Agudath Israel of America, an umbrella organization for Orthodox Jewish organizations, welcomed the Biden plan without reservation.

Outright condemnation of the plan came from the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), which expressed “deep disappointment” at Biden’s failure to adopt an IHRA-only formulation.

“Joe Biden had a chance to take a strong stand against antisemitism and he blew it,” RJC CEO Matt Brooks said in a statement.  “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.”

StopAntisemitism, a US-based non-profit, said in a statement that the failure to adopt IHRA constituted a “gaping hole” in the strategy while also including other bigotries extraneous to the issue of antisemitism.

“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,” they said. “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.”

In an interview with The Algemeiner on Thursday, the American Jewish’s Committee’s Director for International Affairs, Rabbi Andrew Baker, said by contrast that including the Nexus Document in the strategy did not detract from the centrality of IHRA.

“[The Nexus Document] isn’t exactly a definition, it’s more of a kind of discourse,” Baker said. “Actually, I don’t think it’s something one could understand without first having the IHRA definition in front of them, but the only definition that’s identified by name is IHRA’s, which the administration is using.”

Baker added that most Jewish groups are satisfied with the administration’s efforts, which include the launching of the first US-based Holocaust education research center at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Other groups, including Jewish on Campus (JOC), Zioness, Hillel International, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles amply praised the strategy, with JOC CEO Julia Jassey saying it “will impact the lives of Jewish students facing antisemitism” on college and university campuses.

“Today, with the support of the United States government, Jewish Americans are writing a new history,” Zioness, a nonprofit that advocates including Zionists in the progressive movement, said in a statement. “With this plan, we are hopeful that all Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion will hear the emphatic message being sent from the highest office in our nation.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

Staff writer Andrew Bernard contributed reporting to this article.

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