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May 25, 2023 11:43 am

Biden Administration Releases Historic ‘Comprehensive and Ambitious’ Plan to Counter Antisemitism


avatar by Andrew Bernard

Illustrative US President Joe Biden. October 14, 2022. Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Responding to an unprecedented period of anti-Jewish hatred and discrimination in the US, President Joseph Biden on Thursday released the first-ever national strategy for fighting antisemitism, a 60-page document with more than 100 action items for the federal government and civil society.

The strategy notably says that the US “has embraced” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism supported by most American Jewish groups and adopted by more than 30 countries around the world, however it also says that the IHRA definition is one of “several” and that the Biden administration “welcomes and appreciates the Nexus Document and notes other such efforts.”

Many Jewish groups and leaders including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) had called for the IHRA definition to be adopted as the “sole” definition of antisemitism in the plan.

Chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law Kenneth Marcus, who was consulted by the Biden administration ahead of the plan’s release, told The Algemeiner that on the issue of definitions, the plan was better than what IHRA-only advocates had feared, but worse than they had hoped.

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“It will come as a relief to some that the strategy forcefully embraces IHRA, and yet it’s disappointing that they nevertheless acknowledge and commend Nexus,” Marcus said. “Much of the language of the document is far more consistent with IHRA than with Nexus… It’s just unfortunate that they muddle what would otherwise have been a very good discussion of definitions by praising a definition inconsistent with their approach.”

Biden in announcing the strategy on Thursday said that it included input from more than 1,000 Jewish community leaders and elected officials and includes “unprecedented, coordinated, and bold actions” as part of a “whole-of-society effort.”

“Today I’m releasing the first-ever national strategy to counter antisemitism. It’s the most ambitious and comprehensive US government-led effort to fight antisemitism in American history,” Biden said. “It sends a clear and forceful message that in America, evil will not win. Hate will not prevail. The venom and violence of antisemitism will not be the story of our time. We’re committed to restoring the soul of America, restoring it together, and we’ve got to get to it now.”

Biden’s address was followed by a summary of the plan delivered by Susan Rice, Director of the Domestic Policy Council of the United States; Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff; and Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall, who together led the drafting of the document. They were also joined by Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, who was deeply involved in the creation of the strategy.

The strategy’s four pillars include increasing awareness and understanding of antisemitism, improving safety and security for Jewish communities, reversing the normalization of antisemitism, and building cross-community solidarity.

Among the headline elements of the plan are a request for Congress to fully fund the President’s request for $360 million to a Department of Homeland security grant program designed to protect Jewish schools and places of worship, the launch of the first-ever US-based Holocaust education research center at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the incorporation of information about antisemitic bias and discrimination into the training programs of federal agencies.

The strategy is the culmination of months of consultations between the Biden administration, Jewish groups, legislators, and other civil society actors amid an alarming, multi-year surge in antisemitism across the nation. The ADL announced in March that its annual audit of antisemitic incidents recorded the highest number of such incidents since the group began tracking them in 1979. That data is also supported by the FBI, which in a revised statistical report on hate crimes released in March recorded a 20 percent rise in antisemitic hate crimes in 2021, the year for which data is most recently available.

President Biden has described rooting out antisemitism as an “urgent priority” for his administration. Thursday’s strategy document is the first product released by the Biden Administration’s Interagency Group to Counter Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and Related Forms of Discrimination and Bias, which was formed in December.

“As the US 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 on Thursday in a press release extolling the strategy. “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.”

One of the critical debates in the adoption of the strategy was what definition or definitions the Biden administration would employ. The IHRA working definition, consisting of a two-sentence definition with 11 illustrative examples of antisemitic acts or views, has been criticized by pro-Palestinian groups, human rights groups, and others as potentially curtailing what they consider to be legitimate criticism of Israel. The Nexus definition, which is mentioned in the Biden strategy, was intended to complement the IHRA definition, but includes carve outs saying that paying disproportionate attention to Israel or opposing Zionism are not necessarily antisemitic.

Jonathan Jacoby, the director of the Nexus Task Force that created the Nexus Document, told The Algemeiner on Wednesday ahead of the strategy’s release that he rejected the criticism of the Nexus Document, which he said was intended to complement the IHRA definition.

“I think it’s very clear that Nexus says that treating Israel differently because of its Jewish character is antisemitic. Period,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any harm in having a diverse toolkit for fighting antisemitism. In fact, I think the fight against antisemitism is enhanced by having multiple tools at, in this case, the administration’s disposal.”

Staff writer Dion Pierre contributed reporting to this article.

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