The Electronic Intifada / May 26, 2023
The Biden administration on Thursday launched what it is billing as the “first-ever US national strategy” to counter anti-Semitism.
The initiative, spearheaded by Douglas Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, received a warm welcome from Israel lobbyists who helped shape it, and who will play a key role in implementing it.
That’s not surprising since what it amounts to is a high-level attempt by President Joe Biden to further ostracize and censor support for Palestinian rights and criticism of Israel’s increasingly fanatical regime of ethno-religious supremacy, occupation and apartheid, all underpinned by the brutal settler-colonization of Palestinian land.
What is more surprising is that the plan has also been endorsed by CAIR, a prominent Muslim American group that purports to support advocacy for Palestinian rights.
Although it never uses the word Zionism, the Biden strategy further cements a key Israel lobby goal: equating criticism of Israel and its racist state ideology, on the one hand, with anti-Jewish bigotry and persecution of Jews, on the other.
A lengthy “fact sheet” released by the White House states that in launching the strategy, the Biden administration “reaffirms the United States’ unshakable commitment to the state of Israel’s right to exist, its legitimacy, and its security” and “makes clear that when Israel is singled out because of anti-Jewish hatred, that is anti-Semitism.”
By this standard, calling for a single, democratic state in all of historic Palestine, where Palestinians and Israeli Jews would enjoy full and equal rights, could be construed as “anti-Semitism” because it denies Israel’s alleged “right to exist.”
Similarly, telling the true history of Israel’s creation as a “Jewish state” – the carefully planned and executed ethnic cleansing of Palestine’s non-Jewish Indigenous majority in 1947-49 by Zionist militias and the Israeli army – could be interpreted as questioning Israel’s “legitimacy.”
Crackdown on campus
The 60-page strategy document itself goes even further in blurring the lines between criticism of Israel and discriminating against Jews.
Citing a survey from the pro-Israel group the Anti-Defamation League, the White House plan asserts that “over 50 percent of Jewish students feel they pay a social cost if they support the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.”
“On college campuses, Jewish students, educators and administrators have been derided, ostracized and sometimes discriminated against because of their actual or perceived views on Israel,” the plan claims.
“All students, educators and administrators should feel safe and free from violence, harassment and intimidation on their campuses,” the strategy says. “Far too many do not have this sense of security because of their actual or perceived views on Israel.”
These assertions endorse the long-standing Israel lobby claim that supporting Zionism and the brutal policies Israel uses to enforce what the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem accurately describes as apartheid and Jewish supremacy is a part of Jewish identity.
By this logic, criticizing Israel and its horrifying abuses of Palestinian rights and violations of international law becomes an impermissible attack on the identity and feelings of Jewish students or educators, requiring intervention.
While no one should face violence or unlawful discrimination for their views, neither do they have a right to express racist and bigoted views without paying a “social cost.” In a free society, people rightly express their disgust when others voice their bigotry in public.
It cuts little ice when people who display the Confederate flag claim this is merely an expression of their “heritage” and not a signifier of their racism.
Similarly, just because a Jewish or non-Jewish person defines their support for Israel’s institutionalized anti-Palestinian bigotry and violence as part of their “identity” or “faith” does not exempt them from criticism.
Nonetheless, the Israel lobby’s favored tactic for enforcing pro-Israel discipline on campuses has been to file bogus complaints against various universities to the US Department of Education under Title VI of the US Civil Rights Act.
The complaints generally assert that school administrators are failing to protect Jewish students by not cracking down sufficiently on Palestine solidarity activism.
In legal terms, this tactic has been a failure as the complaints have invariably been thrown out.
But they still have a potential chilling effect by embroiling colleges in lengthy and costly federal investigations with all the attendant bad publicity that comes with being accused of facilitating anti-Semitism.
The intent appears to be to make school administrators over-cautious and proactively limit speech related to Palestine so as to avoid such investigations.
Who gets to feel “safe”?
The White House strategy actually turns reality on its head.
While emphasizing the right of pro-Israel Jewish students to express their anti-Palestinian racism without suffering any opprobrium, the strategy ignores the very real harassment, punishment, censorship, nuisance lawsuits and firings that have for decades targeted both Jewish and non-Jewish students and educators who support Palestinian rights.
Few if any university administrations have taken any action to protect their students from the smear campaigns of Zionist organizations like Canary Mission, which aim to sabotage their future career prospects if they have the temerity to express solidarity with Palestine.
Don’t those students and professors have a right to feel “safe?”
Yet the new Biden administration approach endorses Israel lobby censorship tactics by underlining that in the context of “fighting” anti-Semitism, the Department of Education will be “reminding schools of their legal obligation” under Title VI “to address complaints of discrimination.”
We can therefore expect a new flurry of such complaints backed by Israel lobby groups targeting students who advocate for equality for Palestinians.
Social media censorship
The Biden push for more censorship not only targets campuses, but the internet as well, where the White House strategy calls on online platforms to ensure that terms of service and community standards “explicitly cover anti-Semitism.”
It also urges a policy of “zero-tolerance for hate speech” and calls for online platforms to “permanently ban repeat offenders.”
The White House calls on Congress to pass a slew of legislation encouraging this form of censorship – one of the few Biden administrations proposals likely to be met with bipartisan support.
Given that Israel lobby groups have been pressuring social media firms to adopt the so-called IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, it is no mystery where a further online crackdown will lead: more suppression and censorship of voices supporting Palestinian rights.
This is because the controversial IHRA “definition,” which is promoted by the Israeli government, aims to systematically conflate criticism of Israel and Zionism with anti-Semitism.
Muslim American group gives endorsement
Biden’s national anti-Semitism strategy has been endorsed by numerous organizations including CAIR – the Council on American-Islamic Relations – which praises the administration because it supposedly “does not adopt the disputed IHRA definition of anti-Semitism as binding policy.”
The White House strategy acknowledges that there “are several definitions of anti-Semitism, which serve as valuable tools to raise awareness” – something CAIR spins as a victory – but the strategy does explicitly state that the United States government has “embraced” the IHRA definition.
Underscoring that position, 25 Israel lobby groups immediately put out a statement – that the White House linked from its website – to “welcome the embrace” by the Biden administration of the IHRA definition.
CAIR also asserts that the White House document uses 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.”
The Muslim American group also expresses relief that the Biden strategy “does not declare that criticism of or opposition to the Israeli occupation is inherently anti-Semitic, as some civil and human rights groups feared the strategy would.”
But CAIR appears either not to have carefully read the document or to be willfully ignoring its contents, perhaps in pursuit of a seat at the proverbial table. (As part of the White House strategy, CAIR will be launching “a tour to educate religious communities about steps they can take to protect their houses of worship from hate incidents.”)
In an effort to market Biden’s policy, CAIR focuses on the strategy’s assertion that “when Jews are targeted because of their beliefs or their identity, when Israel is singled out because of anti-Jewish hatred, that is anti-Semitism. And that is unacceptable.”
CAIR claims: “This clear distinction based on the motivation for criticism of Israel highlights the administration’s commitment to combating anti-Semitism while safeguarding free speech and the right to engage in human rights activism.”
But it does no such thing. The distinction CAIR celebrates is utterly meaningless when major Israel lobby groups such as the ADL increasingly assert that any opposition to Zionism and Israel is flat-out anti-Jewish hatred.
Israel lobby groups impute anti-Jewish motivation to virtually all criticism of Israel.
Cracking down on Palestinian solidarity activism does not necessarily require the federal government itself to put people in prison or ban their speech.
All it needs is for the government to foster a favorable environment for the Israel lobby, private companies, universities and social media platforms to escalate censorship, intimidation and repression – and that is exactly what this strategy seeks to do and how Israel lobby groups will use it.
But now they will have the cover and endorsement of CAIR.
Targeting Black athletes
The Biden administration boasts that its strategy includes “over 100 new actions and over 100 calls to action” to combat what it calls anti-Semitism on campuses, online and in the “whole of society.”
This will include various major sports leagues such as the NBA.
According to the White House fact sheet, the basketball league will take players on tours “combining travel to places like Selma, Alabama, Auschwitz, the Japanese Internment Camps and Yad Vashem in Israel,” all supposedly to help them “examine issues of race, anti-Semitism and the historical legacy of discrimination.”
After visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, the players will undoubtedly be treated to a full-court Israeli propaganda tour.
This Biden-backed attempt at re-education and pro-Israel indoctrination of NBA players is no doubt driven by the Israel lobby’s growing alarm at the willingness of top athletes, many of whom are Black, to speak out in support of Palestinian rights.
Despite the fanfare around this “first-ever” national strategy, there is little substantially new in it in terms of Israel lobby tactics. Most of what the strategy calls for is already in place.
But with the full support of the Democratic Party leadership, the lobby is demanding an intensification of this censorship and intimidation, as support for Israel continues to erode, especially among younger Americans.
Ali Abunimah is Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine (Haymarket Books)