US: White House reveals plan to combat antisemitism amid criticism

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  May 26, 2023

While plan was made in response to rise in antisemitism, it includes various references to US commitment to Israel.

The White House released a new plan to combat antisemitism, which it said reaffirmed “the United States’ unshakable commitment to the State of Israel’s right to exist”.

The plan was released on Thursday and had a four-point approach consisting of improving education around antisemitism, strengthening safety and security for Jewish communities, reversing the “normalization” of antisemitic discrimination, and building “cross-community solidarity” to counter bigotry.

“The past several years, hate has been given too much oxygen, fueling a rapid rise in antisemitism,” Biden said. “It’s simply wrong. It’s not only it’s immoral, it’s unacceptable. It’s on all of us to stop it.”

“The venom and violence of antisemitism will not be the story of our time.”

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), American Jews are the victims of 63 percent of reported religiously motivated hate crimes. 

In a report released in February by the American Jewish Committee, over 40 percent of Jewish people who were polled felt less secure in the US and said antisemitism was a continuing threat. 

“We plan to continue working with our friends in the Jewish community to oppose the hate that threatens both of our communities, and we also look forward to the release of the White House’s strategic plans to confront other forms of bigotry, including Islamophobia,” Edward Mitchell, the national deputy director of the Council on American- Islamic Relations (Cair), told Middle East Eye.

Cair is one of several organizations providing commitments to the strategy in the White House fact sheet, which includes the American Jewish Committee; the Asian American Foundation; the Black Jewish Entertainment Alliance; the Interfaith Alliance; the National Basketball Players Association; the Sikh Coalition; the Southern Poverty Law Center; and six professional sports leagues, among several other organizations. 

Mitchell added that Cair “appreciated” the White House’s language in the report, which makes clear that the 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 Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is also one of the organizations involved. Last year, Jonathan Greenblatt, the director of the ADL, sparked widespread backlash after equating advocates for Palestinian human rights with white supremacists. A joint statement was issued by dozens of American Muslim organizations. 

‘This isn’t about antisemitism’

But while the White House’s plan was welcomed by some, it was also critiqued by many on social media, mainly for of its references to Israel. People argued that reports like this come at the expense of Palestinians. 

“In addition, the strategy 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 antisemitism,” the statement by the White House read.

“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 report stated.

According to the report, the strategy is about focusing on countering the threat and manifestations of antisemitism in the US.

“The US Government, led by the Department of State, will continue to combat antisemitism abroad and in international fora – including efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel,” said the report.

The report stated that antisemitism will be combated with an “unshakeable” commitment to Israel’s right to exist, its legitimacy, and its security. 

Many on social media argued that the report isn’t about combating antisemitism, rather it’s about “suppressing solidarity with and work for Palestinian liberation and against Israeli apartheid as the Israeli project has become harder to ‘defend’. Further repression of Palestinians, allies, mosques and activists is coming,” Sana Saeed, wrote on Twitter. 

One person tweeted that the report “focuses mostly on Israel and those that speak out on the apartheid state it is”.

In response to the report, another person wrote: “Oh you mean people supporting Palestine and speaking out against the war crimes and mass genocide from the apartheid Zionist state cool cool cool cool cool”. 

The IHRA definition of antisemitism 

In the report, the White House did not adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, a definition championed by various Jewish and Israeli groups.

In April, over 100 human rights and civil rights organizations warned the United Nations against using or endorsing a definition of “antisemitic” they say could be used to silence criticism of the Israeli government and stifle advocacy for Palestinian rights.

The letter, which was signed by groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, said antisemitism “poses real harm to Jewish communities around the world” but that the IHRA’s use of the word could “inadvertently embolden or endorse policies and laws that undermine… the right to speak and organize in favour of Palestinian rights and to criticize Israeli government policies”.


Biden releases new strategy to tackle rise in antisemitism, says ‘hate will not prevail’

Darlene Superville

AP  /  May 26, 2023        

WASHINGTON – 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 antisemitism.

Speaking during a videotaped address at the White House, Biden said the first U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism sends a “clear and forceful message” that “in America, evil will not win, hate will not prevail” and “the venom and violence of antisemitism will not be the story of our time.”

Months in the making, the strategy has four basic goals: increasing awareness and understanding of antisemitism, including its threat to America, and broadening appreciation of Jewish American heritage; improving safety and security for Jewish communities; reversing the normalization of antisemitism and countering antisemitic discrimination; and building “cross-community” solidarity and collective action to counter hate.

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 antisemitism 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.

Tech companies are asked to establish “zero tolerance” policies against antisemitic content on their platforms. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has committed to launching an education research center. 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. He has become the administration’s point-person on combating antisemitism.

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.” 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. “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 antisemitism.

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.

A survivor of the 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history, welcomed the strategy.

“I am proud that our leaders understand the urgency and importance of countering antisemitism in a comprehensive way, but grieve the levels of antisemitism in the country that required the need for a plan in the first place,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who survived the attack that killed 11 worshippers.

Jury selection concluded Thursday in the trial of Robert Bowers, the man charged with those killings. Testimony is expected to begin Tuesday.

In 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 antisemitic 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. Emhoff led a White House discussion with Jewish community leaders last December to discuss the rise in antisemitism 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 antisemitism is not only a serious problem in this country, but laying out a clear plan to counter it,” she said.

AP White House Correspondent Zeke Miller contributed to this report