White House to use Civil Rights Act to deter antisemitism, Islamophobia in federal programs

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  September 29, 2023

White House says the move provides safeguards and resources for mitigating and preventing discrimination.

The White House announced on Thursday it would employ the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to combat antisemitism and Islamophobia in programs funded by the federal government. 

Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act bans discrimination stemming from common ancestry or ethnic traits and is applicable to any program or activity that receives federal financial aid. 

While Title VI does not directly offer protection against religious discrimination, eight federal agencies will for the first time ever clarify, in writing, that it prohibits certain forms of antisemitic, Islamophobic, and related forms of discrimination in federally funded programs and activities.

The clarification emphasizes protections specifically related to actual or perceived ancestry and ethnic characteristics; being a citizen or resident of a country where a specific religion is predominant or where distinct religious identities are recognized, whether this is actual or perceived; safeguards in instances of discrimination that include racial, ethnic, or ancestral slurs; discrimination based on skin colour or other physical attributes; style of dress; or foreign language, accent, or name, Axios reported

The White House’s fact sheet on the updated plan references antisemitism 27 times and Islamophobia six times. 

“We believe that Americans deserve the agency to receive the care they need regardless of what they look like or believe in,” Melanie Fontes Rainer, the health and human services civil rights director said in a statement.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations documented a 28 percent rise in incidents of hate and prejudice directed at Muslims in 2022, compared to the previous year.

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

According to the White House, the move provides extensive safeguards and instrumental resources for mitigating and preventing various types of discrimination, including specific instances of antisemitic, Islamophobic, and other related prejudices and biases.

This initiative is a part of the first National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, which the White House describes as the most thorough campaign against antisemitism in US history. It was launched earlier this year amid reports of an uptick in antisemitic rhetoric. 

The White House released the National Strategy plan earlier this year, which it said reaffirmed “the United States’ unshakable commitment to the State of Israel’s right to exist”.

The plan 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.

“Every person in this country should have access to the resources that the federal government provides. Today, the Biden-Harris administration is leading by example and making it crystal clear that antisemitism, Islamophobia and related forms of discrimination have no place in America,” Secretary Deb Haaland said. 

“Interior is committed to living up to our values as a country and enforcing these important civil rights protections.”