The Biden administration has released its highly-anticipated national strategy to counter antisemitism.
The plan, called the “US National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism” and published on the eve of the Jewish festival of Shavuot and Memorial Day weekend, is the United States’ first-ever such plan.
In his foreword to the plan, President Joe Biden correctly writes: “Together, we must acknowledge and confront the reality that antisemitism is rising, both at home and abroad.”
The plan has much to commend it, including calls on politicians, cultural institutions, employers, sports clubs, youth groups, influencers, diversity and inclusion practitioners and others to raise awareness of antisemitism, and, where applicable, implement training and maximise inclusion of Jewish people. It also calls for more education about Jewish American heritage and about the diversity of the Jewish community – including Jewish people with Middle Eastern and African lineage – and urges creators to avoid stereotypical depictions of Jewish people and content that promotes misinformation about Judaism and Jewish culture.
The plan also calls for more to be done to secure Jewish communities, particularly given that Jewish people represent 2.4 percent of the US population but antisemitism drives 63 percent of reported religiously-motivated hate crime. Recommendations include easing access to grants for non-profit organisations and under-resourced schools and synagogues that meet certain criteria, greater data-gathering on antisemitic hate crime, and more transparency and information-sharing by social media companies relating to antisemitism on their platforms. The plan also “calls on Congresstorequire [social media] platforms to provide credible, vetted researchers with access to their data and algorithmic recommendation systems, on the condition that researchers publicly publish research on hate online, including antisemitism, as well as its contribution to harassment and violence in the real world.”
However, the plan also falls short, focusing more on Holocaust education than on contemporary manifestations of antisemitism and shying away from recognising the role that hatred of the Jewish state plays in antisemitic discourse today, especially on the far-left and among Islamists.
Furthermore, the plan takes far too narrow a view of where antisemitism comes from today. In his foreword, the President writes: “Antisemitism threatens not only the Jewish community, but all Americans. People who peddle these antisemitic conspiracy theories and fuel racial, ethnic, and religious hatred against Jews also target other communities—including Black and brown Americans; Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders; LGBTQI+ individuals; Muslim Americans; women and girls; and so many others. Our intelligence agencies have determined that domestic terrorism rooted in white supremacy—including antisemitism—is the greatest terrorist threat to our Homeland today.” This is a deliberate non-sequitur that conveniently downplays the fact that, while the far-right is a very serious threat to the Jewish community—as evidenced by the trial of Robert Bowers now underway—antisemitism is also coming from elsewhere, including, sadly, pockets within other minority groups.
The plan calls on the media to “use its reach to raise awareness of antisemitism” without contending with the fact that media bias itself can fuel antisemitism.
The plan’s chief shortcoming, however, is its ambiguous attitude toward the International Definition of Antisemitism. Given that the plan has no legal force and makes no new law nor amends any existing law — and a legal disclaimer makes this point very explicitly — its only power is declaratory. Therefore its chief objective was surely to show that the administration could recognise what antisemitism is and what it looks like. Indeed the first of the four “pillars” of the strategy laid out in the plan is to “Increase Awareness and Understanding of Antisemitism”. If one cannot identify antisemitism, then the other recommendations are futile.
This is why Campaign Against Antisemitism, like so many Jewish organisations, wrote to the White House urging the administration to adopt the Definition in full and without caveat.
Accordingly, the ambiguity in the plan surrounding the International Definition of Antisemitism, also known as the IHRA Definition, is all the more concerning. The plan says: “There are several definitions of antisemitism, which serve as valuable tools to raise awareness and increase understanding of antisemitism. The most prominent is the non-legally binding ‘working definition’ of antisemitism adopted in 2016 by the 31-member states of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which the United States has embraced. In addition, the Administration welcomes and appreciates the Nexus Document and notes other such efforts.”
The United States’ “embrace” of the Definition is a very positive step, and precisely what this plan should have been about. However, the “welcome” and “appreciation” accorded to the Nexus Document, a fringe alternative definition which exists solely and explicitly to undermine the globally-backed International Definition of Antisemitism and create space for certain far-left expressions of antisemitism, is a deliberate fudge that undermines the entire plan.
Given that the plan, on the one hand, reports the staggering statistic that “over 50 percent of Jewish students feel they pay a social cost if they support the existence of Israel as a Jewish state,” what are we to make of the fact that, on the other hand, the plan “welcomes” and “appreciates” an alternative definition of antisemitism that tries to excuse or justify the imposition of just such a social cost?
The plan urges greater education “about the history of antisemitism in the United States as well as contemporary manifestations of antisemitism,” yet the plan itself is confused about what those manifestations are. What hope, then, does the wider public have?