Soon after the White House unveiled its 60-page, national strategy to counter antisemitism on May 25, the Council on American-Islamic Relations welcomed “the Biden administration’s efforts to implement national strategies to confront various forms of bigotry, starting with the threat of antisemitism.” CAIR added that the strategy’s fact sheet noted “CAIR as one of the many contributing organizations.”
“Some of CAIR’s current leadership had early connections with organizations that are or were affiliated with Hamas,” the Anti-Defamation League stated in 2015. “In addition, some of CAIR’s leadership have used inflammatory anti-Zionist rhetoric that on a number of occasions has veered into antisemitic tropes,” and the organization “frequently partners with vehemently anti-Zionist and anti-Israel groups.”
So why did the White House invite such a group—one that Deborah Lipstadt, U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, recently told the Jerusalem Post she knows to be “problematic”—to participate in a strategy on antisemitism?
Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) told JNS that the national strategy to counter antisemitism is historic, proactive and reactive in rooting out “this age-old hatred at the source.”
“However, I’m disappointed and appalled that CAIR—an organization that has peddled antisemitic tropes and has ties to extremist, anti-Israel groups—played any role in the U.S. national strategy to counter antisemitism,” Gottheimer told JNS.
Gottheimer noted that the White House embraced the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism for the first time.
“But we must not open the door to severing the connection between Jew-hatred and Israel hatred, and I remain committed to combating this type of blatant antisemitism, and all forms of anti-Jewish hate wherever it rears its ugly head,” he said.
JNS sought comment from the White House and from nine other leading Jewish Democrats in Congress. The White House did not respond, nor did five of the lawmakers: Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) and Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.); and Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Joseph Bush, deputy communications director for Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), and Hailey Barringer, communications director for Rep. Kathy Manning (D-N.C.), sent JNS previously released statements that did not comment on CAIR’s role in the strategy. Neither responded to specific questions about CAIR. Jacob Wilson, communications director for Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), twice indicated that a response about CAIR was forthcoming, but none arrived by press time.
“It is sad and concerning to see the dramatic rise in antisemitism throughout our country and around the world, so I am both proud and grateful that the Biden White House has put this ‘whole of society’ plan together,” Matt Fried, deputy chief of staff for Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), told JNS.
“Standing up to the rising tide of hate is one essential step in putting America back together,” he added. He did not respond to a question about CAIR.
‘A bad actor’
Scholars who study antisemitism and anti-Israel hatred, and activists who focus on those areas, told JNS that CAIR should have been kept far away from a national strategy to counter antisemitism.
Gil Troy, a history professor at McGill University, told JNS that the decision reflected the “illogic” of “inclusivity and faux diversity.”
“Let’s make sure to recruit some male chauvinists for the next women’s rights initiative—and invite some butchers to National Vegetarian Day,” he said.
“Once they are helping in the strategy, perhaps representatives from the Council on American-Islamic Relations want to offer some tips on fighting dog-whistling and gas-lighting, on making every accusation against anyone else be about you and about how to disprove the ‘I’m only anti-Israel. I’m not antisemitic’ ruse,” Troy added. “After all, according to the ADL and others, they have mastered those tricks of the New Antisemitism.”
Jason Bedrick, an education policy research fellow at the Heritage Foundation who focuses on religious liberty, among other topics, told JNS that it is “absurd and outrageous” that the Biden administration consulted “one of the chief purveyors of antisemitism” on its national strategy to combat antisemitism.
“CAIR is still a bad actor that advocates on behalf of vicious Jew-haters and people convicted of supporting terrorism,” he said.
The inclusion of CAIR “at least partially explains why the Biden administration’s plan falls woefully short of anything meaningful, especially as it embraced two conflicting definitions of antisemitism,” he said.
The IHRA working definition of antisemitism deems it antisemitic to single out the Jewish state for condemnation in a unique way, while the Nexus definition “is primarily designed to let Jew-haters off the hook, so long as they thinly veil their antisemitism as mere ‘anti-Zionism,’” Bedrick said.
Sam Markstein, national political director at the Republican Jewish Coalition, told JNS that the inclusion of CAIR is “further evidence that President Biden blew it by failing to include a single clear definition of antisemitism in his plan.”
Insofar as CAIR “demonizes Israel” and promotes the anti-Israel BDS movement, it falls under the IHRA definition, according to Markstein.
“Jewish Americans deserve better than a White House that embraces an organization like CAIR, while undermining the IHRA definition by promoting alongside it an alternative definition that says applying double standards and singling out the Jewish state for criticism is not antisemitic,” he said.
‘Serious doubts about their suitability’
Kyle Shideler, director and senior analyst in homeland security and counterterrorism at the Center for Security Policy, told JNS that CAIR’s roots in the 1990s were as a front to support Hamas.
“CAIR has been clear and unapologetic about its willingness to engage in Jew-hatred, even if it occasionally attempts to disguise this as opposition to the state of Israel,” he said. “CAIR’s inclusion would make more sense if the Biden administration was proposing a strategy for promoting antisemitism, instead of a supposed strategy to reduce antisemitism.”
The decision to include CAIR demonstrates that the Biden administration, “is fundamentally unserious about opposing genuine antisemitism and merely going through the motions while making sure not to alienate the radical anti-Israel wing of the left, which remains a vital portion of their political base,” added Shideler.
Dr. Sheila Nazarian, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon of Iranian descent and host of the 2020 Netflix show “Skin Decision: Before and After,” told JNS that she is “deeply concerned” as a pro-Israel Jew that CAIR was included in the strategy.
“While it is essential to combat antisemitism and promote religious tolerance, CAIR’s track record raises serious doubts about their suitability for such a critical role,” said Nazarian, a pro-Israel activist.
“The administration risks legitimizing an organization that has faced accusations of promoting anti-Israel rhetoric and enabling a hostile environment for Jews,” she added. “We need a comprehensive strategy that includes stakeholders committed to genuine peace and coexistence, not those who may contribute to a biased or one-sided approach.”