Asking the wrong question about Biden’s flawed antisemitism plan

Cheers from failing Jewish leaders enabled the administration to pose as a defender of the Jews even as its policies enable a toxic ideology that spreads Jew-hatred.

White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by Menachem Wecker.
White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by Menachem Wecker.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

You’ve got to hand it to the current occupants of the West Wing. President Joe Biden’s administration has shown itself to be weak and confused about a lot of important issues. But when it comes to manipulating American Jews, they know exactly what they’re doing.

After teasing it for weeks, the White House’s unveiling of the “U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism,” last week was a public-relations triumph in more ways than one. It was released just hours before the Jewish holiday of Shavuot and the Memorial Day weekend. Much like the traditional DC Friday-afternoon news dump in which officials release something just as everyone stops paying attention to headlines, this helped the White House manage reactions. With the Jewish world about to be shut down for two days—and then everyone else for two days after that—administration shills succeeded in dominating the conversation about the document.

More than that, the unveiling was a textbook example of how exceeding low expectations can generate positive spin. It also led to a discussion that avoided the most important question that should have been raised. Instead, the Jews were debating how happy they should be about Biden’s gesture.

For weeks, Jewish groups had feared that the document would not be rooted in the working definition of antisemitism established by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Among other points, this definition states that denying Jews the right to self-determination and claiming that Israel is a racist endeavor are antisemitic.

This is why the intersectional left—which promotes the lie that, in accordance with the precepts of critical race theory, the Palestinian war on Israel’s existence is morally equivalent to the struggle for civil rights in the United States—opposes the IHRA definition. And given that faction’s increasing influence within the Democratic Party, the rumors emanating from the White House that the antisemitism strategy would treat the IHRA definition as no more valid than others put forward by anti-Zionists that give a free pass to hatred of Israel, those fears seemed valid.

So, it was not surprising that when the document was unveiled and it turned out the IHRA definition was embraced by it, the sighs of relief and hosannas for the wisdom of Biden were far louder than they would have otherwise been.

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Problems downplayed or ignored

Indeed, the gratitude of the organized Jewish world was so great that with only a few honorable exceptions, almost all of the groups that purport to represent Jews were inclined to ignore or downplay the fact that elsewhere in the 60-page document (filled with governmental boilerplate text and pious expressions of righteous opposition to prejudice) was language that “welcomes and appreciates the Nexus Document.”

The Nexus Document’s sole reason for existence is to provide an intellectual platform for the bogus claim that anti-Zionism is not antisemitic. Thus, it serves to legitimize a fast-growing form of Jew-hatred that—in contrast to the antisemitism of the far-right—has important support in the media, popular culture and the left wing of the Democratic Party. As such, the failure to define the term unequivocally flatly contradicts the IHRA definition and renders the entire exercise meaningless.

Indeed, amid the declarations of victory by mainstream Jewish groups, it must be conceded that the statement from J Street—which, while claiming to be Zionist, is an enabler and ally of anti-Zionists and pro-BDS groups—was far more accurate. J Street was correct to state that “the strategy avoids exclusively codifying any one specific, sweeping definition of antisemitism as the sole standard.”

Mainstream Jewish groups were also silent about the fact that the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR)—a group whose purpose is to promote anti-Zionism and hatred of Israel and which has provided crucial support for terrorists and antisemitism—was among the groups consulted by the document’s authors.

Among the other obvious and disqualifying flaws in the document is its failure to call out by name any examples of antisemitism other than those associated with white supremacy and the far-right. This is in keeping with the administration’s unwillingness to confront left-wing antisemitism, such as that of congressional “Squad” members Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who weeks earlier were honored guests at the White House, where they were singled out for compliments by the president.

The document also lumps in antisemitism amid other forms of hate, specifically Islamophobia, a label most often falsely applied to groups that monitor the loud and frightening antisemitism that emanates from a Muslim community in which figures like Nation of Islam hatemonger Louis Farrakhan and extremist Islamist influencers drown out the voices of genuine moderates.

Yet so great was the appreciation of most of the organized Jewish world for the anodyne condemnations of antisemitism in the White House paper that most of those who commented on it were prepared to say that even if it wasn’t perfect, it was still a historic step in the right direction.

Given the rising tide of antisemitism spreading across the globe, any step taken towards recognizing the problem was bound to be welcomed. And there is a lot within the strategy paper that is perfectly fine. But amid the eagerness to be pleased by the administration’s efforts, those inclined to say that getting it mostly right was good enough also failed to comprehend that most of what it proposed was utterly without value.

The annual antisemitism threat assessment mentioned in the strategy might be of some use. This may also be true of improving hate-crimes data collection and a willingness to hold institutions accountable for tolerating antisemitism. The same cannot be said for the language about the need for more Holocaust education. It sounds nice, but if there is anything we should have learned in the last few decades, it is that focusing on the Holocaust, especially when most of these programs are intent on universalizing the Shoah rather than making clear how antisemitism operates and the specific menace it poses, does little or nothing to stop contemporary Jew-hatred.

Those who have sought to defend the strategy by accusing its critics of quibbling over details are not just demonstrating poor judgment. They are failing to ask the most important question about antisemitism in America. The real query that needs to be posed is what role this administration—even as it engages in a massive exercise in antisemitism virtue-signaling—plays in enabling the growth of a form of Jew-hatred that is considered acceptable in political discourse, academia and popular culture?

The unfortunate answer is quite a lot.

This is, after all, the same administration that has mandated the implementation of the new secular religion of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in every government department and agency.

The woke DEI catechism is rooted in critical race theory, which divides all Americans into two immutable groups: victims and victimizers. It is also directly connected to intersectional myths that treat Jews and Israel as white oppressors.

Biden’s embrace of this toxic ideology and his decision to make it official government policy are among the most momentous things he has done in the White House. In comparison to that awful decision, the publication of a strategy paper on antisemitism is relatively insignificant. This was reflected in the largely negligible coverage of the document’s unveiling in the secular media.

The Biden report did say that modules about antisemitism would be included in government DEI indoctrination. But anyone who thinks that this will temper the damage being done is forgetting that the DEI commissars who are implementing this doctrine of permanent race conflict throughout academia, the business world and now the government are exactly the same people who fought for the alternative to the IHRA definition. The only way to prevent the spread of this noxious form of left-wing Jew-hatred is to stop DEI, not to make minimal attempts to alter it.

The organized Jewish world was played perfectly by the Biden White House. As a result, the bulk of American Jewry—already inclined to support anything put out by the Democrats and to believe antisemitism is primarily a problem of the right—has had its pre-existing biases confirmed.

By allowing themselves to be distracted by a clever information operation and thereby gulled into avoiding a confrontation over the most important detail about the document, mainstream Jewish leadership has once again failed its constituency. An administration that is enabling antisemitism can’t be trusted to fight antisemitism, no matter what its purported strategy on the issue might claim to be.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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