Ultimately, the president caved into the far left and announced a strategy to fight antisemitism that gives antisemites cover. Establishment Jewish organizations rushed to praise the administration without apparently reading “The U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism” or considering its implications.
As I warned in my previous column, the strategy failed at the most fundamental level by refusing to define antisemitism unequivocally. Trying to have it both ways, the document 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.”
This is doublespeak. It does not say that the IHRA is the definition it will use in pursuing its strategy. Worse, as many of us feared, it gives credence to the Nexus Document, which, unlike the IHRA, does not have the support of the international community. It was drafted by a handful of left-wing professors who defend anti-Zionism and double standards applied to Israel.
Since both supporters and critics of the IHRA claimed victory, the administration probably views its formulation as a successful compromise. If opponents of the internationally recognized definition believe they won, however, we have all lost.
Evidence that the administration has no intention of using the IHRA is that it is not mentioned in the White House’s fact sheet accompanying its strategy paper. It is also absent from the U.S. Department of Education antisemitism awareness campaign that was announced simultaneously.
You can’t fight antisemitism if you don’t know what it is.
By refusing to define antisemitism and trying to mollify “progressive” Democrats, the administration created serious doubts as to what it will be fighting against. Most notably, the strategy does not mention the antisemitic BDS campaign. This was undoubtedly to appease the far-left authors of the “alternative” definitions of antisemitism. The effect is to allow boycotts to proliferate and ignore one of the most significant sources of antisemitism on college campuses.
Antisemites must also be thrilled that the word “Zionism” does not appear in the strategy as they do not want the administration to acknowledge that anti-Zionism is antisemitic.
The lack of a definition is the most fundamental flaw of the strategy but not the only one.
The strategy diminishes the problem of antisemitism by equating it with other forms of bigotry. This is not a surprise given that last December, Biden established the Interagency Policy Committee on Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and Related Forms of Bias and Discrimination. The document repeatedly refers to antisemitism in the context of general bigotry and bias, even though it acknowledges that FBI data indicate 63% of religiously reported hate crimes are directed towards Jews.
And what does Islamophobia, which is mentioned 21 times, have to do with fighting antisemitism? And why would the defenders of antisemites, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), be included among the organizations the administration says committed to countering antisemitism? The fact sheet referring to CAIR says it will “launch a tour to educate religious communities about steps they can take to protect their houses of worship from hate incidents, such as instituting appropriate security measures, developing strong relationships with other faith communities, and maintaining open lines of communication with local law enforcement.” CAIR is only interested in protecting mosques; promoting accusations of “Islamophobia” to preempt discussion of radical Islam; and criticizing law enforcement because it monitors extremists and pursues Muslim terrorists.
CAIR is an organization whose executive director of its San Francisco Bay Area office, Zahra Billoo, told attendees at the American Muslims for Palestine’s Annual Convention that “Zionist synagogues,” the Anti-Defamation League, Hillel and other Jewish organizations are “enemies” responsible for Islamophobia and American police brutality. She asked the audience to “oppose the vehement fascists, but oppose the polite Zionists, too. They are not your friends.” She added, “When we talk about Islamophobia and Zionism, let’s be clear about the connections.”
And just two days before the White House announcement CAIR-NY defended a speaker who made antisemitic remarks in a commencement speech at CUNY Law School, such as “Israel continues to indiscriminately rain bullets and bombs on worshippers, murdering the old, the young, attacking the funerals and graveyards as it encourages lynch mobs.”
Kenneth L. Marcus, a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights, noted that Biden’s plan “retreats from the White House’s longstanding commitment to issue regulations strengthening the civil rights protections of Jewish students.”
To its credit, the strategy recognizes the threats of online antisemitism. The reality, however, is it can’t do anything about it beyond speaking out, pleading with online platforms to take steps they have no intention of implementing, and urging Congress to hold social-media platforms accountable, which the Supreme Court will invalidate.
The administration also acknowledges that “antisemitism has become increasingly normalized in part because, far too often, there is not sufficient accountability for antisemitic speech and conduct—and, therefore, little deterrence to antisemitic expression and acts. To roll back the normalization of antisemitism, however, there should be meaningful accountability for antisemitic conduct.”
This is the correct sentiment but there is no admission the problem has been exacerbated by the inaction of both political parties. There is no reason to expect this statement to change how people like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) are treated by their colleagues.
More significantly, the administration made no commitment of money to the strategy. It referred to funds for broader initiatives such as American History and Civics Education programs and strengthening the Office of Civil Rights to counter all discrimination, but nothing specifically for fighting antisemitism. The document only contained a vague mention of funding opportunities for research.
One positive statement in the strategy document is: “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.”
Another is reaffirming the administration’s “unshakable commitment to the State of Israel’s right to exist, its legitimacy and its security.”
These statements contradict the views of the authors of the alternative definitions of antisemitism and should mean the administration will consider BDS supporters, many critics of Israel (such as those applying double standards), and anti-Zionists as antisemites. “Zionism,” and “Israel(i)” are used as euphemisms for Jews by today’s antisemites. However, antisemites who single out Zionists and Israel claim they don’t hate Jews, so how will the administration treat them?
I would like to commend the administration for focusing the government on antisemitism, but Biden’s predecessors should have done this long ago. The steps he has outlined are necessary but by no means sufficient.