Opinion

Antisemitism as advocacy

What the Biden administration’s antisemitism strategy gets wrong.

U.S. President Joe Biden at a NATO summit in Brussels on March 24, 2022. Photo by Gints Ivuskans/Shutterstock.
U.S. President Joe Biden at a NATO summit in Brussels on March 24, 2022. Photo by Gints Ivuskans/Shutterstock.
Jacob Olidort
Jacob Olidort
Jacob Olidort is director of the Center for American Security and its Middle East Peace Project at the America First Policy Institute.

The Biden administration deserves credit for elevating the issue of antisemitism in American public discourse. For example, Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff has made it a key focus area, representing the United States at Auschwitz on this year’s anniversary of International Holocaust Remembrance Day and hosting a 2022 roundtable with key stakeholders.

So far, so good.

The Biden administration is not the first administration to address antisemitism. In 2019, the Trump administration issued Executive Order 13899, which included antisemitism as a form of discrimination covered by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Earlier, the George W. Bush administration created the position of State Department Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism.

It’s a miracle that the modern American presidency commemorates the Holocaust and is committed to fighting antisemitism. American Jews whose loved ones perished in the Holocaust remember a world in which this was not the case.  

Thus, the Biden administration’s National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, released last month, would appear to be a welcome development. In fact, it is deeply problematic.  

One need only look at the words used in the 60-page strategy document: “Charlottesville” appears four times in President Joe Biden’s two-page cover letter, including in the first sentence. “Judaism” appears seven times and “Zionism” does not appear at all. The acronym “LGBTQI+” appears seven times, “gender” seven times, “equity” 10 times, and “Islamophobia” 21 times.

The strategy omits any mention of Islamists, the Iranian regime, the Palestinian Authority, or the BDS movement. It notes that the U.S. has “embraced” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, which includes attacks directed against Israel. The strategy does not, however, officially adopt it.

Instead, the strategy states that the administration “welcomes and appreciates” the Nexus Document, a tendentious definition of antisemitism that claims no criticism of Israel or Zionism, however defamatory, should be considered antisemitic.

The administration did this at a time when American students fear publicly identifying as Jewish due to hostility towards Israel.

Clearly, the Biden administration’s strategy may be about many things, but is not about fighting antisemitism.

It is also the culmination of a dangerous recent trend in American society: The growing partisanship of institutions established to fight antisemitism.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, for example, does not include Iran in its “country case studies” of genocide and mass atrocities. Yet it does include Syria’s Assad regime, which the museum describes as committing “crimes against humanity and war crimes … against its own people and threats that remain for civilians still living inside the country.”

One must ask: Does the Iranian regime’s brutal treatment of its people, especially during the latest anti-government protests, not meet this threshold of condemnation?

There is likely a reason Iran got a free pass: Including it would have alienated Obama and Biden administration officials who support appeasement of the Iranian regime. Indeed, Ben Rhodes, who served as Obama’s deputy national security adviser, is on the museum’s board.

The increasing partisanship of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is less subtle. On July 9, 2018, the organization’s CEO and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt—also an alumnus of the Obama White House—issued a statement opposing the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

The statement did not mention antisemitism or discrimination against Jews. Instead, it claimed Kavanaugh has “demonstrated hostility to reproductive freedom” and attacked “his past support for greatly expanded and unchecked executive power.” How this fits into the ADL’s traditional remit is known only to Greenblatt.

More recently, the ADL lectured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about “upholding democratic values” in the context of his government’s proposed judicial reforms. The organization also expressed “concern over likely inclusion of extremists in [the] new Israeli coalition government.”

The ADL even weighed in on the Supreme Court decision in favor of the Biden administration’s decision to rescind Title 42. Greenblatt described Title 42 as “anti-immigrant prejudice.”

The Biden administration has made it clear that it is not concerned with Islamist antisemitism, even if it is among the most dangerous forms of antisemitism in America and the world today. The reason is simple, the champions of Islamist antisemitism are part of today’s political left.

Thus, the administration sees no irony in its decision to partner on its strategy with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has a long and disgraceful record of hostility towards Jews and Israel.

If the Biden administration genuinely wanted to fight antisemitism, it would have to accept that doing so would alienate politically powerful antisemitic Democrats like Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.).

The administration would also have to denounce constituents like City University of New York commencement speaker Fatima Mousa Mohammed, who recently described the New York Police Department, the U.S. military and Israel as “fascist.”

Clearly, the Biden administration is not prepared to do any of this.

The administration goes a step further by instituting this rebranded “antisemitism” across the federal government. Agencies with no apparent connection to the issue will be given new missions relating to the “antisemitism” described in the strategy document.

For example, the strategy directs the Department of Transportation to “better understand the extent to which race, ethnicity and religion or religious appearance impact assaults on, harassment of and discrimination against transit riders.” The Department of the Interior is told to “highlight new resources on Jewish American contributions to American history and disseminate the content through the National Park Service (NPS) website and mobile app.”

Holocaust education is indeed a complicated task, as noted in a recent piece by Dara Horn. Education about antisemitism—an ideology with a clear history and iconography—should not be. Yet the left has succeeded in turning it into a prop for its agenda and the Biden administration—following this tradition—has officially adopted and formalized a rebranding of antisemitism.

When President Ronald Reagan said that the “most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help,’” he did not have this development in mind. The Biden administration will indeed have helped in one respect: Forgetting the world’s oldest ideology of hatred and its distinct threat to the American people.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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