On May 25, the Biden administration published its much anticipated U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism.
It was much anticipated, in large part because of the alarming and well-documented rise in antisemitic attacks against American Jews and Jewish institutions. To the administration’s credit, this rise in antisemitic attacks led to the White House investing considerable resources to shape and create its 60-page National Strategy.
Before the plan was released, practically every mainstream Jewish organization had urged the White House to use the most accepted definition of antisemitism, adopted by numerous democratic governments and Jewish institutions around the world—the IHRA definition.
After all, it’s common sense that before one can solve a problem, one has to define it. Albert Einstein supposedly once said that if he were given an hour to solve a problem, he would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and then five minutes solving it.
The reason the IHRA definition is so important is that it captures how antisemitism has evolved over the last 100 years to include not only irrational xenophobic hatred for the Jew as an individual, but also for the Jews as a nation—that is, hatred of Israel and Zionism.
The late U.K. Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks defined antisemitism as “Denying the right of Jews to exist collectively as Jews with the same rights as everyone else. It takes different forms in different ages. In the Middle Ages, Jews were hated because of their religion. In the 19th and early 20th century they were hated because of their race. Today, they are hated because of their nation state, the State of Israel. It takes different forms but it remains the same thing: The view that Jews have no right to exist as free and equal human beings.”
More importantly, Rabbi Sacks noted how the 21st century version of antisemitism has mutated in a way that allows haters to deny the hate: “The new antisemitism has mutated so that any practitioner of it can deny that he or she is an antisemite. After all, they’ll say, I’m not a racist. I have no problem with Jews or Judaism. I only have a problem with the State of Israel. But in a world of 56 Muslim nations and 103 Christian ones, there is only one Jewish state, Israel, which constitutes one-quarter of one per cent of the land mass of the Middle East. Israel is the only one of the 193 member nations of the United Nations that has its right to exist regularly challenged, with one state, Iran, and many, many other groups, committed to its destruction.”
This dramatizes the value of the IHRA definition, which recognizes that (1) under antisemitism’s previous mutations Jews were regularly demonized as bloodthirsty baby-killers; (2) with antisemitism’s current mutation, which incorporates anti-Zionism, antisemites regularly demonize the world’s only Jewish state as a uniquely bloodthirsty predator-state and baby-killer; (3) during antisemitism’s earlier mutations, antisemites regularly demonized Jews as controlling banks, the media and governments; and (4) during the 21st century, the “I am only anti-Zionist” antisemites regularly demonize Israel or Zionists as controlling banks, the media and foreign governments.
This brings us back to the Biden administration’s big announcement on May 25. With tremendous fanfare and to the disappointment of many Jewish groups, the administration’s National Strategy not only referenced the IHRA definition, but also commended the Nexus definition, which only served to dilute the IHRA definition—not to better define it, but by its plain language, to more narrowly define it.
For example, the Nexus definition claims, “Paying disproportionate attention to Israel and treating Israel differently than other countries is not prima facie proof of antisemitism.”
The problem with that condition is that today’s insidious mutation of antisemitism is precisely about “disproportionate attention to Israel and treating Israel differently.” Adding a qualifier like “not prima facie proof” does nothing to diminish that reality.
Many Jews were dismayed to learn that Biden’s National Strategy included the Nexus definition, as well as a nod to “other definitions” besides the IHRA’s, which is the consensus definition of the Jewish community. That dismay was coupled with significant and justifiable concern when the Jewish community learned that one of the administration’s partners in “fighting antisemitism,” according to talking points in the National Strategy, was going to be CAIR.
CAIR is a leading purveyor of antisemitism as defined by IHRA and most of the world’s Jews.
The justice of such concern was demonstrated shortly thereafter, when a hate-filled rant was made public by the City University of New York (CUNY) on YouTube. In the May 12 speech, commencement speaker Fatima Mousa Mohammed spewed the following demonizing lies about Israel, which plainly tap into the trope of the bloodthirsty Jew: “Israel continues to indiscriminately rain bullets and bombs on worshippers, murdering the old, the young, attacking even funerals and graveyards, as it encourages lynch mobs to target Palestinian homes and businesses, as it imprisons its children, as it continues its project of settler colonialism.”
In a speech she gave to fellow CUNY School of Law students and others prior to their graduation, Mohammed said, “Zionist professors [must] be banned from college campuses,” “Zionist students [should] not be allowed in the same spaces as Palestinians” and “Zionism is a genocidal threat.”
Mohammed’s comments were textbook antisemitism under Rabbi Sack’s and the IHRA definition. The tropes employed by Mohammed clearly stem from her deep obsession with the one Jewish state, an obsession the IHRA definition accurately defines as grounded in antisemitism, and which the Nexus definition excuses.
A few days later, on May 31, after the CUNY Board of Trustees rightfully characterized Mohammed’s commencement address as hate speech, CAIR demonstrated in a single tweet why the NEXUS definition’s inclusion in the Biden administration’s National Strategy is so problematic in the fight against antisemitism.
“We condemn CUNY for joining dishonest, cowardly and dangerous attacks on their own student leader, Fatima Mohammed, who has been attacked by far-right media, Mayor Adams, and multiple members of Congress and City Council for standing up for Palestinian rights,” the group stated.
Under the IHRA’s comprehensive definition of antisemitism, it is clear that Fatima Mohammed’s speech, as well as the conduct of those encouraging and defending it (like CAIR) are antisemitic. Any National Strategy to fight antisemitism that can’t acknowledge that is doomed to fail.
So, if President Biden is serious about fighting antisemitism, he has to decide what’s more important to him: Alliances with groups like CAIR or fighting an ancient hatred as it exists today.
Originally published by Jewish Journal.