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Revolutionary national plan launched to combat antisemitism

All forms of discrimination, violence, targeting and bigotry must be confronted with concrete action.

The White House in Washington, D.C. Credit: Ramaz Bluashvili via Pexels.
The White House in Washington, D.C. Credit: Ramaz Bluashvili via Pexels.

Anti-Jewish bigotry and hate have reached such epidemic proportion in the United States that a first-ever strategy to combat antisemitism was announced by the White House to confront this malicious, age-old hatred.

The groundbreaking U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism released by U.S. President Joe Biden on May 25 tackles the growing threats to the American Jewish community. The historic plan presents a comprehensive, four-pillar strategy for identifying and combating hatred against Jews and offers extensive actions to prevent future attacks.

There are clearly some areas that are lacking, as the national strategy is an aspirational document and does not carry any legal weight, to the disappointment of some American Jews and supporting organizations. While the importance of the document and many of its recommendations cannot be overstated, it does not mandate the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, already accepted across many departments of the federal government and 40 other countries, as the most definitive and authoritative definition of antisemitism.

The announcement of the nationwide plan came only days before the trial of the Tree of Life Synagogue mass murderer began. The massacre of 11 Jewish worshippers in Pittsburgh was the worst attack against Jews on U.S. soil in the country’s history.

The ongoing assaults against American Jews—shootings of Jewish worshippers, beatings of Orthodox Jews on New York streets and intimidation of Zionist students on campus—cry out for improving the safety and security of Jewish communities. The White House strategy calls on all levels of government, law enforcement and civil-rights groups to work together to design and implement community-based violence intervention and prevention programs. Local businesses are asked to aid local communities where hate crimes are rampant.

High-profile celebrities and public officials are amplifying this vicious hatred and spreading it across social media—normalizing anti-Jewish discrimination. The new strategy appeals to all Americans, especially elected officials, entertainers, influencers and business leaders, to “speak out loudly and clearly” against anti-Jewish conduct.

University campuses have become hotbeds of hate with anti-Jewish incidents becoming common at all educational levels. Swastikas are routinely found, Jewish dorm rooms vandalized and students targeted for supporting the Jewish state. Recently, a swastika was carved into the back of a Jewish high school student in Las Vegas.

One-third of Jewish university students personally experienced an act of online or physical violence and more than half feel unfairly judged because of their Jewish identity, according to a recent study. Local Jewish organizations in California are continuing to fight for the inclusion of minority Jewish experiences in ethnic-studies curriculum while preventing students from being taught to equate Jews and Israel with bigotry and racism. The strategy calls on schools and universities to “treat antisemitism with the same seriousness as other forms of hate,” create task forces to address campus antisemitism and ensure the rights of Jewish students.

The national plan also focuses on community solidarity and awareness of Jewish American Heritage Month and antisemitism. The White House is launching the Ally Challenge to create cooperative action with leaders in Jewish, Muslim and other faith-based communities. President Biden also requests that employers ensure that diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility programs include “antisemitism awareness and training, as well as workplace religious accommodation requirements.”

For the first time, eight federal agencies, including the departments of agriculture, housing and transportation, will recognize Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on shared ancestry in federally funded programs and activities.

Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations CEO William Daroff was “deeply troubled” that the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) was consulted and acknowledged as “anything other than as an organization that definitively traffics in antisemitic tropes and propounds policies of anti-Zionism that are antisemitic.”

Bipartisan members of Congress and many Jewish organizations strongly supported the antisemitism report. The American Zionist Movement views the report as “a key governmental instrument to help us all fight Anti-Zionism and all forms of antisemitism.” ADL national president and CEO Jonathan Greenblatt recognized that “this strategy comprehensively addresses hate and antisemitism on campus, online, and from extremists on both the far-right and the far-left.” Despite his reservations, Daroff expressed “deep gratitude for these crucial measures aimed at fostering a climate of inclusivity and tolerance.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro reflected: “I was sworn in on a Bible from the Tree of Life Synagogue—the site of the deadliest act of antisemitism in U.S. history. That moment shows that progress is possible in this country.”

Points to consider:

  1. The strategy’s “calls to action” must be implemented, not merely talked about.

The historic White House strategy explicitly advocates for “actions to counter antisemitism.” Defining antisemitism and planning steps to counter the world’s oldest hatred are only the first steps in eliminating anti-Jewish hate. These calls to action are meaningless if the White House, elected officials at all levels of government, business leaders, celebrities, sports leagues, cultural institutions—all Americans—fail to act. All forms of antisemitic discrimination, violence, targeting and bigotry must be confronted with concrete actions. There are a range of resources and Jewish organizations devoted to countering anti-Jewish bigotry and promoting Jewish history, religion and culture that can be consulted by individuals and groups.

  • The U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism is historic.

“Do you have a bag packed?” is a timeless question many Jews have faced over millennia. It is a symbol of the need to be ready in case anti-Jewish attacks are so prevalent that Jews feel they need to flee. The White House’s Report is necessary at this time of extreme urgency in the American Jewish community. Jews are increasingly fearful about their future in a country that Jews have called home for hundreds of years. In an ideal world, this report would be unnecessary; it is the first of its kind. Unfortunately, attacks against Jews continue to rise, forcing many Jews to hide their identity because they are afraid of being the next target. These calls to action could prove to be a turning point against the rampant spread of antisemitism.

  • The national strategy is only a beginning.

Many American Jews and supporting organizations believe that the strategy doesn’t go far enough in addressing the multiple fronts of antisemitism. The plan’s failure to take a stand and fully endorse the IHRA definition of antisemitism, when it is already so widely accepted, has left many leaders of the Jewish community dissatisfied. Because it is not a legal document, it does not mandate specific actions to fight anti-Jewish bigotry and does not measure up to previous administration executive orders. The ADL is on record disagreeing with the decision to consult with CAIR, which has promoted policies of anti-Zionism.

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