Strategy cites IHRA and progressive-backed definitions

‘Hate won’t prevail:’ White House releases first-ever strategy to combat antisemitism

Israeli envoy, Jewish groups across spectrum hail unveiling of initiative, which outlines steps government agencies can take to combat phenomenon

Doug Emhoff, husband of US Vice President Kamala Harris, introduces US President Joe Biden during the celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month in the East Room of the White House, May 16, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Doug Emhoff, husband of US Vice President Kamala Harris, introduces US President Joe Biden during the celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month in the East Room of the White House, May 16, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden on Thursday announced what he said is the most ambitious and comprehensive undertaking by the US government to fight hate, bias and violence against Jews, outlining more than 100 steps the administration and its partners can take to combat an alarming rise in antisemitism.

Speaking during a videotaped address at the White House, Biden said the first US National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism sends a “clear and forceful message” that “in America, evil will not win, hate will not prevail” and “the venom and violence of antisemitism will not be the story of our time.”

Months in the making, the strategy has four basic goals: increasing awareness and understanding of antisemitism, including its threat to America, and broadening appreciation of Jewish American heritage; improving safety and security for Jewish communities; reversing the normalization of antisemitism and countering antisemitic discrimination; and building “cross-community” solidarity and collective action to counter hate.

Jewish organizations largely applauded the administration’s effort.

“Jewish safety is inextricably linked to the safety of other communities and the health and vibrancy of our multiracial democracy,” said Amy Spitalnick, CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “As we see antisemitism and extremism increasingly normalized in our politics and our society, the urgency of this framework is even more clear.”

The strategy also calls on Congress, state and local governments, tech companies and other private businesses, faith leaders and others to help combat bias and hate directed at Jews.

US Special Envoy to Combat and Monitor Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt speaks at a conference focused on bans on ritual slaughter that have been proposed and approved in European countries in Brussels on October 20, 2022. (US State Department)

Tech companies are asked to establish “zero tolerance” policies against antisemitic content on their platforms. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum has committed to launching an education research center. Professional sports leagues and clubs are asked to use their platforms and clout to raise awareness. The White House public engagement office will invite members of the public to describe how they have supported Jewish, Muslim or other communities that are different from their own.

The plan states that 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.”

The IHRA definition has long been heralded by legacy Jewish organizations and pro-Israel groups as the “gold standard,” while progressives have argued that the definition is used to stifle criticism of the Jewish state. Accordingly, the reference to Nexus — which is more particular about when anti-Israel critique can be considered antisemitic — was considered a victory for left-leaning groups.

While the vast majority of Jewish organizations and even Israel’s Ambassador to the US Michael Herzog hailed the antisemitism strategy’s unveiling, a handful of right-wing groups such as the Republican Jewish Coalition, the Zionist Organization of America and spoke out against its inclusion of other definitions besides the IHRA one.

A fact-sheet on the strategy issued by the administration stressed that the initiative will be used to combat all forms of hate and “reaffirms the United States’ unshakable commitment to the State of Israel’s right to exist, its legitimacy, and its security—and makes clear that when Israel is singled out because of anti-Jewish hatred, that is antisemitism.”

Activists outside a meeting of the Labour National Executive Committee in London Tuesday September 4, 2018 where Labour adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, with a ‘free speech’ caveat. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)

Doug Emhoff, who is married to US Vice President Kamala Harris, said at the White House that hate crimes against Jews accounted for 63%, or nearly two-thirds, of all religiously motivated hate crimes in the United States in 2022 although Jews make up just over 2% of the overall population.

“I know the fear. I know the pain. I know the anger that Jews are living with because of this epidemic of hate,” said Emhoff, the first Jewish spouse of a US president or vice president. He has become one of the administration’s point people on combating antisemitism.

Emhoff, formerly an entertainment lawyer in California, said he never envisioned that this issue would become “my cause” as second gentleman of the United States, “but now, more than ever, we must all rise to the challenge and meet this moment.” He said the plan will save lives.

“We are committed to making sure that everyone can live openly, proudly and safely in their own communities,” Emhoff said. “It’s on all of us to put an end to the visceral hate we are seeing across our nation. We cannot normalize this.”

In a sign of the administration’s support for the strategy, Emhoff was flanked by White House domestic policy adviser Susan Rice; homeland security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall; and Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism.

Harris slipped into the auditorium for a few minutes to watch her husband from the back of the room and flashed him a thumbs-up before departing.

Second gentleman Douglas Emhoff (R), delivers remarks during a roundtable about the rise of antisemitism with Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt (L) in Washington, DC, December 7, 2022. White House Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice sits between them. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, via JTA)

In his videotaped remarks, Biden said hate does not go away, that it only hides until given oxygen. He recalled the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, and noted that the antisemitic chants by participants led him to run for president in 2020.

“Silence is complicity,” the president said.

Last fall, Biden hosted a White House summit against hate-fueled violence. Emhoff led a White House discussion with Jewish community leaders last December to discuss the rise in antisemitism and how to counteract it. Days later, Biden created a government working group to develop the new strategy.

Lipstadt said the strategy’s release is a “historic moment in the modern fight against what’s known as the world’s oldest hatred.”

“For the first time, the United States government is not only acknowledging that antisemitism is not only a serious problem in this country, but laying out a clear plan to counter it,” she said.

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