Jewish organizations laud White House plan to fight antisemitism

(RNS) — American Jewish leaders and organizations overwhelmingly praised the Biden administration’s new strategy for countering antisemitism unveiled Thursday (May 25).

The strategy, the first of its kind by an American president, involves collaboration among various federal agencies and nongovernmental partners to attempt to root out discrimination, harassment and violence against American Jews. It does not direct funding or require compliance by federal or state agencies.

In a videotaped announcement of the strategy, President Joe Biden said: “Silence is complicity. An attack on any one group of us is an attack on all of us.”

Deborah Lipstadt, special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, called the breadth of the strategy “breathtaking” and “historic” at the official launch.

Many major Jewish organization praised the plan, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Congress, J Street, the National Council on Jewish Women and T’ruah, the rabbinic human rights organization.

Jonathan Greenblatt. Photo by Carl Cox, courtesy of ADL

Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, said he was impressed by its comprehensiveness.

“Every commitment is concrete and the administration is holding itself accountable with deadlines — all within a year,” Greenblatt said.

He also said he appreciated that it called on nonfederal organizations and agencies to take action.

“It not only says what the administration will do, they’re calling on Congress to make commitments, businesses to step up, civil society to take action,” Greenblatt added. “That’s what we need. There’s no silver bullet that will stop antisemitism. It’s going to require all elements of society to work together and you see that in this plan.”

Antisemitism drove 63% of all religiously motivated hate crimes in the U.S., FBI Director Christopher Wray said last year. The Anti-Defamation League tabulated 3,697 antisemitic incidents in 2022, a 36% increase from the 2,717 incidents tabulated in 2021 and the highest number on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979.

RELATED: Antisemitism spiked in 2022, but physical assaults were few, ADL reports

The new strategy was developed in consultation with some 1,000 federal and local officials, faith leaders and civil society groups and contains more than 100 recommendations.

Its first plank is to bolster education of Jewish American heritage. The strategy says the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum will launch a U.S.-based Holocaust Education Research Center in 2024 and the National Endowment for the Humanities will expand its investment in K-12 education about Jewish history.

The strategy’s second plank calls for improving security for Jewish American organizations. It asks Congress to fund a 2024 budget request of $360 million for the Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which allows nonprofits and religious congregations to upgrade security of their buildings and grounds. The program is currently funded with $305 million.

It also calls for better data collection on antisemitism, including an interagency effort eliminating the impediments to reporting hate incidents. And it contains 10 separate directives to tech companies to establish a zero tolerance policy for hate speech on their platforms to ensure that their algorithms do not pass along hate speech and extreme content to users.

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff speaks during an unveiling of the Biden administration’s new strategy for countering antisemitism, Thursday, May 25, 2023. Video screen grab

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff speaks during an unveiling of the Biden administration’s new strategy for countering antisemitism, May 25, 2023. Video screen grab

“In sum, this plan will save lives,” second gentleman Doug Emhoff said at a White House event announcing the strategy.

Jewish organizations bickered among themselves for months over what definition of antisemitism the strategy might include, with some advocating that the strategy rely solely on the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of the term. Critics said the alliance’s definition has been used to quash legitimate criticism of Israel as antisemitic.

In the end, the strategy acknowledged multiple resources for defining antisemitism, even as it noted that the U.S. has embraced the IHRA definition.

The strategy also calls for multifaith strategies to combat antisemitism. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, issued a statement saying it welcomes the White House strategy.

“We plan to continue working with our friends in the Jewish community to oppose the hate that threatens both of our communities, and we also look forward to the release of the White House’s strategic plans to confront other forms of bigotry, including Islamophobia,” CAIR National Deputy Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said.

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