The release of a plan by the White House to combat the rise of anti-Semitism comes amidst an ongoing debate about the definition of anti-Jewish hatred. On Thursday, President Joe Biden presented the strategy and urged people to resist and counter anti-Semitism actively. Biden emphasized that hate, including the alarming increase in anti-Semitism, has been given too much attention and must be confronted. He stated that it is morally wrong and unacceptable and that it is the responsibility of everyone to put an end to it.
The plan outlines several key actions, including enhancing education on anti-Semitism, bolstering the safety and security of Jewish communities, combating the normalization of anti-Semitic discrimination perpetuated by celebrities and politicians, and fostering cross-community solidarity to combat bigotry. The plan also referenced the FBI statistics, which revealed that 63 percent of reported religiously motivated hate crimes were driven by anti-Semitism, despite Jewish Americans comprising only 2.4 percent of the population.
To tackle the escalating issue of anti-Semitism, the White House has released a strategic plan, considering the ongoing dispute surrounding its definition, particularly about Israel. Biden delivered the plan on Thursday, rallying people against anti-Semitism.#Antisemitismus pic.twitter.com/1crlEPF4PU
— News Live (@NewsLiveFree) May 26, 2023
Biden Administration Avoids Sole Adoption of IHRA Definition in Anti-Semitism Plan
In its Anti-Semitism plan, the Biden government choose not to exclusively adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism, thereby sidestepping the demand put forth by certain pro-Israel groups. The debate over the definition of anti-Semitism had already been a contentious issue for the White House before the plan’s release.
Pro-Israel Jewish organizations had advocated for the IHRA definition, which places significant emphasis on Israel. Within the IHRA definition, there are 11 examples of anti-Semitism, with six of them specifically addressing Israel, including the notion of “applying double standards” to Israeli government policies.
The IHRA document, while stating that criticism of Israel, similar to criticism of any other country, is not inherently anti-Semitic, has faced criticism from Palestinian rights advocates who argue that it has been used to suppress legitimate discussions on Israeli human rights abuses. One particular example in the IHRA definition denounces that establishing the State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
Critics contend that defenders of Israel have exploited this provision to silence conversations about the mass displacement of Palestinians during the country’s formation in 1948. Consequently, progressive groups, including some U.S. Jewish organizations, urged the Biden administration not to adopt the IHRA definition in its anti-Semitism plan.
White House’s Approach
In response, the White House carefully navigated the issue by expressing acceptance of the IHRA document while acknowledging the existence of alternative definitions of anti-Semitism. Additionally, it referenced the Nexus Document, created by a former task force at the University of Southern California. It asserted that even harsh criticism of Israeli policies and actions doesn’t automatically equate to anti-Semitism.
The strategy statement of the Biden administration acknowledged the existence of multiple definitions of anti-Semitism, recognizing them as valuable tools to enhance awareness and comprehension of this form of hatred. Among these definitions, the statement highlighted the non-legally binding “working definition” of anti-Semitism adopted by the 31-member states of the IHRA, which the United States has embraced. Furthermore, the administration appreciated the Nexus Document and acknowledged other similar initiatives.
Today, my Administration is releasing a national strategy to fight antisemitism.
Together, we’ll raise awareness of antisemitism and Jewish American Heritage, improve safety, reverse the normalization of hate, counter discrimination, and build solidarity and collective action.
— President Biden (@POTUS) May 25, 2023
The plan’s language appeased both sides of the debate, receiving positive feedback from various organizations. Americans for Peace Now, a progressive US Jewish organization, commended the plan and expressed gratitude towards Biden for not succumbing to demands for codifying the IHRA definition. They appreciated that false accusations of anti-Semitism wouldn’t be used to attack critics of Israeli policies.
Conversely, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a staunchly pro-Israel group, welcomed the plan’s adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. J Street, a Jewish-American liberal group advocating for pro-Israel and pro-peace policies, also praised the agenda for its comprehensiveness, inclusivity, and focus on dismantling divisions and promoting unity. They emphasized the strategy’s avoidance of exclusively endorsing a sweeping definition of anti-Semitism as the sole standard for domestic law and policy enforcement, recognizing the potential harm such an approach could cause.
Palestine Legal Criticizes IHRA Definition as Unconstitutional and Propaganda
Supporters of Palestinian rights have long contended that pro-Israel advocates often weaponize accusations of anti-Semitism to shield Israel from criticism. Palestine Legal, an advocacy group representing Palestinian Americans, stated that even the staunchly pro-Israel Biden administration refrained from adopting the IHRA definition due to its perceived unconstitutionality and incorrectness. In a series of tweets, Palestine Legal described IHRA as a propaganda tool, asserting that Israel-focused groups sought to present it as a legal framework.
Prominent human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have accused Israel of implementing apartheid policies against Palestinians. The plan unveiled Thursday mentioned Israel, emphasizing that targeting Jews based on their beliefs or identity and singling out Israel due to anti-Jewish hatred constitutes anti-Semitism, which the plan deems unacceptable.
The document further indicated that the United States would support Israel at international organizations as part of its anti-Semitism countermeasures. In the past, the US has exercised its veto powers multiple times at the United Nations Security Council to block resolutions condemning Israeli abuses and violations of international law.
Like previous administrations, the Biden administration has also opposed the Palestinian pursuit of accountability for potential Israeli war crimes at the International Criminal Court. The plan stated that the US Government would persist in combating anti-Semitism globally and in international forums, which includes efforts to counter attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel.
Abed Ayoub, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee executive director, a US-based advocacy group, commended the initiatives to combat anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry. He appreciated the White House’s decision not to officially adopt the IHRA definition, stating that it has been utilized to target and silence their community.
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