J Street welcomes the Biden Administration’s new National Strategy for Combating Antisemitism. In a period when the threats of antisemitism, far-right extremism and white nationalism are surging in the United States, it’s deeply encouraging to see the White House make this issue a top priority and adopt a nuanced, well-considered, pluralistic and comprehensive approach to confronting this dangerous bigotry.
The strategy released by the administration is comprehensive, inclusive and focused on action to dismantle the machinery of division and hate that endangers so many Jewish Americans and others. It includes over 100 concrete recommendations including an annual assessment by the FBI and National Counter-Terrorism Center on antisemitic drivers of transnational extremism; establishing an antisemitism awareness campaign directed at K-12 and college students; and measures to increase the physical safety of synagogues and other Jewish community facilities.
We particularly appreciate the strategy’s recognition that the proliferation of antisemitic attitudes, rhetoric and violence in the United States in recent years has been driven in large part by white nationalist political movements and demagogic voices on the far-right, who use antisemitism, conspiracy theories and grievance politics for their own political gain. This tracks with the concerns expressed by Jewish Americans – 76 percent of whom believe Donald Trump and his political allies bear responsibility for rising antisemitism.
Importantly, the strategy avoids exclusively codifying any one specific, sweeping definition of antisemitism as the sole standard for use in enforcing domestic law and policy, recognizing that such an approach could do more harm than good. While some voices have pushed the White House to give the full force of US law to the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism and its accompanying examples, the Biden Administration rightly cites this definition as just one of a range of illustrative and useful tools in understanding and combating antisemitism.
As J Street and many other advocates in the Jewish community – including the definition’s original author, Kenneth Stern – have warned, the IHRA definition and examples have been used to focus attention disproportionately on criticism of Israel and advocacy of Palestinian rights. It is undeniable that critics of Israel can sometimes cross the line into antisemitism and must be held accountable when they do. But refocusing the fight against antisemitism on defining as a matter of law what is and isn’t appropriate criticism of Israel, while surging rightwing antisemitism is endangering the lives of American Jews, is dangerous and irresponsible.
We commend the Biden administration for meeting with and listening to a wide range of Jewish communal stakeholders as they formulated this strategy, and for putting forward recommendations and policies that meet the needs and priorities of our community. We’re proud to stand and work alongside this administration in the struggle to confront antisemitism, and to overcome bigotry, discrimination and hate in all its forms.