White House lays out first US national strategy to combat antisemitism

Holocaust education, improved community security, reversing the normalisation of antisemitism and countering discrimination are the key planks of the new strategy.

US President Joe Biden unveiled his administration’s new “whole of society” plan to combat antisemitism on Thursday, which he called the “most ambitious and comprehensive US government-led effort to fight antisemitism in American history.”

“The past several years, hate has been given too much oxygen, fuelling a rapid rise in antisemitism,” Biden said in a pre-recorded message. “It’s simply wrong. It’s not only immoral, it’s unacceptable. It’s on all of us to stop it.”

Biden laid out the four-pronged strategy, starting with an effort to increase awareness and understanding of antisemitism and Jewish American heritage.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum would launch the first US-based Holocaust education research centre providing increased school-based education about antisemitism.

Domestic policy adviser Susan Rice referred to a study by the Anti-Defamation League in 2020 which found that 85% of Americans believe at least one antisemitic trope.

“A study found that more than three in five American millennials and Generation Z didn’t know that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. This is simply unacceptable,” Rice said.

The plan also calls for improving safety and security for Jewish communities, reversing the normalisation of antisemitism, and countering antisemitic discrimination.

One Potentially far-reaching – and controversial – proposal calls for Fundamental reforms to a law that shields social media platforms from liability for the content users post on their sites.

Homeland Security Adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall said the administration’s efforts include, “10 separate calls 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, and to listen more closely to Jewish groups to better understand how antisemitism manifests itself on their platforms.”

US Jewish organisations across the political spectrum praised the document, despite their contradictory positions on key issues.

Legacy organisations strongly advocated for the codification of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, while progressives cautioned it too easily conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism. They, in turn, advocated for the inclusion of alternative definitions such as the Nexus Document and the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism.

The administration compromised, noting the Biden administration’s continued embrace of IHRA while nodding toward the others – something both camps are pointing to as a sign of victory.

“There are several definitions of antisemitism, which serve as valuable tools to raise awareness and increase understanding of antisemitism,” the plan officially reads. “The most prominent is the non-legally binding ‘working definition’ of antisemitism adopted in 2016 by the 31-member states of the IHRA, which the United States has embraced. In addition, the administration welcomes and appreciates the Nexus Document and notes other such efforts.”

The 60-page document and its list of more than 100 recommendations stretches across the government, requiring reforms in virtually every sector of the executive branch within a year. It was formulated after consultations with over a thousand experts, and covers a range of tactics, from increased security funding to a range of educational efforts.

The plan has been in the works since December, and the White House has consulted with large Jewish organisations throughout the process. The finished document embraces proposals that large Jewish organisations have long advocated, as well as initiatives that pleasantly surprised Jewish organisational leaders, most of whom praised it upon its release.

Among the proposals that Jewish leaders have called for were recommendations to streamline reporting of hate crimes across local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, which will enable the government to accurately assess the breadth of hate crimes. The proposal also recommends that Congress double the funds available to nonprofits for security measures, from $US180 million ($A276m) to $US360 ($A552) million. 

One proposal that, if enacted, could be particularly far-reaching — and controversial — is a call “fundamental reforms” to a law that shields social media platforms from liability for the content users post on their sites.

In addition, the plan calls for action in partnership with a range of government agencies and private entities. It says the government will work with professional sports leagues to educate fans about antisemitism and hold athletes accountable for it, following instances of antisemitic speech by figures such as NBA star Kyrie Irving or NFL player DeSean Jackson.  

In an official statement on behalf of Israel, the Foreign Affairs Ministery said: “The State of Israel welcomes the releasing by the United States of a national strategy to counter antisemitism and the embracing of the International Holocaust Memorial Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. 

“The rise of antisemitism, including expressions of hatred towards Israel and denying its rights to exist, require firm and determined action through education, law enforcement and protection of Jewish communities in the US and elsewhere around the world.”

READ MORE
The US national strategy to counter antisemitism (Full Report)

White House lays out first-ever national strategy to combat antisemitism (CNN)

Opposing US Jewish orgs claim victory on definition inside Biden’s landmark antisemitism strategy (Haaretz)

Biden plan to combat antisemitism demands reforms across the executive branch and beyond (JTA)

Israel supports Biden admin’s new strategy against antisemitism (Jerusalem Post)

‘Now the Hard Work Begins’: ADL Chief on Biden’s Plan to Combat Antisemitism (Haaretz)
Anti-Defamation League head Jonathan Greenblatt is thrilled to have had so many recommendations incorporated into the US administration’s landmark antisemitism strategy, and claims victory for the plan embracing “IHRA as the preeminent definition” of antisemitism in all its forms

ANALYSIS
The White House antisemitism plan is full of good ideas. Will it actually help Jews? (Laura E Adkins, Forward)
Combatting American antisemitism will require fixing our broken society.

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