What to know about the Biden administration’s first-ever national plan to combat antisemitism

Special antisemitism envoy Deborah Lipstadt said antisemitism ‘threatens not just the safety of Jews, but the strength of our democracy.’

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Domestic policy adviser Susan Rice; special antisemitism envoy Deborah Lipstadt, second gentleman Doug Emhoff and homeland security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall unveil on Thursday the first national strategy to combat rising antisemitism.

WhiteHouse.gov screen shot

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Thursday unveiled the first-ever national strategy to combat rising antisemitism and when it was her turn to speak, historian Deborah Lipstadt — the special antisemitism envoy — added context by noting how just decades ago, official U.S. policy, fueled she said, by “Jew hatred,” made it difficult for Jews fleeing the Holocaust to enter the United States.

That was then. This is now.

Letting growing antisemitism fester and normalize threatens our democracy, Biden officials said in announcing the 60-page plan detailing more than 100 proposals for government, private entities, sports teams and schools to take.

Joining Lipstadt — a noted authority on Holocaust denial and antisemitism — at the briefing were Doug Emhoff, the second gentleman, the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president; homeland security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall and domestic policy adviser Susan Rice.

Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, who has made battling antisemitism a major focus, said, “Antisemitism delivers simplistic, false and dangerous narratives that have led to extremists perpetrating deadly violence against Jews.”

The drive to combat antisemitism comes as the FBI found that in 2022, American Jews were only 2.4% of the U.S. population, “but antisemitism drove 63% of reported religiously motivated hate crimes. Perhaps most alarming, antisemitism has become increasingly ‘normalized’ in American society.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League Midwest office, in Illinois, antisemitic incidents increased from 53 to 121 between 2021 to 2022.

In Chicago, according to the ADL Midwest, the reported number of antisemitic acts rose from 15 in 2020, to 28 in 2021, to 47 in 2022.

A juvenile was arrested by Highland Park police this week after a swastika and other antisemitic markings were found on a trash can in that northern suburb with a heavily Jewish population.

In Washington on Monday night, police said a Nazi flag was found in the U-Haul truck that a 19-year-old Missouri man was using to try to crash security barriers around the White House. Police said the man praised Hitler when he was apprehended.

“Silence is complicity,” Biden said in a video statement.

This strategy package comes after the Biden White House worked over the last six months with some 1,000 stakeholders to develop the new actions needed, Lipstadt said, “because this scourge threatens not just the safety of Jews, but the strength of our democracy.”

After the event, I talked to Lipstadt, who is based in the State Department and whose full title is Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, and I asked her why it was important for her to bring up how the U.S. government, by not letting large numbers of Jews into the U.S., left them to be murdered by the Nazis.

“You can’t move forward individually or collectively until you look back and see where you went wrong and you correct those wrongs, and then you move forward,” Lipstadt said.

The proposals include:

  • Sherwood-Randall said the strategy has “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.

This is in response to online platforms allowing “antisemitic conspiracy theories and content” on their sites, which lead to “high-profile politicians, athletes, celebrities and others” using “their influential platforms to spread conspiracy theories and Holocaust denialism.”

  • The federal government will bolster “research on antisemitism, its impact on American society, and its intersection with other forms of hate” and better report hate crimes.
  • The National Security Council “will amplify financial, technical and training assistance offered to state and local partners establishing and expanding these community-based prevention efforts.”
  • Congress will be asked to approve more funds — to $360 million — to help synagogues and other Jewish institutions pay for security.
  • The Education Department is tasked with taking on antisemitism in schools and college campuses.
  • The administration will develop programs to counter hate aimed at other communities — such as Islamophobia — by crafting and supporting “effective cross-community, solidarity-building efforts.”
  • The Biden administration secured commitments from professional sports leagues and teams — NBA, WNBA, NFL, NHL, NASCAR and Major League Soccer — to “discuss strategies, tools and best practices to effectively combat antisemitism and all forms of hate.”

David Goldenberg, the ADL Midwest Regional Director, said the Biden plan means that “in Chicago, it gives us added fuel to our work with companies who we are encouraging to include antisemitism education in its DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) work.”

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations — representing some 30 organizations — said in a statement: “In an era of rising antisemitism in the U.S. and around the world, we appreciate the clarity and urgency demonstrated by the White House in releasing its National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism.”

There has been a debate over the definition of antisemitism: the U.S. has embraced and the strategy plan underscores that the Biden administration will continue using the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance “working definition.” Some Jewish groups on the left claimed it gave Israel cover from criticism of its policies; to address this the Biden White House said in its report that it notes and “appreciates” other definitions, which drew ire from the right.

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