The White House on Thursday released the first-ever national strategy aimed at countering antisemitism amid a rise in violence against members of the Jewish community and a gain in antisemitic beliefs among Americans.
Prominent American religious advocacy groups noted that the White House strategy would placate critics who worry about conflating criticism of the Israeli state with antisemitism. The White House did this by not basing the strategy solely on the definition used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Although its definition of antisemitism does not mention Israel, many of its cited examples of antisemitism do.
'At its core, antisemitism divides us, erodes our trust in government, institutions and one another,' said second gentleman Douglas Emhoff at the launch of the strategy. 'It threatens our democracy while undermining our American values of freedom, community and decency. Antisemitism delivers simplistic, false and dangerous narratives that have led to extremists perpetrating deadly violence against Jews.'
Emhoff, who is Jewish, described disturbing incidents in recent American life, such as schoolchildren finding swastikas drawn on their desks and parents of young children being met with slurs at school drop-offs. In 2022, according to the Anti-Defamation League, there were nearly 3,700 antisemitic incidents throughout the United States. More than one-third of those incidents involved vandalism or assault.
The White House said 63% of reported religiously motivated hate crimes affect members of the Jewish community - although Jews account for only 2.4% of the nation's population. Overall, Jews are the target of 4% of all reported hate crimes in the United States, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
And the ADL, which helped the White House shape the new strategy, reported earlier this year that 85% of Americans believe at least one anti-Jewish trope - a jump from 61% in 2019.
Antisemitism also has global implications, said U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, in praising the strategy.
'The strategy reaffirms the United States' commitment to combat antisemitism globally - including efforts to delegitimize or isolate the state of Israel at the U.N.,' she said in a statement.
The four-pillar plan - which includes increasing awareness and understanding of antisemitism and why it matters; improving safety for Jewish communities; reversing the normalization of antisemitism; and building cross-community solidarity - has gained support from prominent American Jewish and Muslim groups.
'We welcome President Biden's commitment to confronting the threat of antisemitism, a dangerous and pervasive form of bigotry that has become even more widespread in recent years, largely due to the rise in extremist, far-right political leaders," Edward Ahmed Mitchell, national deputy director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement.
His statement continued: 'We also look forward to the release of the White House's strategic plans to confront other forms of bigotry, including Islamophobia. We also appreciate the White House's use of language which makes clear that these national strategies should not be used to either infringe upon the constitutional guarantees of free speech or to conflate bigotry with human rights activism, including advocacy for Palestinian freedom and human rights.'
And T'ruah, a Jewish human rights organization that also worked with the White House, praised the White House's decision not to adopt the IHRA's working definition of antisemitism as its only definition.
'We are glad to see the administration taking the threat of antisemitism seriously, and we welcome the announcement of a national plan that situates the fight against antisemitism within the larger fight against white nationalism, violent extremism, rising authoritarianism and hate in all its forms,' said Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the organization's leader, in a statement.
'The administration made the right decision by not codifying a definition of antisemitism, which would only have made it harder to recognize and respond to antisemitic attacks in context, and which would have opened the door to infringement of First Amendment rights," the statement said, adding, "There is a long road ahead, and we look forward to continuing to work with the White House to stop antisemitism and other forms of bigotry.'
Emhoff said his own family history was shaped by antisemitism. His great-grandparents, he said, escaped persecution in what is now Poland, around the turn of the 20th century. They fled to the United States, where, 120 years later, their great-grandson became the first Jewish spouse of a U.S. president or vice president.
'We must not forget the joy that comes from celebrating our faith, celebrating our cultures and celebrating our contributions to this great nation,' he said. 'There is more that unites us than divides us.'