U.S. Jewish organizations across the political spectrum lauded the White House’s landmark antisemitism strategy final rendering, claiming their positions were fully accounted for and recognized, after being explicitly divided about how the Biden administration would define antisemitism in recent weeks.
Legacy organizations 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 plan eventually noted 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.”
Progressive organizations took this as the administration opting not to codify IHRA – a sign of victory, from their perspective.
“I’m grateful to President Biden and his administration for being focused on that, and not succumbing to those who demanded the codification of the IHRA definition so that they could use false accusations of antisemitism to attack those who criticize indefensible Israeli policies,” said Americans for Peace Now CEO Hadar Susskind.
J Street also echoed this point, remarking that “the strategy avoids exclusively codifying anyone 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 U.S. law to the IHRA 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.”
Bend the Arc CEO Jamie Beran decried how “the singular focus of some in the Jewish community to codify the IHRA definition into law or policy is an unnecessary and potentially harmful distraction from the real work of dismantling antisemitism.”
“While we would have liked definitions to be left out of this strategy entirely, we’re pleased that the Biden Administration has rejected the idea that government agencies should adopt the IHRA definition as authoritative policy or that it is the sole guide to antisemitism,” Beran added.
The Progressive Israel Network, consisting of 12 progressive organizations, said they were “gratified that the administration did not focus its strategy solely on the problematic International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, and did not seek to formally codify this definition into U.S. law.”
“We have sadly seen this definition and its accompanying examples used by some as a political weapon to quash legitimate criticism and activism directed at Israeli government policies by tarnishing individuals and organizations as antisemitic.”
Legacy organizations, on the other hand, said the plan confirms that IHRA is the most valued tool, batting off progressive claims of victory on the matter. Many of these organizations had previously stated that inclusion of any other definition besides IHRA would do more harm than good.
A joint statement of 32 of the 53 organizations within the Conference of Presidents (including the COP itself) released a joint statement stating: “We welcome the embrace of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism, which is a continuation of longstanding U.S. policy and a critical tool in the fight against anti-Jewish hate and bias.”
An Anti-Defamation League press release welcomed IHRA’s “adoption” as part of the plan. The Orthodox Union noted the plan recognized IHRA “as the most prominent, valuable definition of Antisemitism as the Orthodox Union and other leading Jewish representatives urged.”
World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder noted that “the IHRA definition, considered the ‘gold standard,’ allows policymakers worldwide to identify and respond to all forms of Jew-hatred, including those that may be more subtle, but no less insidious.”
“The Jewish world has agreed on the centrality of the IHRA definition and understands that it is the best weapon in the battle against antisemitism,” Lauder added.
Hadassah National President Rhoda Smolow and Hadassah CEO Naomi Adler said that “This strategy highlights that the U.S. embraces the widely accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, as an essential tool in identifying and fighting antisemitism in all its forms.”
Similarly, Jewish Federations of North America Chair Julie Platt said “we are pleased that the White House reaffirms the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, and maintain our commitment to its uncontested use.”
“As the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism Amb. Deborah Lipstadt has said many times, the IHRA definition is broadly accepted and effective in combating the oldest hatred,” Platt added.
Six local grassroots progressive organizations collectively lauded the administration for noting “the diversity of opinion” when opting not to codify IHRA, calling the strategy “a powerful rebuke to forces within and outside our community that seek to keep Jews isolated, divided and afraid.”
Meanwhile, an American Jewish Committee release noted the first key component of the White House plan was “a reaffirmation of the administration’s embrace” of IHRA.
Dianne Lob, Chair, and William Daroff, CEO, of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, added they “wholeheartedly applaud the Biden Administration’s continuing embrace of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which is the most universally accepted definition of antisemitism.”
Democratic Majority for Israel lauded Biden for again “enthusiastically embracing” IHRA, saying “it sent a clear message that it will not give cover to antisemites who attempt to disguise their Jew hatred as mere criticism of Israeli government policies.”
Israel Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog thanked Biden “for prioritizing the need to confront antisemitism in all its forms,” saying “we welcome the re-embracing of the IHRA definition which is the gold standard definition of antisemitism.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition slammed Biden over the definition, calling it “yet another instance of Biden caving to the anti-Israel radicals who constitute a growing Democratic constituency at both the elected and grassroots levels.” It added that “it’s clear that only a Republican president will fully embrace the IHRA definition and put the full force of the federal government behind the fight against antisemitism in all its forms.”
StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein noted that “while we maintain our concerns that the reference to alternative definitions could create unnecessary confusion, we are hopeful that the administration’s embrace of the IHRA definition will be evident in the implementation of the overall plan.”