Some of the leading Jewish and Zionist organizations from around the country offered a range of reactions to the new federal antisemitism strategy announced May 25.
CEO of the American Jewish Committee Ted Deutch called it a “historic day” and said that “in adopting this national strategy, the White House has sent a clear, unequivocal message that antisemitism is a problem that affects all of society, not just Jews.”
The Rabbinical Assembly (RA), a global group of Conservative rabbis, described the strategy as “groundbreaking” and “comprehensive.” It stated that the 10 highlighted actions “underscore the multi-faceted approach required to combat antisemitism effectively.”
Agudath Israel of America responded to the plan with praise, saying the initiative “sends a clear message that the United States—in its fundamental values, laws and policies—finds antisemitism an unmitigated evil that is repugnant and intolerable and must be rooted out of the mindset and actions of American society.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) disagreed, declaring “deep disappointment.”
CEO Matt Brooks said that U.S. President Joe Biden had “a chance to take a strong stand against antisemitism, and he blew it.” Brooks argued that the plan’s choice to not make the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s working definition of antisemitism the sole one cited in the documentation “seriously weakens” the White House effort.
Hadassah’s national president Rhoda Smolow and CEO Naomi Adler released a statement on the plan, saying “Hadassah thanks the Biden administration for its leadership in gathering input from across the Jewish community and developing a thoughtful, government-wide plan to address the alarming rise in antisemitism nationwide.” The organization praised the adoption of the IHRA antisemitism definition without noting the inclusion of the Nexus Statement.
World Jewish Congress (WJC) president Ronald S. Lauder noted that “the president’s leadership in directing the vast federal government to coordinate and act to protect Jewish Americans is unprecedented and essential in the fight against anti-Jewish hate.” He also thanked the White House for incorporating some of the WJC’s suggestions.
But Lauder also shared the criticism voiced by Brooks. He warned that “the inclusion of a secondary definition in addition to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism is an unnecessary distraction from the real work that needs to be done.”
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) reiterated that concern, saying the Biden strategy notes other definitions of antisemitism that can mean even more harmful definitions.
On the flip side, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) tweeted: “We applaud the @POTUS administration, and we are excited to continue to collaborate in the execution of this plan.”
Another tweet notes that the ADL offered more than 30 policy recommendations. It praised the scope of the strategy, saying “we are particularly pleased that this comprehensive strategy includes plans to fight antisemitism across the political spectrum, on college campuses and online.”
Julie Platt, chair of the Jewish Federations of North America, released a statement specifying some of the programs to be implemented as part of the plan. She said it “embraces many of our policy priorities, including funding the Nonprofit Security Grant Program at $360 million, funding for the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act and ensuring quality Holocaust education.”
‘Creates a gaping hole’
However, StopAntisemitism shared the RJC’s harsh response and concerns about the lack of focus on the IHRA antisemitism definition. The group described itself as “extremely disturbed by several key aspects of the White House’s antisemitism strategy.” It argued that antisemitism “needs to be addressed clearly, completely and as a phenomenon unto itself,” but that this initiative “falls short on all counts.”
Moreover, the online watchdog group explained what it regards as the problem with not focusing on the IHRA definition. It said the choice “creates a gaping hole; while the plan acknowledges that Jews have been targeted because of their connection to Israel, it fails to name anti-Zionism as a primary form of antisemitism.” It even argued that “Jews will suffer” because of the plan’s failure to provide a clear definition of antisemitism.
Kenneth L. Marcus, founder and chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, also took a critical view of the plan for not focusing exclusively on the IHRA definition. Of its entirety, he said: “The rhetoric is very strong and the intent is good, but the substance doesn’t always measure up. There is a serious retreat from earlier commitments, and the implementation could be seriously flawed and rendered ineffective if this plan opens the door to using any definition of antisemitism other than IHRA.”
Christians United for Israel (CUFI) was skeptical for the same reason. Sandra Parker, CUFI’s Action Fund chairwoman, said “inclusion of a competing definition created for the sole and exclusive purpose of undermining IHRA casts doubt on the administration’s ‘embrace’ of the same.”
Still, Michael Masters, national director and CEO of the Secure Community Network, said in a statement: “We are particularly encouraged by the White House’s commitment to increased nonprofit security grant funding, their call for additional funding to help communities beyond the current investment, and their interagency effort to improve information-sharing and hate crimes reporting.”
Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO StandWithUs, offered positive, though slightly tempered words. She said that “we are pleased that the administration recognizes the preeminence of the IHRA working definition in helping to identify and raise awareness about antisemitism. 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.”
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations also focused on the IHRA definition’s inclusion and reacted positively. It released a response from chair Dianne Lob and CEO William Daroff: “We 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. … The Conference of Presidents will continue to champion the IHRA definition as a crucial framework for identifying and addressing antisemitism.”
‘Whole of government’ approach
Mark Mellman, president and CEO of Democratic Majority for Israel, offered a similar optimistic sentiment. He said “early on, the Biden-Harris administration ‘enthusiastically embrace[d]’ the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism and its examples, and has done so again today. Indeed, the IHRA definition is the only one embraced by the administration.”
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America revealed in their statement that it provided “significant input” and that Nathan Diament, executive director for Public Policy, participated in meetings.
Diament said that the plan offered a “‘whole of government’ approach” that “is, unfortunately, what we need right now, given the reality of rising antisemitism in the United States.”
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) also put out a statement, noting that it had contributed to the plan as well: “We at JCPA are heartened by the release of this comprehensive strategy, and, in particular, we’re proud of our efforts to shape the strategy, which recognizes that Jewish safety is inextricably linked to the health of our democracy, and the rights and safety of so many other communities.”
Amy Spitalnick, the new CEO of JCPA, shared Diament’s sentiments. She said that “I’m heartened by the Biden administration’s ‘whole-of-government’ strategy, which at its core recognizes that combating antisemitism requires protecting and advancing our democracy and the fundamental rights and safety of all communities—just as those goals require confronting antisemitism.”
Anne Bayefsky, president of Human Rights Voices and director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust, said that “the Biden/Rice administration has refused to define ‘antisemitism’ unequivocally so that there is something for everyone, antisemites and anti-antisemites alike. Here is a ‘counter antisemitism’ strategy that refers to ‘several definitions’ which ‘serve as valuable tools,’ including those that actually promote antisemitism.”
“The bottom line: The Biden administration move to combat antisemitism evidences a desire to split the baby, which works as little for Jews as it does for the baby,” she said.
Morton A. Klein, national president of the ZOA, was critical of Jewish groups that lauded the initiative. He said in a statement that it was “deeply troubling that the Conference of Presidents, AJC, ADL, OU and other groups praised President Biden for supposedly adopting the IHRA definition in the strategy … and failed to mention that the Biden strategy ‘welcomed and appreciated’ the harmful definitions that allow antisemitism masked as hatred of Israel and Zionist to continue, unabated.”