After months of waiting, the Biden administration finally released its “National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism.” A close look at the document gives the impression that the strategy as a whole is designed to appear to be “doing something” to combat antisemitism while not alienating the party’s intersectional base.
The strategy includes a wide range of recommendations for Holocaust education, “diversity, equity, and inclusion” training, partnerships with professional sports leagues, law enforcement, and more. Some of these focus on antisemitism in high-profile sectors, such as entertainment, professional sports, or gaming. The federal government using its bully pulpit to “review their association with and potential sponsorship or remuneration of individuals and entities that advance antisemitism” may have usefulness, but public outrage and its effect on the marketplace tend to react much more quickly and influence the government’s reactions rather than the other way around. The government will surely be following, not leading — if it trots this path at all.
But most of the recommendations are simply the government telling itself to mention antisemitism in the course of routine training and other activities, a legitimization of DEI that only strengthens its hold on policy in the long term.
Looking beyond the budget increase for the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, many of the strategy’s directives are unserious. Directing the Department of Agriculture to “provide educational opportunities for 4-H, FFA, and other rural youth organizations to learn how to identify and counter antisemitism and related forms of discrimination,” or the Interior Department to train “NPS employees, such as rangers and guides, to identify and counter antisemitism and other forms of hate,” do not even attempt to address the core problems.
Rather, most recommendations are intended to counter the perception that American society as a whole, including farms and parks, are fundamentally racist. Indeed, most recommendations are not specific to antisemitism but are directed rather against “all forms of hate,” including “antisemitism, anti-Muslim bias, anti-Sikh bias, and related forms of bias and discrimination.”
In fact, the strategy simply isn’t about Jews and antisemitism. Islamophobia is mentioned numerous times, but no reference is made to Israel boycotts, much less to Islamist or liberal violence against Jews.
Then there is the effort to define antisemitism. The majority of Jewish and pro-Israel organizations had lobbied strongly for the inclusion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, the widely used consensus definition that explicitly discusses antisemitism as a unique phenomenon that includes demonization of Israel and applying double standards. Left-wing groups lobbied for the inclusion of the Nexus document, which waters down the definition into a much-diluted version intended to exclude large swaths of left-wing antisemitism. The administration included both as a sop to the far left.
In fact, the first definition seems to have been deliberately sacrificed. Biden’s final strategy was praised by the lawfare arm of the Israel boycott movement, Palestine Legal: “The national strategy document removes IHRA from the center of the conversation, de-emphasizes the role of a definition and declines to make it law.”
And given that the strategy received “commitments from” dozens of organizations, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, it is fair to wonder what those organizations received in exchange for their endorsements. But the damage goes further. Organizations such as states and universities that have put the first definition at the center of their efforts to protect Jewish students will now see that move challenged on the basis of the federal strategy’s deliberate vagueness.
The Biden administration has, in other words, harmed others’ attempts to fight antisemitism as well.
The closest the strategy comes to acknowledging that Jewish identity and difference, including Israel, are at the core of contemporary antisemitism is the statement that “some traditionally observant Jews, especially traditional Orthodox Jews, are victimized while walking down the street. Jewish students and educators are targeted for derision and exclusion on college campuses, often because of their real or perceived views about the State of Israel. When Jews are targeted because of their beliefs or identity, when Israel is singled out because of anti-Jewish hatred, that is antisemitism. And that is unacceptable.”
That these specific forms of harassment and intimidation come from the Left and Muslim allies of the administration is also conveniently elided. So, too, is the identity of the unidentified “gunman” — Faisal Malik Akram — who took hostages at the Colleyville, Texas, synagogue. The strategy explicitly perpetuates the convenient myth that “white supremacy” is responsible for all antisemitism. And while the strategy calls for stigmatizing antisemitism, especially online, it refrains from noting that the administration’s allies, such as Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), are among the most vigorous disseminators of antisemitic and anti-Israel rhetoric.
The “National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism” was developed with tremendous energy and even more cleverness. But by dancing around the core issues, namely that Israel is the focal point for much contemporary antisemitism from the Left and its intersectional allies, the strategy is far less than what it seems.