The Biden administration released its plan to combat antisemitism on May 25, and in spite of hundreds of proposed and requested actions, it’s getting a negative reception from some important Jewish organizations.
This happened for a variety of reasons, beginning with the fact that in “Joe-speak,” our president and his staff tried to please a bipartisan audience with his strategy by allowing multiple definitions of antisemitism to be utilized – rather than adopt the definition developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which many Jewish institutions consider as the gold standard:
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
Why did Joe Biden include other antisemitism definitions in his plan?
It’s hard to argue with the gold standard and its list of concrete examples. But, as one might imagine, what suits one constituency may not fit another. There is another definition, from the Nexus Task Force: “Antisemitism consists of anti-Jewish beliefs, attitudes, actions or systemic conditions. It includes negative beliefs and feelings about Jews, hostile behavior directed against Jews (because they are Jews), and conditions that discriminate against Jews and significantly impede their ability to participate as equals in political, religious, cultural, economic, or social life.
“As an embodiment of collective Jewish organization and action, Israel can be a target of antisemitism and antisemitic behavior. Thus, it is important for Jews and their allies to understand what is and what is not antisemitic in relation to Israel.”
The Nexus Task Force tries to divide the baby, which doesn’t work. However, the attempt to relate a definition to the State of Israel is not in vain, because the actions of any government can be good or bad, or often in between, with an incredible amount of room to adequately explain.
In Israel’s case, its very existence is not accepted by a number of Arab states; its control of the Palestinian people within Israel, as well as in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza, remains in dispute. Accordingly, I believe any 360-degree understanding of Israel and its Jewish citizens – let alone its Diaspora, which includes millions of Jewish Americans – should reach beyond the limits of a conservative definition of antisemitism.
It is Joe Biden’s history, along with virtually every president since 1948, to seek peace between Israel and Arabs; and among Jews, Muslims and Christians living in the Holy Land and beyond. It is through the larger definition of antisemitism, and those not included by name, that the White House effort reaches out to include all comers, which I believe is a keystone reason that it is desirable.
As the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding and Biden and his administration have set a course that seeks the honest participation of all Americans. That presents an enormous opportunity that no one should overlook.
Here in the Delaware Valley, Jewish organizations and individuals look in fear at the evening news, often awaiting the next story on antisemitism or hate crimes that involve all of us. A community-wide response is needed that includes the Right, Left, the in-between and the uninvolved. The US National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism gives us the ability to seek, find and apply local, statewide and national answers to the timeless monster of antisemitism.
The writer was the director of a nonprofit organization based in Pennsylvania – the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace – and is an opinion-page writer in local and international newspapers.