President Joe Biden released a national strategy to combat antisemitism touting commitments from organizations that have attacked Jewish groups while declining to mention a single Orthodox Jewish group and failing to unequivocally condemn attacks on Israel as antisemitic, just hours before religiously observant Jews had to unplug for a 48-hour festival.
“It came out a few hours before Shavuos, one of the truly holy days in the Jewish calendar,” Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said of the president’s antisemitism strategy in an interview Tuesday with The Daily Signal. “You’re not permitted to do anything except eat, sleep, and pray.”
“I think this made it more difficult for groups in Israel to respond immediately, and more difficult for people like me to act appropriately because I was preparing for the holy day,” Klein said. “I question whether this was intentional.”
Agudath Israel, an Orthodox Jewish organization that praised Biden’s strategy, noted that the timing limited the group’s ability to analyze the document.
“As we approach the Jewish holiday of Shavuos, there is little time to review in detail all the pillars of the strategy, and we will have to delay that analysis until after the festival,” the organization said.
However, Agudath Israel said the strategy advanced its priorities, such as teaching the Holocaust, combating antisemitic discrimination and violence, and accommodating religious needs in federal programs.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment about the timing of the strategy’s release.
Klein also faulted Biden for failing to commit to one definition of antisemitism.
The strategy document notes “several definitions” of Jew-hatred, including the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s “working definition,” adopted in 2016, “which the United States has embraced.” Yet the document adds that the Biden administration “welcomes and appreciates the Nexus Document and notes other such efforts.”
Klein condemned Biden and Deborah Lipstadt, the State Department’s special envoy for monitoring and combating antisemitism, for the definition.
“I Morton Klein, as an American Jew, as a child of Holocaust survivors, have become frightened at the Biden-Lipstadt administration legitimizing antisemitism and Israel-bashing and making it extremely difficult for Jewish groups to fight [the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement] on campus as antisemitic and antisemitic members of Congress as antisemites,” Klein said.
“In an era of rising Jew-hatred and antisemitism and Israel bashing, to give legitimacy to certain antisemitic statements as not being antisemitic is endangering to American Jews,” he added.
Klein and others support IHRA’s definition of antisemitism because it includes certain attacks on Israel that single out the Jewish state for condemnation. Examples include:
Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavor.
Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
By contrast, the Nexus Document declares that “as a general rule, criticism of Zionism and Israel, opposition to Israel’s policies, or nonviolent political action directed at the state of Israel and/or its policies should not, as such, be deemed antisemitic.”
Many on the Left champion this definition, as it enables supporters of the Palestinian Liberation Organization to claim that celebrating attacks on Israel doesn’t constitute antisemitism.
The movement to boycott, divest, and sanction the state of Israel has inspired many antisemitic incidents on U.S. college campuses. Students for Justice in Palestine, with 206 chapters across the country, has organized lectures and rallies opposing Israel. A student at one such rally threw a rock at a group of Jewish students at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in April 2022.
The Coalition for Jewish Values, which represents more than 2,000 Orthodox Jewish rabbis across the U.S., condemned Biden’s antisemitism strategy for endorsing “two contradictory definitions.”
“Economic warfare against the Jewish community has been a common expression of hatred literally for millennia; think of ghettos, prohibitions on Jews becoming craftsmen, and the Nazi boycott of 1933,” the coalition’s managing director, Rabbi Yaakov Menken, told The Daily Signal. “The [Biden] strategy endorses two contradictory definitions of antisemitism, one of which pretends this increasingly common, frontline tactic isn’t hateful when applied to Jews living in the Jewish homeland.”
Touting SPLC and CAIR
The White House’s “fact sheet” on the antisemitism strategy mentions the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, but does not mention a single Orthodox Jewish group.
Agudath Israel told The Daily Signal that representatives of it and other Orthodox groups contributed to the strategy, including the Orthodox Union and American Friends of Lubavitch, but the White House’s fact sheet doesn’t mention them. Nor does it mention the word “Orthodox.”
Menken with the Coalition for Jewish Values condemned the move.
“SPLC not only fails to identify radical Islam as a source of antisemitic hatred, but targets allies of the Jewish community as ‘hate groups,'” Menken told The Daily Signal. “CAIR, for its part, issued a report at the end of 2021 identifying mainstream Jewish charities as investors in ‘anti-Muslim hate.’ So are they going to retract these false charges?”
“How are they expected to become partners fighting antisemitism after years of inciting it?” Menken asked.
As I wrote in my book “Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center,” the SPLC long has squandered the reputation it built in suing the Ku Klux Klan into bankruptcy by branding mainstream conservative and Christian organizations “hate groups” and placing them on a map with Klan chapters. The SPLC has condemned some Jewish leaders, such as David Horowitz, and Jewish organizations, such as the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, as “anti-Muslim hate groups.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations has echoed these claims, releasing reports demonizing those who fund SPLC-accused “anti-Muslim hate groups.” CAIR claims that it doesn’t attack groups such as the committee on Middle East reporting because they are Jewish.
The Coalition for Jewish Values long has slammed CAIR, citing the fact that its founders previously worked at the Islamic Association for Palestine, or IAP, which the FBI’s counterterrorism chief described as a “front organization for Hamas that engages in propaganda for Islamic militants.”
The FBI listed CAIR as an unindicted co-conspirator with the Holy Land Foundation, which was convicted of funneling millions to Hamas, which the State Department identifies as a terrorist group. CAIR received two $5,000 payments from the Holy Land Foundation.
CAIR has pushed back on these claims, noting that “there is no legal implication to being labeled an unindicted co-conspirator, since it does not require the Justice Department to prove anything in a court of law.” CAIR also has cited a 2010 case in which the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Justice Department violated the Fifth Amendment rights of groups such as CAIR by including them on the list of unindicted co-conspirators.
Menken has noted that CAIR organized a series of rallies calling for the release of Pakistani national Aafia Siddiqui from a U.S. prison, the cause that motivated Malik Faisal Akram to hold hostages in a Texas synagogue.
He also said that Zahra Billoo, executive director of CAIR’s San Francisco office, identified “Zionist synagogues” and “polite Zionists”—including the Anti-Defamation League— as “your enemies.” CAIR has claimed Billoo was “misquoted,” but her remarks are clear.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations emphasized its history in condemning antisemitism—including the Akram hostage incident—in remarks to The Daily Signal.
“As our nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, we always have and, God willing, always will condemn anti-Semitic hate against our Jewish neighbors, regardless of the political, ideological, or religious identity of those responsible,” CAIR Deputy Executive Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell told The Daily Signal in a statement Tuesday.
Mitchell praised the White House for not unequivocally adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism.
“At the same, we join other civil and human rights groups in strongly rejecting the false notion that advocating for Palestinian human rights is an act of bigotry,” Mitchell said. “We were pleased to learn that the strategy the White House privately developed with Jewish leaders and organizations does not conflate opposition to the Israeli government’s human rights abuses with anti-Semitism.”
“We look forward to continuing to work with our Jewish neighbors to counter the hate arises far too often and threatens both of our communities,” the CAIR official concluded.
Others also criticized the White House for touting CAIR’s involvement in the strategy.
“The Biden administration report to counter antisemitism falls short in a number of important ways. In addition to failing to adopt the IHRA definition that recognizes how anti-Israel activity can be a manifestation of Jew-hatred, the report buries the fight against antisemitism in a broader campaign against hate in general,” Jay Greene, a senior research fellow in education at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal, which is Heritage’s news outlet.
“Calling for the efforts to counter antisemitism to join forces with other organizations, like CAIR, who they claim to be partners in the campaign against hate, masks the extent to which many of these organizations are themselves major purveyors of Jew-hatred,” Greene, who is Jewish, added. “Unfortunately, Jews are not part of an intersectional alliance against all forms of hatred. Instead, Jews are too often the target of hatred from this supposed alliance against hate.”
“The report further masks the extent to which Jew-hatred is promoted by these progressive organizations, by exclusively citing examples of antisemitism that come from right-wing organizations,” the Heritage scholar said. “The result is an incomplete and distorted picture of antisemitism that pushes Jews to make alliances with their enemies.”
The White House also released a roundup of praise from organizations across the political spectrum, which included the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel, but also the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC did not respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment.
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