WASHINGTON, D.C. – “The Biden administration is close to completing a national anti-Semitic strategy, but the question of how it defines anti-Semitism remains fluid,” Jewish Insider revealed.
According to the site, “As the White House prepares to launch a national strategy to combat anti-Semitism in the coming weeks, the question of how the document defines anti-Semitism has become a major point of contention.”
It is noteworthy that President Biden said, in remarks he delivered at a reception on the “American Jewish Heritage Month”, that the strategy will include more than 200 political plans and recommendations to combat anti-Semitism, while Jewish Insider stated that three sources familiar with the White House process said that “although the strategy is due to be released soon, the White House task force working on the project has not yet decided how to define anti-Semitism.”
At issue is whether the strategy will adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which includes (in its definition) criticism of Israel’s policy against the Palestinians and which is already being used in multiple places in the federal government, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken wrote. In a 2021 letter to the “Zionist Movement of America”, the Biden administration “passionately embraces” the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, including the full list of examples.
But the Biden administration now faces pressure to buck the IHRA’s definition from progressive forces who argue that the IHRA’s definition, which identifies some forms of anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism, leaves little room for criticism of Israel.
According to Jewish Insider, a person familiar with the process said that mainstream Jewish groups called for the IHRA definition to be included in the White House strategy, while progressive groups were urging for its exclusion from the strategy — but said they would accept inclusion if definitions were mentioned. Another alternative to anti-Semitism has been proposed by academics and activists (on the left). It remains unclear what the final draft might include, but the White House considered excluding the IHRA entirely.
It was revealed that the White House had been consulting with a range of mainstream and progressive Jewish groups about how they would react to the inclusion or exclusion of the IHRA definition. They also said that Jewish groups had assured the White House that they would accept a delay in issuing the strategy, if necessary, to work on such issues.
The White House had aimed for it to be published before the end of the month — before the departure of Susan Rice, director of the Domestic Policy Council, who leads anti-Semitism strategy and drives the formulation and implementation of President Biden’s domestic policy agenda. Another source familiar with the process said one possibility on the table is for the document to reference the definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) without being officially endorsed or adopted.
Biden said Tuesday at a White House reception that the upcoming anti-Semitism strategy is “the most ambitious, comprehensive effort in our history to combat anti-Semitism in America.” The strategy will include more than 200 policy plans and recommendations to counter anti-Semitism and noted that “the White House’s efforts to prepare the report included conversations with more than 1,000 members of the American Jewish community, from diverse backgrounds and from all denominations. He highlighted the four pillars of the strategy: Increasing awareness and understanding of anti-Semitism and America’s Jewish heritage; keeping Jewish communities safe; de-normalizing anti-Semitism and building coalitions to fight hate.
“As we work together to implement this report, we’re sending a clear and forceful message,” Biden said in his speech Tuesday. “In America, evil will not win. Hate will not prevail. The venom and violence of anti-Semitism will not be the story of our time.”
On April 24, more than 100 Israeli and international civil society organizations asked the United Nations to reject the IHRA’s controversial definition of anti-Semitism because it would be “misused” to shield Israel from legitimate criticism.
The groups wrote to the U.N. secretary-general, António Guterres, saying he should resist pressure from Israel to adopt the IHRA’s “working definition of anti-Semitism” that has been accepted by the U.S. State Department and many European governments, including Britain, Germany and EU bodies after strong pressure from pro-Israel groups and others.
The adoption of the definition by governments and institutions is often framed as an essential step in efforts to combat anti-Semitism. However, in practice, the IHRA definition is often used to incorrectly characterize criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic and thus to suppress non-violent protest, activism and discourse critical of Israel and/or Zionism, including in the United States and Europe.
Among the signatories to the petition sent to Antonio Guterres were B’Tselem, Israel’s largest human rights group, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union and Israeli and Palestinian civil society organizations.
Those who signed the letter said they were concerned that if Guterres formally adopted the IHRA definition, it would be used to curb criticism of Israeli policies by U.N. bodies, including the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
The letter noted that the implementation of the definition has been widely criticized, including by Ken Stern, as an anti-Semitism expert at the American Jewish Committee, who led its drafting two decades ago. Earlier this year, Stern successfully urged the American Bar Association not to adopt the definition because it was used to label anyone as an anti-Semite.
— The Arab American News staff
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