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US: White House reveals plan to combat antisemitism amid criticism

While plan was made in response to rise in antisemitism, it includes various references to US commitment to Israel
US President Joe Biden speaking at event in the Rose Garden of the White House, on 25 May 2023 (AFP)

The White House released a new plan to combat antisemitism, which it said reaffirmed “the United States’ unshakable commitment to the State of Israel’s right to exist”.

The plan was released on Thursday and had a four-point approach consisting of improving education around antisemitism, strengthening safety and security for Jewish communities, reversing the "normalisation" of antisemitic discrimination, and building "cross-community solidarity" to counter bigotry.

“The past several years, hate has been given too much oxygen, fueling a rapid rise in antisemitism,” Biden said. “It’s simply wrong. It’s not only it’s immoral, it’s unacceptable. It’s on all of us to stop it.”

“The venom and violence of antisemitism will not be the story of our time.”

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), American Jews are the victims of 63 pecent of reported religiously motivated hate crimes. 

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In a report released in February by the American Jewish Committee, over 40 percent of Jewish people who were polled felt less secure in the US and said antisemitism was a continuing threat. 

"We plan to continue working with our friends in the Jewish community to oppose the hate that threatens both of our communities, and we also look forward to the release of the White House's strategic plans to confront other forms of bigotry, including Islamophobia,” Edward Mitchell, the national deputy director of the Council on American- Islamic Relations (Cair), told Middle East Eye.

Cair is one of several organisations providing commitments to the strategy in the White House fact sheet, which includes the American Jewish Committee; the Asian American Foundation; the Black Jewish Entertainment Alliance; the Interfaith Alliance; the National Basketball Players Association; the Sikh Coalition; the Southern Poverty Law Center; and six professional sports leagues, among several other organisations. 

Mitchell added that Cair “appreciated” the White House’s language in the report, which makes clear that the national strategies “should not be used to either infringe upon the constitutional guarantees of free speech or to conflate bigotry with human rights activism, including advocacy for Palestinian freedom and human rights".  

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is also one of the organisations involved. Last year, Jonathan Greenblatt, the director of the ADL, sparked widespread backlash after equating advocates for Palestinian human rights with white supremacists. A joint statement was issued by dozens of American Muslim organisations. 

'This isn't about antisemitism'

But while the White House's plan was welcomed by some, it was also critiqued by many on social media, mainly for of its references to Israel. People argued that reports like this come at the expense of Palestinians. 

“In addition, the strategy reaffirms the United States’ unshakable commitment to the State of Israel’s right to exist, its legitimacy, and its security - and makes clear that when Israel is singled out because of anti-Jewish hatred, that is antisemitism,” the statement by the White House read.

“When Jews are targeted because of their beliefs or their identity, when Israel is singled out because of anti-Jewish hatred, that is antisemitism. And that is unacceptable,” the report stated.

According to the report, the strategy is about focusing on countering the threat and manifestations of antisemitism in the US.

“The US Government, led by the Department of State, will continue to combat antisemitism abroad and in international fora - including efforts to delegitimise the State of Israel,” said the report.

The report stated that antisemitism will be combated with an “unshakeable” commitment to Israel’s right to exist, its legitimacy, and its security. 

Many on social media argued that the report isn’t about combating antisemitism, rather it’s about “suppressing solidarity with and work for Palestinian liberation and against Israeli apartheid as the Israeli project has become harder to ‘defend’. Further repression of Palestinians, allies, mosques and activists is coming,” Sana Saeed, wrote on Twitter. 

One person tweeted that the report “focuses mostly on Israel and those that speak out on the apartheid state it is”.

In response to the report, another person wrote: “Oh you mean people supporting Palestine and speaking out against the war crimes and mass genocide from the apartheid Zionist state cool cool cool cool cool”. 

The IHRA definition of antisemitism 

In the report, the White House did not adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, a definition championed by various Jewish and Israeli groups.

Antisemitism: What is the IHRA definition and why is it controversial?
Read More »

In April, over 100 human rights and civil rights organisations warned the United Nations against using or endorsing a definition of "antisemitic" they say could be used to silence criticism of the Israeli government and stifle advocacy for Palestinian rights.

The letter, which was signed by groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, said antisemitism "poses real harm to Jewish communities around the world" but that the IHRA's use of the word could "inadvertently embolden or endorse policies and laws that undermine... the right to speak and organize in favour of Palestinian rights and to criticize Israeli government policies".

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