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The first national strategy for fighting antisemitism is finally here. What's in it?

President Joe Biden shakes hands with second gentleman Doug Emhoff during a celebration marking Jewish American Heritage Month last week. The administration has just released a comprehensive strategy for combating antisemitism.
Chip Somodevilla
Getty Images
President Joe Biden shakes hands with second gentleman Doug Emhoff during a celebration marking Jewish American Heritage Month last week. The administration has just released a comprehensive strategy for combating antisemitism.

The Biden administration has released the country's first national strategy for combating antisemitism, a landmark plan aimed at addressing a growing problem.

The strategy outlines over 100 steps that federal agencies have committed to completing within a year, and more than 100 specific calls to action aimed at Congress, civil society, state and local governments, academic institutions, businesses and religious communities.

The White House says it was informed by input from more than 1,000 stakeholders from all areas of society. Its four pillars focus on raising awareness, improving security, reversing normalization and building solidarity.

President Biden called the plan the "most ambitious and comprehensive U.S. government-led effort to fight antisemitism in American history" at a virtual launch event on Thursday.

"It sends a clear and forceful message," Biden said. "In America, evil will not win. Hate will not prevail. The venom and violence of antisemitism will not be the story of our time."

This is the administration's latest in a series of efforts to combat antisemitism, as reported incidents continue to shatter records.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) tracked 3,697 incidents of harassment, vandalism and assault in 2022, according to a report released in March. That's a 36% jump from the previous year, and the third time in five years that the tally has been the highest number ever recorded.

American Jews account for 2.4% of the U.S. population but are the victims of 63% of reported religiously motivated hate crimes, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

And while antisemitism most directly affects the Jewish community, the Biden administration stresses that it poses a threat to society as a whole.

"Antisemitic conspiracy theories fuel other forms of hatred, discrimination, and bias — including discrimination against other religious minorities, racism, sexism, and anti-LGBTQI+ hate," said the White House release. "Antisemitism seeks to divide Americans from one another, erodes trust in government and nongovernmental institutions, and undermines our democracy."

Administration officials at Thursday's launch stressed the urgency and historical significance of the 60-page strategy, which they encouraged people to read online for themselves. They pledged to carry out its implementation but emphasized that federal action alone is not enough.

The administration also announced a slew of commitments by outside organizations and institutions — from professional sports teams to religious groups to the Recording Academy — and is calling on other groups to roll out initiatives of their own.

"Antisemitism is a threat to Jewish communities and all Americans, and it can only be combated with united efforts," said second gentleman Doug Emhoff. "It's on all of us to put an end to the visceral hate that we are seeing across our nation."

There are four main pillars of the plan

The strategy's main objectives are:

  • increasing awareness and understanding of both antisemitism and Jewish American heritage;
  • improving safety and security for Jewish communities;
  • reversing the normalization of antisemitism; and
  • building coalitions across communities to fight hate.

"In sum," Emhoff said, "this plan will save lives."

Officials at Thursday's event highlighted some of the issues and action items from each category.

The ADL found that 85% of Americans believe at least one antisemitic trope, while a 2020 study showed that more than 3 in 5 millennials and Gen Z didn't know that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, said domestic policy adviser Susan Rice.

As part of an effort to raise awareness, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum will launch the first-ever U.S.-based Holocaust education research center in 2024, while the National Endowment for the Humanities will expand investment in K-12 education on Jewish history.

And federal agencies will commit to incorporating information about antisemitic bias and workplace religious accommodations into their training programs, and educating their networks about the contributions of Jewish Americans. For instance, Rice said, the Department of Veterans' Affairs will develop programs highlighting the service of Jewish veterans.

When it comes to improving security, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security will meet with Jewish communities to ensure they're using all the available federal training and resources, continue to help with community-based prevention efforts and increase intelligence-sharing with state and local partners, said White House Homeland Security Adviser Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall.

She said the third pillar recognizes the "hard reality that antisemitism is becoming mainstream and acts of violence against Jews are becoming normalized."

The strategy acknowledges the role that social media plays, and calls on tech companies to do things like meet with Jewish groups to better understand how antisemitism manifests on their platforms and establish a zero-tolerance policy for hate speech.

And, Sherwood-Randall said, the Departments of Education, Housing and Urban Development and Agriculture issued letters reminding schools, housing programs and feeding programs about their obligations to addressing discrimination.

"Countering discrimination and hate-fueled violence against any race, religion, ethnicity or gender is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue," she said at one point. "It's an American issue."

Jewish groups appear optimistic

Jewish groups lauded the strategy, for the commitment it signifies, the actions it outlines and even its specific wording.

"It's particularly notable that this approach recognizes that antisemitism is not about politics — it's about principles," ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement. "We are pleased that this strategy comprehensively addresses hate and antisemitism on campus, online, and from extremists on both the far-right and the far-left."

Notably, there had been some contention among Jewish leaders about what definition of antisemitism the document would use.

A key contention was whether the strategy would adopt International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, which is widely accepted by municipalities, state and federal governments around the world.

But some on the left who argue it doesn't leave enough room for critiques of Israel, since its examples include forms of anti-Zionism — such as calling Israel a "racist endeavor" or applying "double standards" when criticizing it.

The White House acknowledges in the document that there are several definitions of antisemitism, and that the U.S. has embraced the IHRA's. It says it also "welcomes and appreciates" one prominent alternative, the Nexus Document, and "notes other such efforts."

Several Jewish organizations issued statements celebrating the strategy, describing their role in its development and committing to its implementation.

"The unprecedented spike in antisemitism has caused significant pain and alarm in our communities, and we look forward to working with Congress, the administration and civil society groups to enhance security and fight back against all forms of hate and make our country a safer place," said Jewish Federations of North America Chair Julie Platt.

Others in politics weighed in, too. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the most senior Jewish member of Congress, said in a statement that while the strategy's release marks a historic milestone, "the work is far from over."

The administration has made antisemitism a priority

The Biden administration has taken steps to combat antisemitism and other forms of hate, including creating the interagency task forcecharged with creating this particular strategy back in December.

In recent years, the administration secured the largest-ever increase for the physical security of nonprofits, including synagogues and Jewish community centers. Biden signed a 2021 law that helps state and local law enforcement better respond to hate crimes and hosted a White House summit focused on preventing hate-fueled violence in the fall of 2022.

And he nominated Holocaust expert Deborah Lipstadt to be the country's first ambassador-level special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism around the world (the Senate confirmed her in 2022).

Lipstadt hailed the plan on Thursday as a historic moment in the fight against the world's oldest hatred.

"We come together to release a plan for combating Jew hatred in a place where just over four decades ago, a form of Jew hatred took shape as official policy, as state department officials erected so-called 'paper walls' around this country to prevent Jews from entering our borders," she said, referring to the White House building that used to house the state and war departments.

The Biden administration has also focused a new spotlight on Jewish culture. Last year, the White House hosted its first-ever High Holiday reception and added a menorah to its permanent collection — the first time a Jewish artifact was added to the White House archives.

Emhoff has played a key role in many of these efforts, as the first Jewish spouse of a U.S. president or vice president. He visited Poland and Germany earlier this year for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, to promote both Holocaust awareness and the administration's efforts.

Emhoff told NPR in February that their main message to Jewish people is: "we have your back."

"I love being Jewish. I'm proud of being Jewish," he said. "I want everyone, however they are, just to be proud of that so they can be able to live openly, freely, safely, without fear."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.