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White House strategy regarding anti-Semitism soon to be released amid dispute about its definition

Biden administration will reportedly reference IHRA Working Definition, along with others

US President Joe Biden pays his respects during a ceremony at the Hall of Remembrance, at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, July 13, 2022. (Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Following the White House celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month last Tuesday, many expect an announcement regarding the U.S administration’s strategy for dealing with anti-Semitism.

U.S. President Joe Biden referred to the strategy during his remarks at the celebration, saying he would release the strategy this year.

Earlier this month, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Susan Rice announced that Washington is “aiming to release” the strategy this month.

United States Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. State Department’s special envoy on anti-Semitism, indicated last Wednesday that the strategy could be released “in the next few days” or “next week.”

Lipstadt, a proponent of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism prior to her envoy role, did not say whether that definition would form the basis for the White House’s strategy.

The definition itself consists of these two sentences:

“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.”

On Friday, a group of more than 550 rabbis from the three major Jewish denominations sent a letter to Biden calling on his administration to adopt the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism. In their letter, the rabbis said that adopting other definitions would make their work “significantly harder.”

“We believe the adoption of any definition less comprehensive than the IHRA definition would be a step backwards for this administration and make our work on the ground significantly harder,” the letter said.

“IHRA is critically important for helping to educate and protect our congregants in the face of this rising hate,” the letter continued. “We believe it is imperative that in its National Strategy to Combat Antisemitism, the administration formally embrace the IHRA Working Definition as the official and only definition used by the United States government and that it be used as a training and educational tool, similar to European Union countries’ use of the definition in their Action Plans.”

The IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism has come under fire by some left-leaning groups who argue that it links criticism of Israel with anti-Semitic rhetoric in certain scenarios, when it lists these two examples:

“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 it [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

Several groups are calling on the Biden administration to minimally include other definitions of anti-Semitism in the strategy.

On Friday, Jewish Insider published a report claiming that the Biden government is considering other definitions of anti-Semitism, such as the Nexus definition.

Proponents of the IHRA’s Working Definition say that adopting it will allow the administration to more easily create policy that is consistent with other nations, and with the several U.S. states that have already adopted that definition.

William Daroff, the CEO of the Conference of Presidents, affirmed that the White House strategy will need to be clear about the definition of anti-Semitism.

“A comprehensive report on antisemitism might not be comprehensive without defining antisemitism,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Kenneth Marcus, chairperson of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, said the IHRA definition allows for criticism of Israel, and only specifies how such criticism could be anti-Semitic.

“The IHRA definition is the best tool that we have available to demonstrate that, while not all criticism of Israel is antisemitic, some of it is,” he said.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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