While most Jewish organizations and Jewish leaders support US President Joe Biden’s unprecedented broad strategy to combat antisemitism announced last week, some have added a hint of criticism to their comments.
Aside from entities such as the Republican Jewish Coalition that said “Joe Biden had a chance to take a strong stand against antisemitism and he blew it,” a number of more central or a-political organizations have said they are worried about the definition of antisemitism as portrayed in the 60-page national strategy plan on combating antisemitism in the US.
One of the main legacy Jewish organizations, The World Jewish Congress (WJC), led by president Ronald Lauder, thanked the White House for the new plan, but also added some hinted criticism: “We must have concrete action, not just words,” the WJC said towards the end of its statement reacting to the White House strategy. “The inclusion of a secondary definition in addition to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism is an unnecessary distraction from the real work that needs to be done,” they said of the Nexus definition, that was included in the text referring to the different types of antisemitism.
THE STRATEGY specifically said that it acknowledges IHRA as the main definition of antisemitism but also acknowledged the existence of other definitions such as the Nexus Document, that is more to the left of the political map regarding its attitude towards Israel and to antisemitism.
They emphasized that “even with those concerns we are deeply satisfied that the national strategy to fight antisemitism provides an invaluable investment in promoting and realizing tolerance, safety and security for Jews across the country.”
The StopAntisemitism organization only focused on the criticism of the new White House strategy. They said that they are “extremely disturbed by several key aspects of the White House’s antisemitism strategy. Our country’s crisis of Jew-hatred needs to be addressed clearly, completely and as a phenomenon unto itself and the Biden Administration’s plan falls short on all counts.”
StopAntisemtism added that this strategy was written “against the advice of major antisemitism advocacy organizations,” and that “the plan does not use the IHRA definition to delineate what counts as antisemitism, instead relegating it to a brief paragraph that also includes the inferior, competing Nexus definition.”
They explained that “not using IHRA as a foundational guide creates a gaping hole; while the plan acknowledges that Jews have been targeted because of their connection to Israel, it fails to name anti-Zionism as a primary form of antisemitism.
“The plan will not even allow antisemitism to stand alone, repeatedly mentioning planned executive actions to fight ‘antisemitism, Islamophobia, and related forms of bias and discrimination.’ Fighting Islamophobia and other bigotries is an excellent goal, but it does not belong in this particular antisemitism strategy,” StopAntisemitism said.
StopAntisemitism is a grassroots watchdog organization dedicated to “exposing groups and individuals that espouse incitement towards the Jewish people and State and engage in antisemitic behaviors,” according to their website. Founded in 2018, StopAntisemitism was born “in response to increasing antisemitic violence and sentiment across the US.”
Senior officials in central Jewish organizations in the US said wholeheartedly that the White House strategy is “beyond expectations,” yet that they are “worried about the fact that the Nexus definition of antisemitism was included,” and that “anti-Zionism isn’t necessarily seen as antisemitism,” according to the new plan. Senior Israeli officials actually said that the fact that the progressive Jerusalem Definition of Antisemitism wasn’t included, is a success. They added that “the fact that IHRA is mentioned as the main definition of antisemitism, means that anti-Zionism is perceived to be antisemitism.”
The source added that the State Department, as well as the administration itself, has been using IHRA as the official definition for antisemitism and aren’t planning on changing that. In addition, they explained, “more than half-of-the US States have already adopted IHRA,” and therefore, “IHRA is the only definition that is used by law enforcement,” in the US.
The IHRA definition is a non-legally binding statement that provides a broad and general description of antisemitism, accompanied by 11 illustrative examples that include criticism of Israel as a potential manifestation of antisemitism. The Nexus definition is a more recent and alternative definition that aims to provide a clearer and more precise description of antisemitism, with a focus on the nexus between antisemitism and Israel or Zionism. The Nexus definition also provides guidelines to identify when criticism of Israel or opposition to it crosses the line into antisemitism, without stifling legitimate debate or expression.
Another difference is that the IHRA definition has been widely adopted and endorsed by various governments, institutions and organizations around the world, while the Nexus definition has been supported by some academics and activists who are critical of the IHRA definition for being vague, ambiguous and susceptible to misuse. The two definitions have sparked controversy and debate among different Jewish communities and groups over how to best define and combat antisemitism in the 21st century. All of the mainstream Jewish organizations in the US have pushed for the administration to adopt the IHRA definition solely.