American Jews, Jewish organizations and the federal government are increasingly concerned with the pervasive spread of antisemitism in the U.S., including the LA shootings this year and the deadly attack at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue. President Biden warned of rising “antisemitic bile” during a recent White House event commemorating Jewish American Heritage Month. With anti-Jewish bigotry running rampant both on and off-line, the need for a unifying definition of antisemitism is greater than ever to prevent hate-driven actions against Jews.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism grew out of a long-term effort involving key stakeholders and international experts to agree on a single definition for an act of anti-Jewish hatred, because it can only be fought or prevented if it’s clearly defined. As part of that process, in 2010 the U.S. State Department adopted a definition which is almost identical to the one eventually adopted by the IHRA. The U.S. government, 40 other countries, and nearly 1,100 states, counties, city councils, and other organizations have endorsed or adopted the IHRA definition – making it the most definitive and authoritative definition of antisemitism. Virginia is the most recent state to adopt the IHRA definition.
The Biden Administration unveiled a preview of its new National Antisemitism Strategy after receiving input from more than 1,000 Jewish community leaders across different religious denominations. While IHRA is already used by the federal government, including the Education and State Departments, and has been praised by Antisemitism Envoy Deborah Lipstadt, it is unclear whether the proposed White House strategy will focus on IHRA as US federal law does, or whether it will also reference another definition. The current administration has historically embraced and championed the IHRA definition while advocating for its adoption around the world. More than 175 American and international Jewish groups have urged the UN to endorse the IHRA definition.
The National Antisemitism Strategy comes with 200 recommendations: “100 meaningful actions that government agencies will take to counter antisemitism, as well as over 100 calls to action for Congress, state and local governments, companies, technology platforms, civil society, faith leaders, and others to counter antisemitism,” a White House official stated. This is the first White House in U.S. history to pioneer a plan to counter antisemitism in America. IHRA essentially adopted the U.S. Dept of State definition, in effect since 2010.
The inter-agency group tasked with the creation of this National Antisemitism Strategy was announced last December by the White House amid a tidal wave of Jew-hating rhetoric by celebrities, pop stars and high-profile personalities. Never before had the White House hosted a summit for tackling the national epidemic of anti-Jewish hate sweeping the nation. Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff hosted the roundtable discussion between American Jewish leaders and senior Administration officials. Speaking of the “epidemic of hate facing our country” he stressed that “words matter” and that both political parties must oppose hate and prevent the normalization of attacks against Jews.
Lesser-known events continue to stir great fear in U.S. Jewish communities as bigots become increasingly bold in their targeted attacks on Jews. In this month alone, a Colorado middle school student shouted at a Jewish student: “You should go back to the death chambers,” swastikas were drawn with feces at the Univ. of California San Diego and a rock was hurled at an orthodox Jewish man while he was walking into a synagogue in Queens, NY. These attacks range in level of severity and don’t follow a pattern based on location, age, or time frame, but they are all defined as acts of antisemitism under the definition set by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
Speaking at the recent ADL National Leadership Summit, National Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice stated: “Antisemitic incidents, whether online or in person, threaten Jews’ sense of safety. Yet, all of us are worse off when the Jewish community is intimidated, harassed, and attacked for who they are or how they worship. We know all too well that those who peddle antisemitism typically traffic in many forms of hatred.”