parting move

White House expected to deliver antisemitism strategy before Susan Rice leaves White House, sources say 

In her position leading the Domestic Policy Council, Rice has in recent months worked closely with the U.S. Jewish community

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 24: White House Domestic Policy Adviser Susan Rice (R) speaks on President Biden’s announcement of student loan debt forgiveness as Deputy Director of the National Economic Council Bharat Ramamurti (L) listens during a White House daily press briefing at the James S. Brady Press Room of the White House

On the heels of President Joe Biden’s announcement that top domestic policy advisor, Susan Rice, is stepping down, sources told Jewish Insider Monday that she is expected to deliver an antisemitism strategy before her departure.

In her position leading the Domestic Policy Council, Rice has in recent months worked closely with the U.S. Jewish community as one of the leaders of a White House working group focused on antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of hate. 

“Her legacy of progress and commitment to getting important things done for the American people will not be forgotten, particularly her critical work developing the White House strategy to combat antisemitism that is expected to be finalized before she leaves,” William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told Jewish Insider on Monday. A White House spokesperson declined to comment. Rice will depart in late May.

Rice’s appointment to the Domestic Policy Council “surprised a lot of people,” Biden said in his statement, given her background in foreign policy as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and national security advisor under former President Barack Obama. As one of the most vocal supporters of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, she at times butted heads with Israeli leaders and members of the U.S. pro-Israel community who opposed the agreement, leaving her with some detractors who view Rice as insufficiently supportive of Israel. 

One Jewish community leader who has had conversations with Rice about the antisemitism strategy and previously engaged with her on Israel policy said there is “no indication of her Israel animus infecting her current role.” 

Matt Nosanchuk, who served as White House liaison to the Jewish community throughout the public debate over the Iran deal, said that the criticism of Rice from some in the Jewish community was “misplaced.” 

The Iran deal “was viewed as a pivotal foreign policy development by the U.S., and it played a central role in the conversation and in the American Jewish community,” said Nosanchuk. “Various Jewish leaders fell on various sides around that deal. She was a staunch proponent of and advocate for the agreement, which she and the president felt would benefit Israel’s security, not hinder it.”

The White House has not commented on how — or if — the administration will address Israel and anti-Zionism in its antisemitism strategy. In a January interview with JI, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, who with Rice is leading the effort to create the strategy, declined to share how Israel fits into the administration’s broader approach to antisemitism. 

Former longtime Anti-Defamation League head Abe Foxman called the White House decision to pursue a national antisemitism strategy a “historic initiative,” but added that he wants to “judge it when it’s finished, not by the rumors that people may know or may not know.” 

The working group has convened several listening sessions since it was formed in December, following a White House roundtable Emhoff hosted for leaders of Jewish organizations. The gatherings have included a wide array of stakeholders. One meeting brought the antisemitism envoys from around the world to the White House to share their expertise.  Another focused on the unique threats faced by the Orthodox Jewish community

Under Rice, the White House working group has straddled the line between focusing on antisemitism on its own and discussing it alongside other forms of discrimination. Its official mandate is to “counter antisemitism, Islamophobia and related forms of discrimination and bias.” 

“There’s always a tension between those of us in the Jewish community who want fighting antisemitism to be looked at uniquely — but also, at the same time, having it be in the context of combating other forms of hatred and bigotry,” said Nathan Diament, executive director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center. Although its mandate is broad, the working group announced in December that its first order of business would be to draft the antisemitism strategy. 

“My sense is that as events warranted more of a focus on antisemitism, [Rice] was on board with that,” added Diament. “She’s also a very professional staffer. That’s what the president wanted, so she’s going to execute what the president wants.” 

Jewish community activists also worked with Rice on other domestic policy issues. Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said “she will most be remembered for skillfully guiding President Biden to take executive action for the protection and advancement of vulnerable communities through efforts to curb gun violence and expand healthcare.” 

Jewish Federations of North America, the umbrella organization for individual Jewish communities across the U.S., works on policy issues including social services, refugee issues and more. “We appreciate [Rice] and her team’s openness to our concerns,” said Elana Broitman, JFNA’s senior vice president for public affairs.
The White House has not named a successor to Rice. Axios and The Wall Street Journal reported that Neera Tanden, a senior advisor to Biden, is under consideration for the position.

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