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Latest draft of White House antisemitism strategy highlights IHRA definition, but also references alternative

The strategy is expected to highlight the IHRA definition but also cites the Nexus definition, which declares that double standards targeting Israel are not inherently antisemitic

Oliver Contreras/for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, center, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, delivers remarks during a roundtable about the rise of antisemitism at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on December 7, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

The latest version of the White House’s forthcoming national antisemitism strategy is expected to highlight the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism promoted by mainstream Jewish groups, but also reference the Nexus definition, an alternative promoted by progressives, individuals with knowledge of the strategy told Jewish Insider on Friday.

The development comes amid countervailing pressures on the White House: Mainstream Jewish groups are lobbying the Biden administration to include only the IHRA definition, and some left-wing groups — which argue that the IHRA definition is overbroad in characterizing some critiques of Israel as antisemitic — seek to either exclude IHRA or reference other definitions alongside it. Officials had also considered not mentioning any of the definitions, sources said.

One individual with knowledge of the strategy said that the IHRA definition is “highlighted” in the plan, which also “refers” to the alternative Nexus definition “as a resource” but “doesn’t stress it.” They also noted further changes are still possible. 

Kenneth Marcus, the chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, said he spoke to individuals who had discussed the strategy with White House officials on Thursday, and said they had provided a similar readout. Marcus said that he was told the White House is planning to include IHRA in a “significant” capacity, but “at least [mention]” the Nexus definition “in a positive way in the document.”

Marcus noted, however, that the individuals he had spoken to had not directly seen the plan itself, but rather were informed of its contents by individuals in the White House. Marcus served as an official in the Department of Education during the Trump administration.

Another individual with knowledge of the strategy said they expect it to be released by Wednesday, May 24. State Department antisemitism envoy Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt said last Wednesday that it would be released “in the few days” or “next week.”

The Nexus definition, authored by academics in response to the IHRA definition, pushes back on the idea that applying double standards to Israel is inherently antisemitic. Nexus argues that “paying disproportionate attention to Israel and treating Israel differently than other countries is not prima facie proof of anti-Semitism,” and that “there are numerous reasons for devoting special attention to Israel and treating Israel differently.” 

Another alternative definition, the Jerusalem Declaration, which argues explicitly that boycotts of Israel are not inherently antisemitic, is not expected to be included, according to a source with knowledge of the strategy.

The White House did not comment.

The Nexus definition’s inclusion in the strategy is likely to be seen as at least a partial victory for progressive Jewish groups that had urged the White House not to endorse the IHRA definition alone. Mainstream Jewish groups and scholars have argued that alternative definitions to IHRA are unacceptable and undermine efforts to combat antisemitism, and that they would undercut the effect of including the IHRA definition.

In a letter to U.N. officials earlier this week regarding the U.N.’s own antisemitism plan, leading U.S. Jewish groups led a coalition of global Jewish organizations to argue that “any references to these alternative definitions would only introduce greater confusion into the UN Action Plan and undermine our common efforts to combat antisemitism.”

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a series of tweets that “no other definitions work,” describing them as the product of “a pasted-up process organized by activists.”

Marcus, for his part, said that including the Nexus definition will make it “that much harder to get widespread Jewish communal support” for the strategy, and will place many Jewish organizations in a bind as to whether and how strongly to support the White House plan.

Marcus pointed to his work with college students facing anti-Zionist attacks, which he said are frequently brushed off as not antisemitic by university administrators. “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.

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