Breaking down the Biden administration’s antisemitism plan
JFNA’s Elana Broitman, COP’s Stephanie Hausner and the Brandeis Center’s Ken Marcus discuss the White House’s recently released Strategy to Counter Antisemitism in an antisemitism roundtable
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Last week, the White House released “The U.S. National Strategy To Counter Antisemitism,” a groundbreaking 60-page document that the Biden administration hopes will act as a catalyst to combat the nation’s rise in antisemitic attacks.
In a first for Jewish Insider’s podcast, co-hosts Rich Goldberg and Jarrod Bernstein are joined by three experts in the field of antisemitism policy — Elana Broitman, senior vice president for public affairs of the Jewish Federations of North America; Stephanie Hausner, chief operating officer of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; and Ken Marcus, the founder of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law — for a roundtable on the first-of-its-kind strategy, which takes whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches to fighting antisemitism.
Below are excerpts from the conversation.
Ken Marcus: The White House has created enough ambiguity so that major Jewish organizations are able to declare victory, but also strong anti-Zionist organizations, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, are able to declare victory as well. And both sides are able to find material within both the strategy and the associated documents that seem to support their point of view. I am pleased that the Biden administration, through the Office for Civil Rights, has issued a Dear Colleague letter to colleges, universities and other schools, reminding them of their obligations to protect the rights of Jewish students. That’s important. It is important for administrators to understand that antisemitism is something they need to address. It’s a real thing… The White House has been promising to issue a formal regulation implementing the executive order on combating antisemitism. And most recently, they’ve said that they would do it by December of 2023. If they meant it, if they really are going to do what they promised, if they’re really going to issue a major regulation on combating antisemitism by December 2023, wouldn’t they mention it in a 60-page strategy document that actually has a lot of fluff and filler, and very little that has the the power in the substance of an actual regulation? It seems to me that this is more than a missed opportunity, it’s a signal that they really aren’t, at this moment, planning to do what they promised to do, which is a real regulation. If what they’re substituting is this Dear Colleague letter that has maybe symbolic value, but no substance in it, that is a very weak substitute.
Stephanie Hausner: In the plan,[the White House talks] about this antisemitism awareness campaign within the Department of Education, and there are like 10 goals related to both [the] Department of Education, Department of Agriculture, but I think Ken’s right. Where are the specifics in it?…I think we’ve been engaged productively with the Department of Education, certainly our three organizations over the last several years, but how are we going to ensure that technical assistance in a Dear Colleague letter and saying that the universities treat antisemitism with the same seriousness as other forms of hate — how do we ensure that that happens, and that DEIA [diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility] offices on college campuses include Jewish students in mandatory training on discrimination and harassment? Is it up to us, as Jewish organizations, as activists in this field? Or are we going to see come the fall, greater recommendations on this particular piece of the plan, so we know what the roadmap and next steps are? Because without that, it seems like, you know, not as strong as maybe we would have hoped it would be.
Elana Broitman: In addition to what we’re all asking ourselves of, ‘How did the administration do with this strategy?’ I also look at it as an opportunity to have a real call to action that unites our community and all the various organizations. For the most part, we are quite united, and so it’s an opportunity to double down on everything that we’re talking about and to bring on the education piece. So glad that University of Vermont, where Ken did wonders, was mentioned. We know there are other campuses where there’s an enormous, enormous problem, and we also know that that has metastasized down to the high schools and even middle schools, and it is good that that is mentioned. And I see that, I’m not trying to be simply overly hopeful, but I see that as a real opportunity for all of us to use that to continue to press forward. Younger kids are even more vulnerable than college students, obviously, when they enter an environment where they feel unwelcome, and that can happen for so many different reasons: legislative reasons, leadership in the schools, a lack of action when something happens. There have been some horrific examples that I won’t go into detail on here, so I think that it’s really important that the strategy includes the younger-stage schools as well, so that we can leverage that in our advocacy.