Hoenlein criticizes Biden antisemitism strategy at CUFI conference

In speech to conservative audience, former Conference of Presidents CEO Malcolm Hoenlein breaks with the organization’s official position on the White House report


Malcolm Hoenlein (right), executive vice chairman, and William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Malcolm Hoenlein, the longtime leader of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, sharply criticized the Biden administration over its strategy to combat antisemitism in a speech at the Christians United for Israel conference in Arlington, Va., on Monday.

“I welcome the fact that the administration has issued a policy paper on antisemitism and directed all agencies to develop plans,” said Hoenlein, the organization’s vice chair and its former CEO. “But it’s not enough to develop plans. I want to know what the implementation will be.”

Hoenlein was particularly critical of the administration’s unwillingness to unequivocally embrace the mainstream International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism — which declares certain types of anti-Israel rhetoric to be antisemitic — while welcoming an alternative Nexus definition that declares that double standards targeting Israel are not inherently antisemitic.

“I regret that the document did not adopt the IHRA definition. It endorsed [it] but it also endorsed a Nexus definition, which is very unhelpful and waters down the actual definition of antisemitism. So much so that the terrorist-backed CAIR [Council on American-Islamic Relations] issued a statement welcoming the document,” said Hoenlein, the former CEO of the Conference of Presidents.

“But because they did not adopt [IHRA] and because they accepted the Nexus definition, CAIR feels they now have a license to say that anti-Zionism was not ruled to be antisemitism as it [says] in the IHRA definition,” he added.

Current COP leadership, and many other mainstream Jewish organizations, have embraced the administration’s strategy, and framed it as an endorsement of IHRA. “We wholeheartedly applaud the Biden Administration’s continuing embrace of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism,” current CEO William Daroff and then-chair Dianne Lob said in a statement when the plan was released.

CAIR was included among other organizations in a fact sheet that listed groups as stakeholders in the fight against antisemitism. The fact sheet was released alongside the official U.S. national strategy to counter antisemitism.

Many Jewish advocacy organizations have expressed concern about CAIR’s inclusion, given the history of the organization’s leaders defending Hamas and condemning Zionist groups as an “enemy,” to cite a few prominent examples. 

White House officials have largely avoided discussing Israel or Zionism since the strategy’s release in May. 

In his remarks at CUFI, Hoenlein also called the recent Biden administration decision to halt funding to academic institutions in the West Bank a “boycott,” and called on the administration to end the policy. 

State Department officials have emphasized that the policy is a return to a long-standing U.S. policy not to fund cooperative research projects with West Bank universities. Former President Donald Trump overturned that restriction in 2020.

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