Shelley Berkley sounds the alarm on antisemitism across the political spectrum
Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) left politics nearly a decade ago. In that time, she has seen antisemitism increasingly consume elements of the political right — and is concerned that the same thing could happen in her own party. In her new role as the co-chair of the Jewish Federations of North America’s security and antisemitism committee, she wants to address the issue head-on.
“If you look at the right, they are as antisemitic as the Nazis,” Berkley, who represented Nevada’s first congressional district from 1999 to 2013, remarked in an interview with Jewish Insider on Thursday. “When you look to the left, there are Democrats on the far left that are just as hateful and antisemitic as on the right.”
“It upsets and angers me that there is a segment of the Democratic Party that is not only anti-Israel, but from their rhetoric there is no other conclusion than they are antisemitic,” she said. “It worries me on the left that mainstream Democrats are not taking a stand against the antisemitic, pro-BDS rhetoric coming out of the left,” she said, referring to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that targets Israel.
Candidates aligned with the Democratic Socialists of America, which supports BDS, recently won control of the Democratic Party apparatus in Berkley’s home state.
As co-chair of the JFNA committee that leads the federations’ advocacy, education and training efforts fighting antisemitism and securing Jewish institutions, Berkley is attuned to the growing threats facing the community.
Berkley said she plans to actively oppose legislation like a recent bill from Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) that would place restrictions on U.S. aid and any BDS initiatives, as well as to support the National Security Grant Program and bills promoting Holocaust education.
“These issues are very important to me,” Berkley said, adding that she sees her new position with JFNA as a complement to her job as the chief executive officer and senior provost of Touro University’s Western Division.
As a legislator, Berkley was actively involved in Jewish community issues and was known as one of the most prominent pro-Israel members of Congress. Berkley left the House for an unsuccessful bid for Senate, later joining Touro.
Berkley said that right-wing antisemitism “once was a fringe” but is “becoming far more mainstream on the right,” pointing to incidents like the January 6 Capitol riot and the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va.
“Now, members of the Republican [Party in] Congress do not want to investigate that insurrection. The only conclusion is that they agree with it,” Berkley said, “or they would be far more anxious to get to the bottom of how that happened and ensure it never happens again.”
Berkley also reflected on the legacy of another major figure in Nevada and pro-Israel politics, Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who died earlier this year.
Berkley and Adelson had a long and complicated relationship — she was a high-ranking lawyer for the casino mogul in the ‘90s, but the two split over a union dispute, and Adelson ultimately dedicated significant resources to her political opponents. A 2012 Politico article during Berkley’s Senate run described the two as “mortal foes.”
“One must give credit where credit is due. Some of the issues that came to the forefront under the Trump administration — moving the embassy to Jerusalem, which I have always supported, and initiating the Abraham Accords — I suspect came from Sheldon,” Berkley said. “Sheldon and Trump were very close allies. And I know that Sheldon had Trump’s ear. So I applaud those initiatives.”
Berkley praised the Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and several Arab states, as “a miraculous step forward,” which she hopes is expanded further.
“Imagine that region in the world if there was cooperation… Everyone will be better off for it,” Berkley said. “It makes absolutely no sense to continue these petty hatreds and refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist. I don’t want to shock anybody in the Arab world, but Israel exists and it’s flourishing.”
The former congresswoman said she has confidence that President Joe Biden and his foreign policy team will continue to support the U.S.’s close alliance with Israel and create opportunities for Middle East peace.
“President Biden has been in public office at the forefront of foreign affairs for his entire career and almost his entire life… He has assembled a great foreign policy team,” she said. “As our most reliable ally and the only democracy in the Middle East, it is essential that Israel remain strong. And while they are certainly self-sustaining, it is the most important alliance in the world, the American-Israeli relationship.”
Progressive reps push antisemitism definitions that allow for increased criticism of Israel
A group of progressive House Democrats plans to encourage Secretary of State Tony Blinken to consider alternatives to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism, suggesting two definitions that allow for broader criticism of Israel.
A draft of a letter to Blinken obtained by Jewish Insider, which is being led by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and has been signed by Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI), Andy Levin (D-MI), Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), urges Blinken to “consider multiple definitions of antisemitism, including two new definitions that have been formulated and embraced by the Jewish community,” pointing to the Nexus Document and the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism.
The IHRA definition, first developed in the mid-aughts by a collective of government officials and subject experts, was used as guidance by successive Republican and Democratic administrations dating back to the George W. Bush administration, and codified by a 2019 executive order from former President Donald Trump. The push to codify the definition was born out of a 2014 meeting in then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) office.
While there is some overlap between the two more recent definitions and the IHRA working definition of antisemitism — which has been adopted by dozens of countries, many of them European — both the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism, a majority of whose signatories are academics, and the Nexus Document, which was authored by U.S.-based academics, allow more space for criticism of Israel. The Jerusalem Declaration describes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement as “not, in and of themselves, antisemitic.”
The Nexus Document pushes back on the idea — included in some of the IHRA definition’s associated examples — that applying double standards to Israel is inherently antisemitic. The Nexus Document argues instead 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.” The Jerusalem Declaration similarly argues that boycotts of Israel are not inherently antisemitic.
“While the IHRA definition can be informative, in order to most effectively combat antisemitism, we should use all of the best tools at our disposal,” the letter argues. The letter will remain open for signatures until Tuesday.
Left-wing Jewish groups, including J Street, have been vocal about their concerns with the IHRA definition.
Abe Foxman, the former director of the Anti-Defamation League who led the organization while the IHRA definition was being developed, argued that this criticism stems from disagreements with Israeli policy, rather than legitimate issues with the IHRA definition itself.
“The common denominator of all the groups who don’t like the current definition are groups that have issues with Israel,” Foxman said. “[The IHRA definition] included a new dimension of antisemitism which was anti-Israel and anti-Zionism because in the last 20 years or so, antisemitism metastasized to use Israel as a euphemism for attacking Jews.”
In a letter to the American Zionist Movement in February, Blinken said that the Biden administration “enthusiastically embraces” the IHRA definition, indicating that efforts to implement alternative definitions may struggle to gain traction at the State Department.
Foxman told JI that he is concerned that considering other definitions of antisemitism, as Schakowsky’s letter urges, would “water down” the State Department’s efforts to fight antisemitism and could also lead the range of other governments and private institutions that have adopted the IHRA definition to reconsider doing so.
Other House Democrats have defended the IHRA definition in the past and its adoption by the federal government. In a 2019 Times of Israel op-ed, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) urged the government to adopt the IHRA definition as “an important tool to guide our government’s response to antisemitism.”
“Opponents of this definition argue that it would encroach on Americans’ right to freedom of speech,” Deutch wrote. “But this definition was drafted not to regulate free speech or punish people for expressing their beliefs, however hateful they may be. It would not suddenly make it illegal to tweet denial of the Holocaust or go on television accusing Jews of being more loyal to Israel than the United States. But it would identify those views as anti-Semitic.”
In January, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations adopted the IHRA definition, and it has the support of major mainstream Jewish organizations including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.
Read the full text of the letter here:
Dear Secretary Blinken:
We write to thank you and the entire Biden Administration for your commitment to fighting against the rising threat of antisemitism, both globally, and here in the United States. We applaud your prioritization of combatting this ancient hatred. In carrying out this critical work, we urge you to consider multiple definitions of antisemitism, including two new definitions that have been formulated and embraced by the Jewish community.
In 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), of which the United States is a member, adopted a non-legally binding definition of antisemitism. The Department of State began using this working definition at this time. In September of 2018, the Trump Administration announced that it was expanding the use of the IHRA definition to the Department of Education. This was followed by the 2019 “White House Executive Order on Combatting Antisemitism” that formally directed federal agencies to consider the IHRA working definition and contemporary examples of antisemitism in enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
While the IHRA definition can be informative, in order to most effectively combat antisemitism, we should use all of the best tools at our disposal. Recently, two new definitions have been introduced that can and should be equally considered by the State Department and the entire Administration. The first is the Nexus Document, drafted by the Nexus Task Force, “which examines the issues at the nexus of antisemitism and Israel in American politics.” The Task Force is a project of the Knight Program on Media and Religion at the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism at USC. The definition is designed as a guide for policymakers and community leaders as they grapple with the complexities at the intersection of Israel and antisemitism.
Another valuable resource is the recently released Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA). The JDA is a tool to identify, confront and raise awareness about antisemitism as it manifests in countries around the world today. It includes a preamble, definition, and a set of 15 guidelines that provide detailed guidance for those seeking to recognize antisemitism in order to craft responses. It was developed by a group of scholars in the fields of Holocaust history, Jewish studies, and Middle East studies to meet what has become a growing challenge: providing clear guidance to identify and fight antisemitism while protecting free expression.
These two efforts are the work of hundreds of scholars and experts in the fields of antisemitism, Israel and Middle East Policy, and Jewish communal affairs, and have been helpful to us as we grapple with these complex issues. We believe that the Administration should, in addition to the IHRA definition, consider these two important documents as resources to help guide your thinking and actions when addressing issues of combatting antisemitism.
Once again, we thank you and President Biden for prioritizing this important matter and urge you to use all tools at your disposal to combat the threat of antisemitism.
Ritchie Torres vows to prevent the ‘Corbynization’ of progressive politics
Freshman Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) cautioned about the rise of antisemitism in progressive politics during a wide-ranging conversation in the inaugural episode of Jewish Insider’s “Limited Liability Podcast,” hosted by Rich Goldberg and Jarrod Bernstein.
Torres, who describes himself as “the embodiment of a pro-Israel progressive,” said he is mindful of anti-Israel elements within the Democratic Party that have the ability to turn antisemitic. “We have an obligation to combat antisemitism no matter where it emerges, whether it’s from the right, from the left. It has to be fought at every turn and in every form,” he said.
“My concern is that the pro-BDS left could be to the Democratic Party in American politics what Jeremy Corbyn has been to the Labour Party in British politics,” Torres cautioned. “It only takes a few demagogues to pump antisemitic poison into the bloodstream of a political party. And so I see it as my mission to resist the Jeremy Corbynization of progressive politics in the United States.”
Torres, a freshman representing New York’s 15th congressional district, addressed his hard-fought primary victory, which pitted him against a diverse group of Democratic candidates, from the conservative Rubén Díaz, Sr. to Democratic socialist Samelys López, who had the backing of high-profile progressive leaders and groups.
“New York City has become ground zero for Democratic socialism. In the latest election cycle, the [Democratic Socialists of America] won every single race in which it endorsed, except mine,” noted Torres, who on Thursday endorsed New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang.
“I had powerful forces arrayed against me — I had Bernie Sanders, [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez], the [Working Families Party], the DSA, all endorsed Samelys López against me. And not only did I win, but I won decisively,” Torres said of his primary victory. “And I sent a powerful message that you can run as a pro-Israel, pragmatic progressive without catering to the extremes and you can win decisively in a place like the South Bronx.”
“Limited Liability Podcast” is a new weekly podcast for readers of Jewish Insider. Hear from the key players generating buzz and making headlines in conversation with two top political operatives, Jarrod Bernstein and Rich Goldberg. One Democrat, one Republican. Both hosts have extensive experience in the political arena and a deep rolodex to match. It’s Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff brought to life.
Inside the 11th-hour passage of the bill elevating the U.S. antisemitism envoy
A bill elevating the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism to the rank of ambassador passed Congress on Thursday, nearly two years after first being introduced. Prior to its passage, the legislation appeared to stall in the Senate, raising concerns in the final days of the 116th Congress that legislators might have had to start over in the new Congress.
The House of Representatives first passed its version of the bill on Jan. 11, 2019. But — despite broad bipartisan support for the legislation — procedural issues bogged down the bill once it reached the Senate.
Several proponents of the bill both inside and outside Congress told JI that they believed the bill was going to die in the Senate, forcing a reset in the new session of Congress, which began January 3. This characterization was disputed by other Hill staffers and activists who had been communicating with senators to advance the legislation.
“I wouldn’t say it was dead, but it needed outside help,” a Republican aide told JI.
The bill was hampered by a dispute over whether to pass an amended version of the House bill or an identical bill that originated in the Senate, according to two Senate aides familiar with the bill, as well as American Jewish Congress President Jack Rosen.
Rosen, who spoke to several senators in an effort to move the bill forward, said Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) preferred to pass the bill as a Senate measure. Menendez did not respond to a request for comment.
Backers of the legislation told JI that Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) was critical to clearing the roadblocks that stood in the way of the bill’s passage.
“Rosen became incredibly engaged and helpful,” a Senate Republican aide familiar with the bill told JI. Both Senate staffers familiar with the bill said that the senator had aggressively pushed colleagues to pass the legislation.
“Senator Rosen… moved this up in her agenda and began to push her colleagues,” Karen Barall, director of government relations for Hadassah, told JI. “She was very effective in ensuring this was understood to be an important measure. Without her, this would not have passed the Senate.”
Rosen told JI she was pleased that the bill passed through both chambers by unanimous consent — a procedure used to expedite legislation without requiring a formal vote. “In the Senate, I was able to build on my bipartisan record of working with colleagues to fight antisemitism by ensuring this critically important bill was brought to the floor and passed,” she said.
The Senate passed the bill on December 16, leaving a narrow window for the House to pass the amended bill and send it to the president’s desk before the end of the 116th Congress.
To ensure the bill made it through the House, supporters had to contend with a chamber focused on urgent debates over government funding and COVID-19 relief payments, as well as disputes between Republican and Democratic leadership, generating concerns that the bill would not make it back through the House before the end of session.
“The issue that came up was not a substantive issue related to the text of the legislation, but rather they got caught up in Republican and Democratic food fight over other issues,” a pro-Israel activist involved in discussions about the bill said.
In addition to Rosen and the bill’s lead sponsors in the House, Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Brad Schneider (D-IL), a number of Jewish advocacy organizations joined the effort, including the Anti-Defamation League, Hadassah, the Orthodox Union, American Jewish Congress, American Jewish Committee, Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
“After the Senate voted, there was very little time for the House leadership to act and major legislation — the NDAA, the omnibus, COVID relief — were understandably top priorities for House leadership,” said Barall. “Hadassah and other organizations made an aggressive push to get this done though, and send the bill to the president.”
The pro-Israel activist who asked not to be named credited Smith and Schneider for winning the support of their respective parties’ leaders to allow the bill to pass by unanimous consent on December 31.
Assuming President Donald Trump signs the bill, President-elect Joe Biden will become the first president to nominate a special envoy on antisemitism for Senate confirmation, although it will likely take time before he announces a pick for the spot, and even longer for the nominee to be confirmed.
Trump took 23 months to nominate the current special envoy, Elan Carr, for the position. An individual involved in discussions over the bill told JI that he expects an extended delay to fill the slot, noting that Senate-confirmed nominees face a more expansive background check process, and must go through the lengthy confirmation process, which can take months.
Given that Biden still has yet to nominate some Cabinet secretaries and a range of other high-level appointees that will require Senate confirmation, it’s unlikely the president-elect will name his pick for the position before his inauguration on January 20, the source added.
Among the names said to be under consideration by the Biden transition team are former ADL national director Abe Foxman, past envoy Ira Forman, Emory University professor and noted Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt, University of California, Berkeley professor Ethan Katz and ADL senior vice president of international affairs Sharon Nazarian. Foxman and Katz declined to comment to JI. Lipstadt did not respond to a request for comment.
Nazarian confirmed to JI she has spoken to members of the Biden transition team about the role and is submitting a formal application. She posited that her experience at ADL, as well as her personal experiences as an Iranian-born Jew, uniquely qualify her to expand and advance the special envoy’s office.
“My number one mission every day… is to advocate and to monitor and to educate, and to train as many people, stakeholders, government officials, as I can to first of all, make them aware of the threat of global antisemitism, and how it manifests in our lives today,” Nazarian said. “I feel like I’m well-positioned both as a practitioner of this work, as someone who’s led a very large team at ADL at the senior executive level, and also [as] someone who’s lived it through my own intersectional identity.”
Nazarian argued that the special envoy’s office, to date, has not taken a sufficiently modern or forward-looking approach to antisemitism, and has relied too heavily on 20th-century understandings of and approaches to global antisemitism.
Forman, who served as special envoy under former President Barack Obama from 2013 to the end of Obama’s term, declined to say if he was in consideration for the slot, but told JI, “I know there are a number of highly qualified people who could undertake this critical work and I am confident the Biden team will make an excellent choice.”
Senate votes to upgrade antisemitism special envoy to ambassador status
The Senate passed a bipartisan bill by unanimous consent on Wednesday night which upgrades the status of the State Department special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism. The bill now goes to the House for a final vote.
Under the new bill, the special envoy would become an ambassador-level position requiring Senate confirmation.
Per the terms of the legislation, the special envoy — a position currently held by former Los Angeles County deputy district attorney Elan Carr — would be the primary advisor and coordinator for U.S. government efforts to monitor and combat antisemitism abroad.
“I welcome the passage of this important bipartisan bill that will ensure that the U.S. remains a leader in the fight against antisemitism worldwide,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), one of the legislation’s original cosponsors, said in a statement. “I commend my Senate colleagues for passing this legislation, and look forward to the House quickly passing it and sending it to the president to be signed into law.”
The bill’s other original cosponsors were Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO).
In her own statement, Rosen said, “To equip the State Department to better address rising antisemitism, it is critical that we elevate the role of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism to Ambassador-at-Large,” and that the bill will ensure “that the United States remains a leader in combating anti-Semitism internationally and has the tools needed to track and respond to this growing scourge.”
Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Patty Murray (D-WA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Ed Markey (D-MA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) signed on as cosponsors after the bill was introduced.
The House passed a version of the bill, introduced by Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Brad Schneider (D-IL) and Eliot Engel (D-NY), in January of 2019 by a vote of 411 to 1 — Libertarian Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI) was the only representative to vote against the legislation.
Rubio, Gillibrand, Engel and Smith introduced similar legislation during the 115th Congress, but it did not pass the Senate during the previous term.
Outside advocates applauded the Senate for passing the legislation, with Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt calling it “an important step today to ensure that our government can better fight rising antisemitism around the world.”
American Jewish Committee Director of International Jewish Affairs Rabbi Andrew Baker concurred, saying the bill “will enable the U.S. to enhance our leadership addressing the scourge of antisemitism across the globe.”
Orthodox Union Executive Director for Public Policy Nathan Diament said in a separate statement, “With the passage of this legislation, the Senate is providing powerful new tools to the State Department to lead impactful international efforts to combat what has been aptly called ‘the world’s oldest form of hatred’ and roll back the tide of anti-Jewish hate.”
NY AG: New hate crime stats undercount antisemitism
Recently released statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation — indicating the highest number of antisemitic hate crimes in a decade — “severely” undercounted the number of incidents, New York Attorney General Letitia James said on Monday.
James and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost joined a webcast hosted by the American Jewish Committee to discuss the release of the FBI’s annual hate crimes report, which found that hate crimes targeting the Jewish community had increased by 14% in 2019.
James said she questioned the accuracy of the data, suggesting that underreporting from both local law enforcement and the impacted communities themselves led to a lower number.
The New York attorney general — who described herself as an “honorary member of the Orthodox community,” having represented Crown Heights in the New York City Council for 10 years — sees the latter issue as a particular problem in what she called the “insular” Orthodox Jewish community.
“Going forward, obviously we’ve got to do a better job, particularly in the Orthodox community,” she said. “We’ve got to inform them and educate them and encourage them with respect to reporting these crimes.”
Yost agreed that underreporting is an issue for many categories of crimes, not just hate crimes, but noted that the victims of hate crimes are more than statistics laid out in data.
“We’re talking about hate crimes. That’s measured one life at a time. One case file at a time. This doesn’t happen to X number of people, it happens to one person… Someone who’s going to carry that trauma with them, the rest of their lives,” he said. “As much as I care about the data, it’s not the numbers that move me, it’s the stories.”
The Ohio attorney general criticized New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for his particularly stringent enforcement of coronavirus mitigation measures in Orthodox Jewish communities.
“When you single out a particular group and other similarly situated groups are not called out, I think you’re really sending a subtle message that helps to create a fertile seed bed for antisemitism or for racism or what have you,” Yost said.
James and Yost diverged on recent discussions and protests over police accountability. While James saw them as a potential step toward rebuilding trust between citizens and the police — thereby increasing reporting of hate crimes — Yost painted a darker picture.
“The notion of law enforcement being a tool of the popular will frightens me and… it should frighten every American who knows anything about history,” he said. “The Holocaust, the things that happened in Nazi Germany were popularly supported. Law enforcement famously looked by while lynchings occurred in the South. Why? Because it was popularly supported… I’m really concerned that in our rush to make policing more responsive in some communities, that we risk unleashing the genie from the bottle.”
Eric Fingerhut weighs in on the election and next steps for pandemic relief
While Americans anxiously awaited the outcome of the presidential election, Eric Fingerhut, CEO and president of the Jewish Federations of North America and a former U.S. representative, called on the next administration and Congress to provide additional pandemic relief to “ailing non-profits” and increase funding for non-profit organizations’ security needs.
In an interview with Jewish Insider, Fingerhut — who represented Ohio’s 19th congressional district from 1993 to 1995 — said that at a time of deep divisions, he views the way that North America’s 146 Jewish federations function as a model for all Americans.
“Leaders of our community, many members of JFNA’s board and at most federations, are on both sides of this election,” he said. “This has always been the case.”
On Tuesday night, past JFNA board chair Kathy Manning flipped a redistricted House seat and will represent North Carolina’s 6th congressional district as a Democrat. Detroit oil and real estate magnate Max Fisher, a major philanthropist to Jewish causes until his death in 2005 and a member of JFNA’s board, served as an advisor to Republican presidents on Israel and Jewish concerns. Current JFNA board chair Mark Wilf, who co-owns the Milwaukee Bucks franchise, is a longtime Democratic donor who in March contributed $21,250 to the Biden Victory Fund.
“We have always had people on both sides of the political aisle, and always been a model of how we’ve worked together on matters of common concern for Jewish life, Israel and the Jewish people around the world,” said Fingerhut. “We have maintained that unity on that common agenda even as we’ve disagreed politically and worked against each other vigorously. We will continue to, no matter the outcome of this election.”
Fingerhut also noted that the Jewish community is “disproportionately deeply engaged in the civic affairs of the United States as candidates, campaign workers and as supporters of the democratic process, like as poll workers.” The community’s effort, he said, “reflects both our caring for the health and welfare of the country and our appreciation for the unbelievable welcoming and prosperity and success the Jewish community has achieved in this open, democratic society.”
JFNA has representatives in Washington who lobby Congress and the administration on a wide range of issues, including funding for human services — most Jewish federations fund or manage facilities for senior citizens and the mentally and physically disabled — but usually refrains from commenting on specific policies. Earlier this year, the organization worked with the Orthodox Union, the Union for Reform Judaism, Agudath Israel of America, the Anti-Defamation League and other groups to push legislators to provide relief to faith-based charities and religious nonprofits struggling from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fingerhut was hopeful that the next president will sign into law the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, and ensure that Medicaid and Medicare programs are extended.
Fingerhut was quick to point out that today’s political climate bears resemblance to other tumultuous times in modern American history.
His 2004 run for Senate coincided with former President George W. Bush’s campaign for a second term, and the country, he said, was terribly split over the Iraq war. His state, Ohio, a swing state, was “deeply divided. The rhetoric was very acute.”
“We have had very close elections in our recent past, have been very divided over very contentious issues, and we’ve gotten through,” Fingerhut told JI, adding that Jewish values have something to teach all of America at this tense time.
“One of the things we have in our Jewish tradition is a commitment to civility and respect for differences of opinion. We need to exemplify that in our own behavior, and insist on it in others in public life.”
Former Labour leader Corbyn suspended from party
Former U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was suspended by the party on Thursday for rejecting the findings of a long-awaited report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) that found “unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination for which the Labour Party is responsible.”
The report detailed numerous instances of unlawful behavior, examining at least 70 complaints of antisemitism made since 2016.
In a press conference following the release, current Labour leader Keir Starmer accepted the findings, calling the report “comprehensive, rigorous and thoroughly professional.” Apologizing to the Jewish community, Starmer admitted: “I found this report hard to read and it is a day of shame for the Labour Party… On behalf of the Labour Party, I am truly sorry for all the pain and grief that has been caused.”
The EHRC report, which concluded the party “at best, did not do enough to prevent antisemitism and, at worst, could be seen to accept it,” directed a series of changes to Labour’s reporting and investigation process. Under U.K. law, the mandates of the non-departmental government agency are legally enforceable.
In a statement, Gideon Falter, CEO of the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), which submitted one of the first complaints to the EHRC, called the report “groundbreaking.”
“The EHRC’s report utterly vindicates Britain’s Jews who were accused of lying and exaggerating, acting as agents of another country and using their religion to ‘smear’ the Labour Party. In an unprecedented finding, it concludes that those who made such accusations broke the law and were responsible for illegal discrimination and harassment,” Falter continued. “The debate is over. Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour Party became institutionally antisemitic. It drove almost half of British Jews to consider leaving the country.”
In addition to finding a persistent culture accepting antisemitism, the report found that the party had a “practice or policy of Political Interference” in responding to internal reports of antisemitism. This included efforts to “smear” complaints as fake, incidents which the EHRC found to have violated the Equality Act of 2010.
Complaints of antisemitism first emerged not long after Corbyn’s election as Labour leader in 2015. A left-leaning longtime backbencher, Corbyn rose swiftly through the party’s ranks following the resignation of former leader Ed Milliband. The allegations of antisemitism continued through Corbyn’s time as opposition leader, resulting in the resignation of numerous high-ranking Labour MPs, who accused him of harboring antisemitic views and protecting others accused of antisemitism. The controversy was a major campaign issue during the 2019 parliamentary election, which Labour lost. Corbyn eventually resigned following Labour’s landslide defeat.
Starmer, who previously served in Corbyn’s shadow government, skirted calls to punish the former party leader after succeeding him earlier this year. On Thursday, Starmer, in response to repeated media questions, again refused to criticize his predecessor, calling the findings of the EHRC a “collective failure of leadership.”
Corbyn, however, appeared far less accommodating. In a statement released on Facebook, Corbyn — while denouncing antisemitism — claimed “the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media.”
The comment appeared to be the last straw for the Labour leaders who were already found by the EHRC to have unlawfully smeared and minimized complaints of antisemitism. Shortly after Starmer finished answering media questions — and reportedly after the Labour leadership failed to persuade Corbyn to retract his statement — a party spokesperson announced the suspension of the former leader pending an investigation.
The suspension sent shockwaves across the U.K. and U.S., where progressive politicians, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), had previously praised Corbyn. Neither Sanders or Ocasio-Cortez responded to a request for comment, but shortly after news of the suspension, the Democratic Socialist Party, of which the New York representative is a member, tweeted a message of support for Corbyn.
In his remarks, Starmer urged Jewish Labour members, including Louise Ellman and Luciana Berger, to return to the party after having been “driven out.” Neither Ellman nor Berger, who acknowledged speaking personally with Starmer, indicated if they would rejoin the party.
In a statement, Ellman called the report “devastating.” Calling for the party to create an independent investigations system and adopt the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism, the former MP added, “It is only by facing up to the enormity of what has happened and adopting these measures that the Labour party can be a safe place for Jewish people and a truly anti-racist party.”
Twitter CEO dismisses Ayatollah’s threats to Israel as ‘saber-rattling’
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sparred with Republican lawmakers over his company’s decision to permit tweets from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calling for the destruction of Israel and denying the Holocaust at a raucous Senate committee hearing on Wednesday.
During the Commerce, Science, and Transportation committee hearing, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) pressed Dorsey on why Twitter had not taken action against tweets from Khamenei threatening Israel. The Twitter founder responded that the company does not see the tweets as an immediate threat to Israel or its citizens’ safety.
“We did not find those to violate our terms of service because we considered them saber-rattling, which is part of the speech of world leaders in concert with other countries,” Dorsey said. “Speech against… a country’s own citizens, we believe, is different and can cause more immediate harm.”
Dorsey’s explanation echoes a letter from the company sent to Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen earlier this year.
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt disputed Dorsey’s argument.
“Whether ostensibly aimed at Jews or Israel, his rhetoric is more than saber-rattling — it is antisemitism, pure and simple,” Greenblatt said in a statement. “We firmly believe that Twitter needs to apply its policy on hate speech against Khamenei as it would against anyone else who espouses antisemitism. His position is irrelevant when he is spouting prejudice — if anything, it makes his hate even more consequential.”
In response to a query from Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) over the company placing misinformation warnings on some tweets sent by President Donald Trump while allowing Khamenei’s tweets, Dorsey emphasized that Twitter does not have an overarching policy against misinformation or against Holocaust denial.
“It’s misleading information, but we don’t have a policy against that type of misleading information,” Dorsey said, specifying that the platform only bans misleading information relating to the coronavirus and voting, as well as manipulated media.
But Greenblatt highlighted that Twitter told Bloomberg earlier this month that it would remove Holocaust denial content under the company’s hate speech policy.
“Jack Dorsey’s statement today was confusing, because it appears to be in opposition to his company’s publicly stated policy and policy rationale regarding Holocaust denial,” Greenblatt said. “Twitter should clarify that their policy is that Holocaust denial is not just a form of misinformation, but an antisemitic conspiracy theory that is used to spread hatred of Jews.”
A Twitter spokesperson told JI that Holocaust denial is banned on the platform, and that the Bloomberg article was correct.
“Our Hateful Conduct Policy prohibits a wide range of behavior, including making references to violent events or types of violence where protected categories were the primary victims, or attempts to deny or diminish such events,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We also have a robust glorification of violence policy in place and take action against content that glorifies or praises historical acts of violence and genocide, including the Holocaust.”
Twitter did not respond to a question from JI about why Khamenei’s tweets about the Holocaust were not removed or labeled under this policy.
This post was updated on Friday, Oct. 30 to include a response from Twitter.
Facebook content policy chief explains Holocaust denial ban
Facebook’s recent decision to ban Holocaust denial content from its platform was prompted by an uptick in global antisemitism and antisemitic violence coupled with an increasing lack of awareness about the Holocaust, the social media company’s top policy staffer said on Wednesday.
“It’s that combination of these two factors… that prompted us to say we need to recognize this as hate speech and remove it from our services,” Monika Bickert, Facebook’s vice president of content policy, said during an American Jewish Committee webcast.
Bickert cautioned that, while Facebook began immediately removing Holocaust denial content when it announced the policy change on October 12, the company is still in the process of rolling out its subject-matter training for platform moderators.
The company will “be going full-force enforcing the policy” in the coming weeks, she added.
Greenblatt — who helped lead the “Stop Hate For Profit” campaign against Facebook — told Jewish Insider that officials at the social media platform “still have a long way to go” in reigning in Holocaust denial.
“One can still easily find pages on Facebook devoted to promoting Holocaust denial or raising questions about the veracity of Holocaust history,” Greenblatt said in a statement. “This is unacceptable, especially since they now have a policy that prohibits this form of hate speech. So there’s lots of room for improvement here.”
Responding to a question about the platform’s stance on anti-Zionist content, Bickert said the company is “taking input” from Jewish groups around the globe to decide where to draw the lines on content moderation, noting that regular meetings with Jewish groups are important to improving Facebook’s overall content moderation practices.
“We’ve increased our collaboration with groups like AJC and others who have direct relationships with stakeholders,” she said. “It’s us saying, ‘here’s how we’re thinking about this issue. Help us to know if we’re in the right place and to get better.’ And it’s those organizations saying, ‘here’s what we’re hearing from stakeholders.’”
Greenblatt said Facebook has not consulted with the ADL on this topic, adding that the company has not always been receptive to pressure and advice from outside groups.
“The fact that it took them this long to remove Holocaust denial, after Jewish organizations had been asking them to do so literally for more than a decade, doesn’t inspire much confidence in their ability to listen and take our concerns seriously,” he said. “Their efforts to try and better navigate these issues by consulting Jewish groups and others who fight hate is a crucial element of improving their platform, but too often it has been only surface level.”