The Biden administration in its long-awaited report on combating Jew hatred is making a concession to anti-Israel activists by embracing a watered-down definition of anti-Semitism that says it's OK to hold the Jewish state to higher standards than other countries.
The Thursday announcement is a significant blow to mainstream Jewish groups, which had lobbied the White House to exclusively endorse the stronger International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism. While the White House says the United States "has embraced" the IHRA definition, it also praises the conflicting "Nexus" definition, which states that it is not anti-Semitic to denounce Israel's creation or treat the Jewish state more harshly than other countries.
Anti-Israel groups such as J Street and Americans for Peace Now had pushed the White House to mention multiple definitions of anti-Semitism in the report to avoid giving legitimacy to the IHRA standard, which prominent Biden administration officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have endorsed. The Biden administration's report states there are "several definitions of anti-Semitism, which serve as valuable tools to raise awareness and increase understanding of anti-Semitism."
"The most prominent is the non-legally binding 'working definition' of anti-Semitism adopted in 2016 by the 31-member states of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which the United States has embraced," says the report. "In addition, the administration welcomes and appreciates the Nexus Document and notes other such efforts."
Advocates for the IHRA have argued that supporting the "Nexus" statement would undermine efforts to fight anti-Semitism and coalesce global leaders around a strong definition. Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said earlier this month that the IHRA definition "is THE indispensable tool for defining anti-Semitism. … No other definitions work."
But the Democratic-leaning ADL and Greenblatt appeared to fall in line with the White House's Thursday decision to include Nexus, writing on Twitter that they "applaud the [Biden] administration, and we are excited to continue to collaborate in the execution of this plan."
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations—which also lobbied for the IHRA definition—said on Thursday that the group "wholeheartedly applaud[s] the Biden administration's continuing embrace of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which is the most universally accepted definition of anti-Semitism."
But the decision to include dueling definitions drew criticism from other anti-Semitism watchdogs.
Liora Rez, executive director of StopAntisemitism.org, said the Biden administration "grossly missed its chance to make a clear statement on what constitutes anti-Semitism, and America's Jews will suffer as a result."
"Against the advice of major anti-Semitism advocacy organizations, the plan does not use the IHRA definition to delineate what counts as anti-Semitism, instead relegating it to a brief paragraph that also includes the inferior, competing Nexus definition," said Rez. "This flies in the face of the plan's assertion that 'if we cannot name, identify, and admit a problem, we cannot begin to solve it.'"
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, called the report an "important and impressive blueprint" but said he was concerned that the White House didn't enshrine IHRA in its definition of anti-Semitism.
"The fight against anti-Semitism cannot be a multiple-choice question," he said. "IHRA was, is, and remains the definition that needs to be adopted."
The White House said on Thursday that it is also partnering on the initiative with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has a long history of anti-Semitism. CAIR "will launch a tour to educate religious communities about steps they can take to protect their houses of worship from hate incidents" as part of the initiative to combat anti-Semitism, the White House said in a statement.