Kenneth L. Marcus, founder and chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, who served as Assistant US Secretary of Education for Civil Rights, and General Deputy Assistant US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, last week issued the following statement regarding President Joe Biden’s plan to fight antisemitism:
“President Biden has invested significant attention addressing record levels of antisemitism, and importantly and appropriately recognizing that Jewish Americans are facing discrimination based not only on our religion but also our ethnic and ancestral background. This is to be commended.
“The Biden administration has also forcefully embraced IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance), despite regretfully muddying the water by also acknowledging a lesser standard.
“Deeply troubling, however, is that the administration appears to be retreating from a longstanding commitment to issue regulations on combating antisemitism. Instead of issuing a new regulation that strengthens protections for Jewish students, the administration is promising only to issue informal guidance to remind institutions of their existing commitments.
In short, the rhetoric is very strong and the intent is good, but the substance doesn’t always measure up. There is a serious retreat from earlier commitments, and the implementation could be seriously flawed and rendered ineffective if this plan opens the door to using any definition of antisemitism other than IHRA.”
Last week, I warned that the White House was under intense pressure from the left to use the opportunity of declaring war on antisemitism to “trim” the broadly accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, and, in effect, to turn it against Zionism and Israel (Biden Under Pressure to Drop Anti-Zionist Clauses in IHRA’s Definition of Antisemitism).
As we do every time the subject of IHRA’s Definition of anti-Zionism as Antisemitism comes up, here are the “Zionist” clauses of the definition, which has been embraced around the world and is now under pushback by the administration:
- Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
- Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
- Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
- Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
- Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
- Holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the state of Israel.
According to Marcus, “The new plan retreats from the White House’s longstanding commitment to issue regulations strengthening the civil rights protections of Jewish students. Instead, the new strategy only proposes to remind institutions of their existing obligations. The Biden administration has repeatedly promised to issue Education Department regulations that apply the Executive Order on Combating Antisemitism. This rulemaking, which the White House recently postponed until December 2023, will be a much-needed response to antisemitism on college campuses. The White House’s failure to mention this crucial activity is deeply disappointing. Instead, the new strategy would apparently downgrade this important rulemaking to a Dear Colleague Letter with lesser legal status. This is an unfortunate reduction in the federal government’s commitment to admit Jewish students at a time when the White House acknowledges that they are under attack. It is not enough for the administration to remind institutions of their existing duties; instead, the administration should be moving the ball forward and strengthening these protections.
“In addition, the White House has unnecessarily muddied the waters by praising the Nexus Document, which is inconsistent with the national strategy’s stated goal of addressing all contemporary forms of antisemitism and which could undermine the proper and effective usage of IHRA. Use of any definition other than IHRA will enable the continued normalization of anti-Semitic hate and prevent uniform and effective enforcement measures to combat it. Indeed, the third pillar of the national strategy – reversing the normalization of antisemitism and countering antisemitism discrimination – relies on the ability to recognize and identify antisemitism. To that extent, the definition used to label anti-Semitic conduct is essential.”
There is some light in all this encroaching darkness, however: the Department of Education recently resolved a Brandeis Center complaint against the University of Vermont, highlighted in the Biden antisemitism plan, that recognized that Jewish students must be given the same protections as any other group, including when they face harassment based on Zionist identity. The Department is also currently investigating complaints filed by the Brandeis Center against the University of Illinois, Brooklyn College, and the University of Southern California (USC).
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is investigating a Brandeis Center employment discrimination complaint of antisemitism in the DEI program at Stanford University.