America is experiencing a decades-high surge in antisemitic activity that is threatening all aspects of Jewish life. Our schools are becoming magnets for anti-Jewish hate speech, our synagogues are targeted by mass killers, and individual Jews are being singled out and harassed both in-person and online at unprecedented levels.
This means that what we as a country have been doing to counter this ancient – and current – hatred just isn’t enough. It’s not working. It requires a comprehensive rethink.
Fortunately, President Biden and his team at the White House have taken the plunge and developed a pathbreaking national strategy to counter antisemitism here in the United States. As Jews, we need to appreciate the significance of this moment, as it means that the US government is elevating its efforts to protect and support the Jewish community in a comprehensive manner and at a level never seen before.
Regrettably, there are some partisans who are venting their frustrations with the administration’s process, criticizing it for not 100% agreeing with their particular demands — if that was even, in fact, achievable. This maximalist demand misses the forest through the trees, as it’s the administration’s approach that will build the broadest possible network of support for the fight against antisemitism.
As someone who has worked in the Jewish community at multiple tables – both establishment and progressive ones, including at both the American Jewish Congress of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and at both J Street and the Bernie Sanders 2020 Campaign – I have witnessed firsthand the internal Jewish community debates about how to counter antisemitism.
Some of these groups, particularly those in the establishment, have been leading this fight for a century or longer. To them, we owe a humble debt of gratitude for their work to both protect us and counter hate overall in America. We must remember that for decades, the American Jewish fight against antisemitism was a lonely one, often facing tremendous pushback from American political leaders and a legal system that just didn’t pay heed. That is no longer the case, and it’s largely due to the efforts of the Jewish establishment, the backbone of the Jewish community.
But times are also different now in 2023. It’s no longer 1923 and our society has evolved into a more open, tolerant, and inclusive one for Jews than ever before. American Jews today, arguably, live the most free, prosperous, and safe lives of any Jewish community in the history of the world. We have not done this alone, but instead, in partnership with our allies in the US who are not Jewish.
That’s why the Biden Administration is getting it right in rolling out an inclusive strategy that empowers all parts of the Jewish community, as well as our non-Jewish partners and the government agencies with whom we must engage in this fight.
This strategy is the purest definition of an interagency product. While it was driven by the White House’s Domestic Policy Council and Homeland Security Advisor, it depended upon – actually, relied upon – multiple federal agencies to fill in the blanks. The Justice Department, Homeland Security Department, State Department, and others all played a significant role in developing this strategy, which is crucial, as they will be tasked with carrying it out.
I’ve worked in the Executive Branch of the federal government for both Democrats and Republicans. When it creates a strategy, its leaders know that they’ll only be successful if the strategy can be implemented. This is where the outreach conducted by the Biden Administration has been so crucial.
The administration, rather than relying on a narrow set of advocates and experts for external advice, decided to go big and to listen to a broad swath of the community that’s dedicated to fighting antisemitism. In all, more than 1,000 people shared their ideas with the administration about how to fight this scourge, virtually guaranteeing that when it comes time for the government to implement the strategy, there will be a broad set of external supporters to ensure that it happens.
If we’ve learned anything from the past century, it’s that forging such strong alliances both within and outside of the Jewish community are what it takes to win this fight. Fortunately, the Biden Administration gets this.
So, let’s be clear: the excellence of the Biden team’s effort is that it has found consensus on the overwhelming set of issues that must be tackled in the fight against antisemitism, as well as laid out a national strategy for how to tackle it. Its inclusive approach to developing this strategy is what will ensure the broadest support possible for the fight going forward.
This is crucial, because, after all, the fight against antisemitism does not belong to one faction or another. It’s a burden for us all.