Time for Biden to issue executive order on antisemitism
With antisemitic incidents surging in the wake of the Gaza conflict, President Joe Biden issued a forceful condemnation. He tweeted, “The recent attacks on the Jewish community are despicable, and they must stop. I condemn this hateful behavior at home and abroad — it’s up to all of us to give hate no safe harbor.”
But that was weeks ago. So now the question is: what is he actually going to do about it? President Biden’s statement was bully-pulpit stuff. The moment calls for action.
The Anti-Defamation League found more than 17,000 messages on Twitter using some variation of “Hitler was right” in a week’s time, and the organization that advises U.S. Jewish communities on security recorded an 80 percent spike in antisemitic incidents last month alone. Jews have been physically assaulted in cities from coast to coast.
On college campuses, Jewish students are facing a tsunami of hate. The Louis D. Brandeis Center, which supports such students, is overwhelmed with an unprecedented volume of antisemitism reports even as COVID-closed campuses conclude their academic years.
Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) introduced a resolution condemning the recent massive increase in antisemitic violence and urging President Joe Biden to combat it. Rosen reports that over half the U.S. Senate has signed on.
Unfortunately, these recommendations are not enough. They urge Biden to do little more than what he is already required to do.
Nearly everyone urges Biden, as priority No. 1, to nominate a qualified ambassador to monitor and combat global antisemitism. But Biden is already required to do this under the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Act of 2019. Moreover, the antisemitism envoy addresses antisemitism overseas. The crisis that we now face is domestic.
Senators also urge Biden to advance Holocaust education and counter Holocaust denial. And well he should. But the federal government is also required to do this under the Never Again Education Act.
Nearly everyone urges Biden to fund the Nonprofit Security Grant Program of the Department of Homeland Security. This keeps synagogues, schools, and community centers safe from terrorist attack. This too is arguably required. It requires no policy change.
President Biden must do all of these things. But he should also do more and soon.
After all, Biden has boasted of having “consistently” made “combatting antisemitism, and fighting for social justice pillars of his decades-long career in public service.” Indeed, he campaigned for president on this promise.
Biden did not say that he does only the bare minimum to address antisemitism required by federal law. Nor that he would do so only when a crisis, coupled with congressional pressure, makes it impossible for him not to. He said that fighting antisemitism is a “pillar” of his public service.
So let us expect from President Biden the boldness that the occasion demands and his campaign promised.
To start with, President Biden should issue his own executive order on combating antisemitism. Jewish groups have asked Biden to retain President Donald Trump’s executive order on combating antisemitism. And so he should. But he should also write a new one, and it should be better than Trump’s.
Trump’s order codified legal protections for Jewish Americans and adopted the widely-embraced International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Anti-Semitism. This was critical. But not enough.
Biden’s order should establish an inter-agency task force to address antisemitism. It should be staffed by a high-level, dedicated White House coordinator.
The task force should develop best-practices for addressing antisemitism in academia and the workplace, as well as on the streets. It should include proactive enforcement initiatives to address antisemitism on college campuses and in the public schools.
Working with nongovernmental organizations, the task force should craft an analysis of the threat that antisemitism poses to the American people as, to their credit, Rosen and Lankford have also urged. To facilitate this, Biden a should expand the U.S. Education Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection so that it tracks incidents of antisemitic activity.
To be clear, President Biden should also follow the other primary recommendations that he has received from Congress and the organized Jewish community. To “give hate no safe harbor,” as Biden put it, requires no less. His administration should indeed improve Holocaust education, strengthen homeland security, and present timely nominations. But that is not enough. We must see from President Biden the vigorous whole-of-government approach that the moment requires, including proactive civil rights enforcement and expanded data-gathering.
Kenneth L. Marcus is Founder and Chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. He is served previously as U.S. Secretary of Education for Civil Rights (2018-2020), and he is the author of “The Definition of Anti-Semitism.”