CUNY School of Law commencement speaker Fatima Mohammed’s virulently antisemitic May 12 speech was a real-world test of the Biden administration’s new National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism.
Unfortunately, the administration failed the test. It did not act against Mohammed’s hate speech. As a result, copycats are emerging. For example, El Camino Community College commencement speaker Jana Abulaban openly said that her own antisemitic diatribe was inspired by Mohammed’s speech.
Confronting antisemitism is not easy. It occurs on both the left and the right and knows no color, national origin or religion. It can be expressed as open Jew-hatred or in euphemistic terms, as it is in anti-Zionist discourse.
The consensus definition of antisemitism, adopted by the U.S. State Department and over 40 nations, is the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Antisemitism, which includes antisemitism directed towards Israel.
It is curious, then, that in its strategy document, the Biden administration employed the term “embraced” instead of the more usual term “adopted” in regard to the IHRA definition. It then cited the Nexus Document’s definition of antisemitism, which contradicts the IHRA’s in regard to Israel. The administration further stated of the Nexus definition that it “welcomes and appreciates [it] as a valuable tool.”
The Nexus definition, however, provides cover for antisemitism instead of fighting it. It excuses antisemitic tropes like, for example, opposing the very existence of the State of Israel and advocating its elimination. It also specifically states that paying disproportionate attention to Israel and holding it to a double standard are not antisemitic.
The reaction to the strategy’s positive references to the Nexus definition by the likes of Al Jazeera, which declared that it neutered the IHRA definition, demonstrates how these references are seen by antisemites.
This may help explain the Biden administration’s failure to condemn Fatima Mohammed’s hate speech. It may also explain the reaction from the U.S. Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism, Deborah Lipstadt, which merely recited general principles, such as, “When Jews are targeted because of their beliefs … when Israel is singled out because of anti-Jewish hatred, that is antisemitism. And that is unacceptable.”
If the Biden administration had acted according to the IHRA definition it would have stridently condemned Mohammed’s speech as antisemitic. Unfortunately, the administration’s failure to act according to the IHRA definition effectively condoned the speech.
On June 11, Lipstadt addressed the issue of the inclusion of the Muslim-American organization CAIR—which has engaged in virulent antisemitism—as a “partner” in the White House’s antisemitism strategy.
She told the Jerusalem Post that “one can also step back and say, Okay, we’re going to judge you by what you say going forward. We’re going to evaluate what you do henceforth.”
The problem with this is that the strategy was unveiled on May 25. On May 31, CAIR issued a statement defending Mohammed’s hate speech. One must ask: Why didn’t Lipstadt call out CAIR for doing so and declare that it made them persona non grata in the fight against antisemitism?
Clearly, the attempt to enlist CAIR as a partner in fighting antisemitism has already failed. It was and is naïve to believe that CAIR and others who have promoted antisemitism could be included in the struggle against it. It is like a high school attempting to enlist a bully to police bullying. It cannot work.
If the Biden administration’s efforts to fight antisemitism are to have any credibility, it must make it clear that the IHRA definition and only the IHRA definition has been adopted. It must also publicly condemn Fatima Mohammed’s antisemitic hate speech and CAIR’s support for it. Finally, it must dump CAIR as a “partner” and be clear about why it is doing so.
Members of Congress like Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) and Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) who have condemned Mohammed’s hate speech have demonstrated that doing what is right is possible. Their overwhelming bipartisan victory in passing the Abraham Accords Special Envoy legislation in the House of Representatives is another excellent example.
The next step would be for the entire U.S. government and all 50 states to adopt the IHRA definition as the law of the land in order to combat antisemitism wherever it may be found.
Moreover, the federal government has the power to appoint a federal monitor to oversee enforcement of laws like Executive Order 13899 (Combating Anti-Semitism) and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It should appoint such a monitor immediately.
We cannot afford to lose this fight. The Biden administration must act to root out the systemic and institutionalized antisemitism that has infected our universities and other institutions of American society.
It is therefore imperative for the administration to explicitly adopt the IHRA definition and enforce it. That is a real strategy and, hopefully, it will succeed.