Opinion: Inviting Arsonists to Fight Fires: A National Strategy Gone Awry

By Israel B. Bitton

There is much to laud in the Biden administration’s “U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism,” curiously released hours before Shavuos started—any P.R. professional will tell you that releasing news right before Shabbos or Yom Tov is a surefire way to ensure it won’t trend as widely in the critical 24-48 hour period following its release, making the administration’s timing rather curious. 

Timing is everything, but substance matters too. The action plan, at 60 pages long, is impressive in its breadth and depth, especially its emphasis on activating a “whole-of-government” and “whole-of-society” effort. Almost every good idea that can possibly be conceived of by the professionals working on this issue has been included. 

The Biden administration’s commitment to education as a keystone remedy to ignorant hatred is readily apparent, going so far as recognizing how “[t]here is inadequate research on antisemitism and methods to counter it” and, therefore, “the federal government will advance a research agenda on antisemitism and its impact on American society” (p. 22). The national strategy also “call[s] on schools and colleges to ensure that Jewish students are respected and have their needs met” and that “antisemitism is treated with the same seriousness as other forms of hate” (p. 42). 

Truly laudable. But there’s one major caveat that raises the question of how sincere or competent this “whole-of-government” and society effort will prove to be: Although only alluded to in the plan, the Biden administration’s “FACT SHEET: Biden-⁠Harris Administration Releases First-Ever U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism,” oddly enough, explicitly includes the notoriously anti-Jewish and anti-Israel Council on Arab-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in its assembled coalition of “organizations across the private sector, civil society, religious and multi-faith communities, and higher education.” 

For those who aren’t familiar with CAIR, it’s a thinly veiled Islamist organization with well documented ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. More problematic, five of CAIR’s leaders were found guilty on 108 counts of financial fraud as part of a scheme to collect “charity” ($12 million) in the United States for Hamas. That was in 2008. Since then, CAIR has worked assiduously to whitewash its terror-supporting record and ingratiate itself to the U.S. government, a task they’ve been much aided in by congresswomen Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and other Squad members.

Assuming CAIR did teshuvah and it no longer funnels money to designated terrorist organizations, the Biden administration’s role for the group in the effort to counter antisemitism is still highly suspicious and no less unacceptable. According to the White House:

“The Council on American-Islamic Relations will launch a tour to educate religious communities about steps they can take to protect their houses of worship from hate incidents, such as instituting appropriate security measures, developing strong relationships with other faith communities, and maintaining open lines of communication with local law enforcement.”

Wait, what? The Biden administration’s long-awaited, highly impressive effort to combat antisemitism involves a veritable hate group championing a cause it so often tramples on by sending out its many minions to incite violence on the very institutions they are now being assigned to help protect? I’m ancient enough to remember when, in November 2021, CAIR representative Zahra Billoo spoke to impressionable minds at an event hosted by American Muslims for Palestine — a hostile group that is part of a concerted effort to make life for all Jews on university campuses miserable for daring to support Israel — and blamed “Zionist synagogues” for Islamophobia.

One may ask: How could it come to be that an organization like CAIR, skilled arsonist handlers of flammable and inflammatory Jew-hatred, would be positioned as part of the solution to extinguish the very flames organizations like CAIR are actively fanning? One needn’t look too far for the answer thanks to the press release which informs us that the plan is a product of the Interagency Policy Committee on Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and Related Forms of Bias and Discrimination. 

By juxtaposing Islamophobia and miscellaneous forms of hatred with antisemitism, the effort to combat antisemitism is automatically diluted and is the equivalent of insisting “All Lives Matter” at a Black Lives Matter conference in the wake of a Black person’s murder by white supremacists. If one examines the comparative scale of the hate crimes Jews and Muslims in America face, only one can be considered an epidemic of disproportionate scale: Jew-hatred (for context, in 2020, according to the FBI, 959 hate crime incidents were anti-Jewish and 141 were Anti-Islamic—there are approximately twice as many Jews in America as there are Muslims but Jews were targeted nearly sevenfold more than Muslims). 

That’s not to downplay the occurrence or severity of anti-Muslim hate crimes, which are no less grotesque, but to say that in their etiology as well as their real-world manifestations antisemitism and Islamphobia are the same? They have little in common and require entirely different strategies to counter. There are no groups dedicated to making the lives of Muslim students on campus a living hell but there exists a myriad which are committed to doing so to Jews. There are no groups calling for the ouster of pro-Palestinian students from public spaces but there is no shortage of pro-Palestinian groups warning against “humanizing Zionists” and demanding the removal of Jewish Americans from shared spaces all in the name of “human rights.” 

The differences are more numerous than there is space here to declare, though very clearly not only are different approaches required, but any strategy to counter antisemitism that doesn’t take the obvious threat of anti-Zionism seriously by allowing a Trojan Horse like CAIR to enter the coalition does not portend positively for the effort.

Indeed, we already have visible proof of how this coalition is liable to shoot itself in the foot before it even takes its first steps. In addition to the IHRA “working definition of antisemitism,” explains the plan, “the Administration welcomes and appreciates the Nexus Document and notes other such efforts” (p. 13). The problem is that whereas the IHRA definition is the most widely accepted and readily applied definition of antisemitism and has already been implemented by states, government, and academic bodies, and corporations around the globe, the Nexus Document is nothing more than another Trojan Horse advanced by “anti-Zionist” organizations, and its sole contribution is to insist that when it comes to Israel it’s totally justified and normal to apply double standards and, therefore, it’s not antisemitic to insist that the one Jewish state, and none other, must disappear — the height of absurdity. Approaches and interest groups that muddle the line between “legitimate criticism” and illegitimate “resistance” (i.e., terrorism), just as with CAIR, must have no place in any serious effort to counter Jew-hatred, as they are part of the problem, not the solution.

Violent antisemitism, Jews know all too well, begins with words that most of society overlooks until the proverbial pot is way past its boiling point and it’s too late to turn down the heat of incitement.

Alas, despite the Biden administration’s curious inclusion of the arsonist collective known as CAIR in their “whole-of-society” effort to counter antisemitism, I sincerely believe that most of the organizations signed onto the initiative have already been doing a great deal to effect change and will no doubt be buoyed by this action plan. Nonetheless, the silence and lack of criticism by the Jewish organizations officially involved with regards to CAIR’s inclusion and the insertion of the Nexus Document as a legitimate counterweight to the IHRA definition begs the question of their calculus: Is such a folly batel beshishim?

Some may be inclined to argue that CAIR’s inclusion and the Nexus insertion aren’t enough to spoil the entire effort and, therefore, we ought not throw the baby out with the bathwater. To them I say, the baby we keep, but the dirty bathwater, the Trojan Horses, ought to be discarded. Otherwise, this undoubtedly well-intended effort will reinforce one arsonist per five firefighters, a sufficient ratio to guarantee endless fires, one of which may again spread too wildly for “civilized societies” to control.

Israel B. Bitton is a hate crimes researcher and author of A Brief and Visual History of Antisemitism (Geffen 2022), “The Prosecution—or Lack Thereof—of Anti-Jewish Hate Crimes in NYC: A qualitative explanatory analysis” (AAA 2022), “Anti-Jewish Hate Crimes Report—New York City: April 2018 – August 2022” (AAA 2022), and “Chosen for Hate (and Love): A Qualitative Explanatory Analysis of the NYPD’s Data on Anti-Jewish Hate Crimes” (ISGAP 2023).

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