U.S. Jewish Groups Welcome New White House Domestic Terrorism Strategy

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U.S. President Joe Biden in Geneva, today.
U.S. President Joe Biden in Geneva, today.Credit: FABRICE COFFRINI - AFP

The Biden administration in the United States has issued the country's first national strategy to combat domestic terrorism, earning plaudits from the American Jewish community, which has long expressed concern over the dangers posed by white supremacy.

“Domestic terrorism is a stain on the soul of our nation, and a threat to our democracy,” President Joe Biden tweeted on Tuesday as the new strategy was unveiled. “We need to confront its rise head-on.”

The new plan will, among other things, encourage interagency cooperation and information sharing and have Washington allocate tens of millions of dollars for state and local programs designed “to prevent, protect against and respond to domestic violent extremism” and impose stricter screening of prospective federal employees.

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Abba Cohen, the vice president for governmental affairs for the ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America, tweeted that his organization "applauds" the Biden administration's focus on domestic terrorism. "Jews live under this dark cloud; it is our ongoing reality," he wrote.

The Anti-Defamation League commended the new strategy while criticizing it for lacking a clearinghouse for online extremist content, which it said “would safeguard civil liberties while increasing the corners of the internet that are observed for potential threats.”

Among the moves included in the new strategy is an increased focus on information sharing with the state and local authorities and "situational awareness notifications … in advance of potential violence." The plan also calls for an increased federal focus on the "transnational aspects of domestic terrorism" in light of online contact between extremists in the United States and neo-Nazis and white nationalists abroad.

Jewish organizations and human rights groups had harshly criticized the Trump administration for allegedly downplaying the threat of far-right extremism and white nationalism in favor of a focus on radical Islam. But speaking at a conference on antisemitism in Jerusalem in 2019, Elan Carr, the State Department's special envoy for monitoring and combating antisemitism at the time, was adamant that the Trump administration would “not ignore any part of the ideological spectrum” and would go after antisemitism “regardless of the ideological clothing in which it dresses itself,” from ultranationalism on the right to left-wing anti-Zionism. 

“Domestic violent extremism," the ADL's Greenblatt said on Tuesday, "is the nation’s top terrorism threat and the Biden administration’s new strategy is an excellent step forward in addressing it, building on their significant progress to date.”

As the Biden administration was unveiling its domestic terrorism strategy on Tuesday, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution “unequivocally condemning the recent rise in antisemitic violence and harassment targeting Jewish Americans” and calling on “elected officials, faith leaders and civil society leaders to denounce and combat all manifestations of antisemitism.”

In response, the Jewish Federations of North America called on Biden to “take up the calls to action in this resolution" in part by "designating a qualified Ambassador to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism,” a post that is currently vacant. Attention to the issue on the part of Jewish groups intensified following a worldwide spike in antisemitic incidents last month, which coincided with the round of fighting between Israel and Hamas.

People board up the front of a kosher supermarket thats was the site of a gun battle in Jersey City, N.J. in 2019. The city's mayor spoke at the time of suspicions that it was an antisemitic attack.Credit: Seth Wenig/AP

According to the ADL’s Center on Extremism, antisemitic incidents in the United States “more than doubled during the May 2021 military conflict” before eventually returning to prior levels. Last month, Biden forcefully condemned the wave of attacks.

"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," Biden tweeted.

Vice President Kamala Harris joined Biden in decrying the wave of antisemitism, saying that "the surge in antisemitic attacks against the Jewish community in the U.S. and around the world is despicable — it must be called out, condemned, and stopped. As a country, we must stand united against hate of any kind."

Biden's remarks came days after several leading mainstream U.S. Jewish organizations urged Biden to use his bully pulpit to forcefully condemn violent incidents targeting Jews in the U.S. and abroad, as well as on social media. They also urged him to reestablish and fill the position of White House Jewish liaison, as well as to "convene – in person, if possible – stakeholders from the Jewish community, as well as key officials from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security and the FBI, to discuss the current events and threats, and action steps to address them." 

JTA contributed to this report.

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