WASHINGTON – A bipartisan collection of U.S. lawmakers and officials on Tuesday assured a Jewish Federations of North America virtual mission that the Biden administration and Congress will work in concert to combat antisemitism and domestic extremism.
Nevada Senator Jacky Rosen, the Democratic founder and co-chair of the Senate Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism established in 2019, noted she founded the committee along with Republican Senator James Lankford in the hopes of improving education and empowerment. “It is really important for us to put that marker down in the Senate so we have a place to have these discussions where we could illuminate, inform and legislate where we need to,” Rosen said.
Lankford, the Republican Senator from Oklahoma, noted his shock in discovering the Senate has never had an antisemitism task force, saying “it is not a bipartisan issue, it is a nonpartisan issue” and adding that their main focus is to continue dialogue and education. They advocate for improving Holocaust education as a tool to combat online disinformation and hate speech. Rosen noted that foreign governments have expressed interest in starting their own task forces based on the American model.
Referring to legislation passed in December elevating the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism to an ambassadorial level position, Lankford said doing so will empower the envoy with a little additional push behind them when they go anywhere in the world, while Rosen noted that the envoy will now have further respect on the world stage. The legislation passed largely thanks to efforts championed by Rosen, Lankford and other members of the task force.
Cedric Richmond, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, said the White House will tackle antisemitism while ensuring that nonprofits and faith-based organizations are given the ability to protect themselves.
Richmond previously served as a Democratic Congressman from Louisiana, and as a central lawmaker in obtaining boosted funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which allocates funds to nonprofit organizations at risk of terrorist threats. Funding was doubled for the program this year to the tune of $180 million, as part of the $1.4 trillion omnibus bill packaged with the COVID-19 stimulus relief. He noted that the White House is closely monitoring the rise of white supremacy and extremism, and hopes to restore federal funding on the matter while working with the Department of Justice and Congress to press a variety of legislation in a thoughtful, whole-of-government approach.
Senate Homeland Security Committee Ranking Member Rob Portman, the Ohio Republican who recently announced he would not run for reelection, was one of the loudest voices in Congress advocating for securing the funding aimed at protecting religious institutions but told the JFNA he was concerned about the funding's sustainability.
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“How do you sustain it over time – for example the personnel costs, or even updating the technology, as better ways to be able to monitor become available? That's something we're working on with the Department of Homeland Security,” Portman said, adding that he expects bipartisan cooperation in combating the issue.
House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson, a Democratic Congressman from Mississippi, said he believes widespread community support amongst the religious for the nonprofit legislation will empower the government to protect institutions in an increasingly broad manner over the next several years.
“We have to mitigate the success of individuals and lone wolves that decide they want to go out in a blaze of glory,” Thompson said. “I’ve seen the work of communities who want to make themselves safe, so I encourage you to use the mantra of making all communities safe, not just one particular community.”
Rep. Kathy Manning, a first-term Democratic Congresswoman from North Carolina who was the first woman to chair the JFNA from 2009-2012, told a panel on Monday that her experiences running to bomb shelters in Sderot while fleeing rockets fired from Gaza prepared her for last month’s Capitol riots.
“As my heart started to race, I thought to myself, ‘I’ve been through much worse. I’ve had to run to bomb shelters in Sderot with sirens blaring and rockets overhead coming in from Gaza,’” Manning said, adding that “Who knew that being chair of JFNA would prepare me so well to be a member of Congress?”