Unfortunately-necessary disclaimer: Yes, there was slavery before and during the founding years. No, slaves were not included as citizens. Yes, that was a founding sin in the U.S. as it was around the world. No, we were not and are not perfect. Yes, we have overcome major obstacles to national equality. No, we’re not finished.
On Aug. 17, 1790, Moses Seixas, a merchant in the town of Newport, Rhode Island, and an official of the Jewish Congregation Yeshuat Israel, wrote a letter to President George Washington.
According to the National Archive, the letter was likely presented to Washington the next day when various religious leaders offered Washington their missives. Seixas, a Sephardic Jew, wrote, in part:
“Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens, we now… behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People… generously affording to All liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship: deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language, equal parts of the great governmental Machine.”
Washington’s reply read in part:
“It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
So, why did it take the Biden administration 60 pages to write a US National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism? Because it is a product of bureaucracy and political head-counting and subgroup management. Where Washington (and Sexius) saw everyone, “whatever Nation, tongue, or language” as a citizen (See disclaimer, above), the current administration feels the need to divide and label everyone, every group, every political persuasion as positive or negative.
In the Biden report, Jews are reduced to the canary in the mine, noting that “people who express hatred toward Jews frequently hold other biases based on actual or perceived religion, race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity.” The report adds that antisemites frequently use “AntiBlack, and anti-LGBTQI+ themes… Those who target Jews also target women, Black, Latino, Muslim, AANHPI, and LGBTQ+ Americans, and so many other communities.”
Or they don’t. Or members of other minority groups may themselves target Jews. This accounts for the line in the report acknowledging that “Jews feel as though antisemitism is ignored, discounted, or not taken as seriously as other forms of hate and bigotry.”
The report is also a blueprint for government intervention and lots of federal spending. Two of its “four pillars” are:
- Increase Awareness and Understanding of Antisemitism, Including its Threat to America, and Broaden Appreciation of Jewish American Heritage
- Build Cross-Community Solidarity and Collective Action to Counter Hate
The first is scary because it is only and specifically domestic, while most people recognize the link between Jews, Judaism and Israel. The report ignores Zionism and its link to domestic antisemitism, specifically designating a separate category of “anti-Israelism” to the State Department.
The latter is what happens when anti-Zionists including Al Sharpton, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Linda Sarsour, et. al. are brought in to shape the process and the outcomes.
As we confront antisemitism, we do so with profound respect for our democratic traditions, including free expression and speech protected by the First Amendment.
So yes, you can say whatever negative thing you like about Jews – or Israel – just phrase it right. CAIR itself noted that the strategies “should not be used… to conflate bigotry with human rights activism, including advocacy for Palestinian freedom and human rights.”
In the end, give the administration one point for one point on Israel:
We also [confront antisemitism] with an unshakable commitment to the State of Israel’s right to exist, its legitimacy, and its security.
“Israel’s right to exist” is jargon, not part of State Department language on France or Chile or Azerbaijan. The addition of the words “legitimacy” and “security” correctly puts it in sync with UN Resolution 242, and Israel’s “right to exist within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”
But if the Biden administration had only begun where Washington ended, it would have been a better document In fewer words:
“May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”