Biden Decries Campus Antisemitism In Holocaust Remembrance Speech

Ariana Figueroa, Rhode Island Current

President Joe Biden warned Tuesday of rising antisemitism in the U.S. and said too many are forgetting the attack on Israel in October.

During a Holocaust memorial speech at the U.S. Capitol, Biden stressed the importance of honoring the 6 million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust, and the victims of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in Israel that sparked the Israel-Hamas war.

“Now here we are, not 75 years later but just seven… months later and people are already forgetting, they’re already forgetting that Hamas unleashed this terror,” he told attendees at the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Annual Day of Remembrance Celebration.

“I have not forgotten, nor have you, and we will not forget,” he continued.

Biden criticized student protests at college campuses across the country over Israel’s war effort. Protestors have called for their institutions to divest from businesses that are tied to Israel and have called for a ceasefire.

“We’ve seen a ferocious surge of antisemitism in America and around the world,” Biden said. “There is no place on any campus in America, any place in America for antisemitism or hate speech or threats of violence of any kind.”

Biden last week commended students’ peaceful protests, while criticizing those that turned violent.

As the war reaches its seven-month mark, more than 34,000 Palestinians – 13,000 of them children – have been killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. The war began after Hamas militants killed about 1,200 Israelis and foreigners and took 199 people hostage on Oct. 7.

Combating antisemitism

Biden announced several new administration initiatives to combat antisemitism Tuesday.

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights will issue new guidance to all school districts and colleges to provide examples of antisemitic discrimination and how those instances can violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The agency said it has opened more than 100 investigations in the past “seven months into complaints alleging discrimination based on shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, including Antisemitism.”

The Department of Homeland Security will also build an online campus safety resource guide and develop best practices for “community-based targeted violence and terrorism prevention to reduce these assaults and attacks,” according to a fact sheet provided by the White House.

The Department of State also has an agency, the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, which will convene technology firms to identify best practices for addressing antisemitism content online.

U.S. House action

Biden was joined Tuesday by GOP House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana and Democratic House Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York.

The House last week passed legislation to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism for the Department of Education’s enforcement of the Civil Rights Act. All schools that receive federal funding are required to comply with that law.

Some Democrats have raised concerns that the language is too broad and could lead to restrictions on freedom of speech.

The lead drafter of the definition, Kenneth Stern, then an antisemitism expert with the American Jewish Committee, has repeatedly opposed the definition, raising concerns when the Trump administration tried to issue an executive order similar to the recent House bill.

“It was never intended to be a campus hate speech code, but that’s what Donald Trump’s executive order accomplished this week,” Stern wrote in 2019. “This order is an attack on academic freedom and free speech, and will harm not only pro-Palestinian advocates, but also Jewish students and faculty, and the academy itself.”

Johnson is also leading a House-wide effort to address the college campus protests, such as grilling university presidents and threatening to pull federal funding from those institutions.

Members of the House Education and Workforce Committee grilled Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on Tuesday about antisemitism on college campuses. Several similar hearings are scheduled in the coming weeks.

“We are witnessing American universities quickly becoming hostile places for Jewish students and faculty,” Johnson said.

Johnson said there has been a rise in antisemitism since Oct. 7, which was the most deadly attack on Jews since the Holocaust.

“The threat of repeating the past is so great,” Johnson said. “There are some who would prefer to criticize Israel and lecture them on their military tactics…than punish the terrorists who perpetrated these horrific crimes.”

Rhode Island Current is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Rhode Island Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Janine L. Weisman for questions: info@rhodeislandcurrent.com. Follow Rhode Island Current on Facebook and Twitter.

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