Elected officials are often on the front line of combating antisemitism, protecting Jewish communities, and speaking out in support of American values. Congress can leverage resources to enhance Jewish security, establish structures to prevent and address hate, and confront the politicization of antisemitism. Please note that the suggestions offered below are not exhaustive. There is always more that can be done.
A standard definition | Congress has passed several bills promoting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism, including the Combating European Antisemitism Act, signed into law in 2019. Congress can continue to urge foreign nations, multilaterals, the U.S. government, states, and localities to use this proven tool. Since 2019, Executive Order 13899, based on the bipartisan Antisemitism Awareness Act, has urged federal agencies to use the IHRA Working Definition to identify antisemitism when enforcing Title VI. Because Executive Orders are impermanent, Congress should reintroduce and pass the bipartisan Antisemitism Awareness Act.
Sources of domestic antisemitism | AJC’s Translate Hate glossary helps expose antisemitic tropes, words, and symbols that often hide in plain sight. Members of Congress can share it on their websites as a resource for constituents. AJC’s Recognizing when Anti-Israel Actions Become Antisemitic is designed to help elected officials navigate and address Israel-related antisemitism.
Responding to Antisemitism
Issue unequivocal condemnations | Elected officials should speak out loudly and clearly, raising awareness that antisemitism is not just a Jewish problem, but an assault on American values. They often can reach a broad social media audience, or issue statements or resolutions, affirming that anti-Jewish hate has no place in the community. Leaders must confront antisemitism head-on, calling out hatred within their own party before pointing fingers across the aisle.
Depoliticize the fight against antisemitism | While bipartisanship has been critical to U.S. success in countering hatred of Jews in the U.S. and abroad, the fight against antisemitism is increasingly politicized. When considered only through a partisan lens, antisemitism is not being countered, but instrumentalized.
Engage the community | When an antisemitic incident occurs, members of Congress should check in with their local Jewish communities. A standing Jewish community or interfaith advisory board can help ensure regular communication.
Improve hate crime reporting | In 2020, Jews were the target of 55% of all religiously motivated hate crimes, despite accounting for just 2% of the U.S. population. As astonishing as that number is, many hate crimes are not reported to law enforcement by victims and nearly 90 percent of cities do not report hate crime data to the FBI. An insufficient grasp of the problem impedes efforts to find solutions. The Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act, signed into law in May 2021, establishes grants to incentivize reporting; robust funding of at least $15 million is necessary.
Protect Jewish institutions | Through funding and legislation, Congress plays a crucial role in safeguarding Jewish institutions. The 2018 Protecting Religiously Affiliated Institutions Act protects synagogues, community centers, and nonprofits against threats of force. The Nonprofit Security Grant Program provides $360 million in security funding for high-risk nonprofits. Additionally, the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, already passed in the House, should be passed by the Senate to authorize dedicated domestic terrorism offices within the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the FBI.
Prevent online threats | Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and some platforms are calling to reform Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act to hold social media companies liable for content on their platforms. Bills like the Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act would hold social media companies accountable if their algorithmic amplification of content leads to offline violence. Other bills, such as the Platform Accountability and Transparency Act, the Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency Act, and the 2019 Filter Bubble Transparency Act address algorithms and the role of content moderators. Bipartisan, common sense federal reforms like these should be fully examined. For clarity and consistency, we must ensure one solution, not 50 individual state solutions, sufficiently addresses the problem.
Encourage media literacy | A number of recent antisemitic attacks originated on social media, where posts and videos demonizing Israel were viewed and shared hundreds of thousands of times. Congress should allocate resources for media literacy programs educating about the urgent need to check sources and question bias, especially online and on social media.
Strengthen education on Jews, antisemitism, and the Holocaust | A 2020 survey on Holocaust knowledge among American millennials and Gen Z conducted by the Claims Conference found that 63 percent of respondents did not know that six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, and 36 percent thought “two million or fewer Jews” were killed. The Never Again Education Act, signed into law in 2020, promotes U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum educational programming around the country. As only 39 states mandate Holocaust education, Congress should continue to fund and incentivize education on Jewish history, the Holocaust, and the contributions of Jews to America. Relatedly, Congressional staff should be trained to identify and respond to antisemitism, including Holocaust denial and distortion.
Participate in caucuses and coalitions | Congressional caucuses model the power of coalitions to condemn hate, support vulnerable communities, and raise awareness. With more than 150 Representatives, and more than half the Senate, the House and Senate Bipartisan Taskforces reflect the political will to address the problem, which should lead to increased legislative measures.