July 16, 2019 — Washington, D.C.
Jason Isaacson, American Jewish Committee (AJC) Chief Policy and Political Affairs Officer, addressed the U.S. Department of Justice Summit on Combating Antisemitism.
“The stakes for what we do now as a nation are enormous,” said Isaacson, welcoming the Administration’s efforts to combat resurgent antisemitism, which has risen dramatically in Europe and in the past year saw the most violent fatal attacks on Jews in the United States, in Pittsburgh and Poway, California.
The daylong meeting at the Justice Department was the highest-level U.S. government conference on antisemitism ever held, many believe. Senior administration officials addressing the summit included Attorney General William P. Barr, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Christopher A. Wray, and Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Elan S. Carr.
AJC, the only national U.S Jewish advocacy organization invited to address the summit, was asked to present on the issue of balancing First Amendment protections and combating antisemitism.
“The First Amendment has allowed all Americans, including the Jewish people, and other minorities, to flourish in this nation as full participants in the American experiment,” Isaacson said.
Still, finding ways to effectively respond to the antisemitism espoused in a broad variety of communications vehicles is challenging. “The best answer to bad speech remains good speech. What we say matters often more than how we legislate,” said Isaacson. “In the end, this is a battle for ideas – and a reassertion of common values. In a very real way, we are fighting for the soul of our nation.”
Isaacson noted that AJC has identified, for more than 15 years, three primary sources of antisemitism -- the far-right, the far-left, and extremist ideologies propagated in the name of Islam.
He said coalitions in Congress, including the Bipartisan Congressional Task Force to Combat Antisemitism, established with AJC encouragement, and the newly formed Congressional Black-Jewish Caucus, announced at the AJC Global Forum last month, “are so important as unifiers and bridge-builders.”
Appealing for a unified approach in the U.S., Isaacson argued that “to capably combat antisemitism, those who would seek to call out their political opponents for hating Jews must be similarly willing to criticize their allies on their own side of the aisle. Leaders need to lead and conclusively demonstrate that antisemitism within their own ranks is unacceptable.”
Isaacson also appealed for greater unity between the U.S. and European governments in combating antisemitism. Noting that European nations have different approaches on legislating against hate speech, and specifically against antisemitism, Isaacson said that “it is no longer sufficient to simply say that America is different from Europe.”
While AJC opposes certain European ideas regarding freedom of speech, and Isaacson himself suggested that Americans not change their own conceptions or trample on the First Amendment, “the defense of democracy” demands honest conversations between the U.S. and Europe.
“In the global struggle against antisemitism and hate, we need to spend more time talking with other nations about finding common ground to our approaches,” said Isaacson. “A global struggle against antisemitism requires a global strategy. These conversations will not be easy, but the defense of democracy demands no less.”