Biden condemns anti-Semitism on campus in Holocaust commemoration speech

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden warned Tuesday of rising anti-Semitism in the U.S. and said too many are forgetting the October attack on Israel.

During a Holocaust remembrance speech at the U.S. Capitol, Biden stressed the importance of honoring the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust and the victims of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which sparked the war between Israel and Hamas.

“Now here we are, not 75 years later, but just seven… months later, and people are already forgetting, already forgetting, that Hamas unleashed this terror,” he told participants of the annual Remembrance Day commemoration at the Holocaust Museum.

“I haven’t forgotten, you haven’t forgotten and we won’t forget,” he continued.

Biden criticized student protests on college campuses across the country over Israel’s war effort. Protesters called on their institutions to divest companies linked to Israel and called for a ceasefire.

“We have witnessed a surge in anti-Semitism in America and around the world,” Biden said. “There is no place for anti-Semitism, hate speech or threats of violence of any kind on any campus in America, anywhere in America.”

Biden last week praised peaceful student protests, criticizing those that turned violent.

As the war reaches its seventh month, more than 34,000 Palestinians – including 13,000 children – were killed– reports the Gaza Ministry of Health. The war began on October 7 after Hamas fighters killed approximately 1,200 Israelis and foreigners and took 199 people hostage.

Combating anti-Semitism

Biden announced several modern administration initiatives on Tuesday aimed at combating anti-Semitism.

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights will issue modern guidance to all school districts and colleges to highlight examples of anti-Semitic discrimination and how such incidents may violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The agency said it has opened more than 100 investigations into complaints of discrimination based on shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, including anti-Semitism, over the past “seven months.”

The Department of Homeland Security will also create an online campus security resource guide and develop best practices for “preventing community-directed violence and terrorism to reduce these assaults and attacks,” according to information sheet provided by the White House.

The State Department also has an agency, the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, which will convene meetings of technology companies to identify best practices for combating anti-Semitic content online.

Action by the US House of Representatives

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

The House passed the bill last week to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism for purposes of the Department of Education’s enforcement of the Civil Rights Act. All schools receiving federal funds are required to comply with this law.

Some Democrats have expressed concerns that the language is too broad and could lead to restrictions on free speech.

The definition’s lead author, Kenneth Stern, then an anti-Semitism expert at the American Jewish Committee, repeatedly opposed the definition, raising concerns when the Trump administration tried to issue an executive order similar to the recent House bill.

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

Johnson is also leading a House-wide effort to address protests on college campuses, such as intimidation of university presidents and threats to withdraw federal funding from these institutions.

Members of the House Education and Workforce Committee on Tuesday criticized Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona over anti-Semitism on college campuses. Several similar hearings are scheduled in the coming weeks.

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

Johnson said there has been an augment in anti-Semitism since Oct. 7 the deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust.

“The threat of repeating the past is so great,” Johnson said. “There are those who would rather criticize Israel and lecture it on its military tactics… than punish the terrorists who committed these terrible crimes.”

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