The White House directed the Pentagon to probe antisemitic and Islamophobic behavior across the U.S. military and offer an estimate about the prevalence of the problem by November.
The order was part of the White House’s new national strategy to counter antisemitism, which includes 100 steps President Joe Biden’s administration and its partners plan to take to address the recent rise in antisemitic incidents. Antisemitic harassment, vandalism and assault in the U.S. reached a historic high in 2022, according to a report released in March from the Anti-Defamation League. Nearly 3,700 antisemitic incidents were reported that year, the most since the ADL began tracking them in 1979.
Biden’s strategy, outlined in a 60-page document, urges Congress to pass legislation that would create new laws against bias-motivated violence, as well as hold social media platforms accountable for spreading antisemitism and other hate speech. The administration also called on state and local governments, schools, the technology industry and religious communities to help stop the spread of antisemitic conspiracy theories.
The White House included several mandates to federal agencies in its plan, one of which instructs the Defense Department to study antisemitism and Islamophobia in the ranks. The administration plans to use the Pentagon’s findings to establish programs or policies that could help put an end to those biases in the military or prevent them.
“The White House would say this is an important domestic issue, but the existence of antisemitism is also a threat for national security,” said Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, in a briefing to reporters Thursday.
“These are not just nice words. There are dates in the plan for when these issues should be addressed,” Lipstadt said. “The White House is holding the agencies accountable.”
The sweeping document requires the Defense Department to analyze existing research to better grasp the prevalence of antisemitism and Islamophobia across the military. The Pentagon is required by November of this year to provide that estimate and review its current training for gaps in identifying those biases. It’s the first analysis of its kind to specifically address antisemitism and Islamophobia across the armed forces.
The plan also asks local and state governments provide training to its security and law enforcement personnel about Jewish culture to help them understand and counter antisemitism.
Effective immediately, all federal agencies must formally acknowledge International Holocaust Remembrance Day and Jewish American History Month, the plan states. Federal agencies acknowledging specific cultural heritage months aligns with the Pentagon’s efforts to celebrate diverse backgrounds across the force.
The White House ordered the Department of Veterans Affairs to develop educational programs by September that highlight the diversity of the veteran population, as well as the contributions of Jewish veterans and VA employees. The agency is expected to share those programs with local veterans groups across the country.
Along with sharing that message, the administration wants the VA to encourage veterans to use their credibility with the public to speak out against antisemitic violence and other hate-fueled attacks.
As part of the White House plan, the VA is expected to expand its chaplain partnership by this summer to include multiple faiths. VA chaplains will receive training beginning in September about how to counter antisemitism, anti-Muslim bias and anti-Sikh bias. The agency was also told to determine whether it’s possible to track incidents of religious discrimination against VA employees.
The national strategy was announced following an alarming spike in antisemitic sentiment and hate crimes across the country. Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said the organization saw antisemitic sentiments increase 500% among the U.S. population in the past decade – an indication that the rise in antisemitism in 2022 was not an outlier, but a troubling trend.
Greenblatt spoke in detail about the plan on a week that also marked the start of court trials for the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Penn., which claimed 11 lives in an alleged hate-motivated antisemitic attack.
“This type of plan...it’s precedent setting,” Greenblatt said. “It’s a type of framework that is nothing short of a quantum leap forward on the issues that we care about.”
The strategy outlined by the White House is a multi-year effort that in theory would extend past the 2024 presidential election. When asked about what would happen if a new administration took over in 2025, Lipstadt said she hoped the strategy would be viewed as apolitical and accepted by a new president.
The ADL made recommendations to Biden’s administration about the contents of the strategy, many of which were adopted. Greenblatt said his organization would continue to work from the White House’s plan, regardless of whether there’s a change in administration.
“You had better believe we are not going to let this go,” Greenblatt said. “This is the roadmap we’re going to use no matter who is driving.”
Nikki Wentling covers disinformation and extremism for Military Times. She's reported on veterans and military communities for eight years and has also covered technology, politics, health care and crime. Her work has earned multiple honors from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the Arkansas Associated Press Managing Editors and others.
Allison Erickson is a journalist and U.S. Army Veteran. She covered military and veterans' affairs as the 2022 Military Veterans in Journalism fellow with The Texas Tribune and continues to cover the military community. She has written and reported on topics such as migration, politics, and health.