Biden concerned over rising antisemitism as administration takes action

The Biden administration is announcing new actions Monday aimed at combating a dangerous scourge of antisemitic incidents on college campuses across the country in the wake of the Hamas terror attacks on Israel.

The White House highlighted a series of steps taken by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the Department of Education, including engagement with campus law enforcement officials, which comes amid rising tension on college campuses. President Joe Biden on Monday told reporters he’s “very” concerned about the rise of antisemitism.

Over the weekend, a series of antisemitic threats were made against Cornell University’s Jewish community in online posts. CNN has reported that at many universities, students are engaging in fervent protests as some administrators grapple with how to acknowledge students’ wide-ranging concerns while also fielding backlash from influential donors demanding the colleges take a clearer stance on the conflict.

The White House is “closely monitoring” the situation at Cornell.

“To the students at Cornell, and on campuses across the country, we’re tracking these threats closely. We’re thinking of you and we’re going to do everything we can on both at Cornell and across the country to counter … antisemitism,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a press briefing Monday afternoon.

DHS and DOJ, a White House official said, “have disseminated public safety information to and hosted multiple calls with campus law enforcement, as well as state, local, tribal and territorial officials to address the threat environment and share information about available resources.”

The Justice Department’s Community Relations Service is providing support to Jewish, Muslim, Arab and other impacted communities, the official added.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, part of DHS, is working to “proactively engage with schools to assess and address need,” the official said.

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is also “(expediting) its update of the intake process for discrimination complaints under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, to specifically state that certain forms of Antisemitism and Islamophobia are prohibited by this law.”

That means, for the first time, the complaint form will make clear that “discrimination on the basis of national origin in federally funded programs or activities – including ethnic or ancestral slurs or stereotypes against students who are for example Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, or Hindu — are forms of prohibited discrimination under this law,” the White House official said. That is expected to formally be updated later this week.

These efforts come as the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism, which has tracked incidents of US antisemitic harassment, vandalism and assault since 1979, found 3,697 antisemitic incidents in the US in 2022, up a significant 36% from the previous year – and the highest on record.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt praised the White House’s new measures to combat antisemitism on college campuses as “great” and “important.” He also revealed that he plans to meet Monday with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

Greenblatt said in an interview with CNN’s Kasie Hunt on “State of the Racethat President Joe Biden has been “rock solid” when it comes to the issue of antisemitism.

“But we need to make sure that whether it’s these student groups that are literally providing material support and enabling a Hamas presence on campus, or whether it’s these universities which are not literally enforcing their own obligations under the law to keep Jewish students safe, we need to make sure … that our government is keeping Jewish kids safe,” he added. “That’s all we’re asking for.”

White House officials have warned that the threat is rising.

“We continue to see that rise. It’s dangerous. It’s unacceptable –- anywhere in the world, certainly here in the United States of America. And so what we’re doing is we’re working very closely at a federal level with state and local authorities to be able to better identify threats to the Jewish community and disrupt them,” National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby said Monday on “CNN This Morning.”

The incident at Cornell University follows tensions and threats of violence on college campuses both before and after the conflict in Israel. There has been growing backlash at the University of Pennsylvania’s response in recent months to antisemitism, including a Palestine Writes Literature Festival that included speakers with a history of making antisemitic remarks, a characterization organizers and attendees reject. Tensions flared at Harvard University after a coalition of student groups signed a statement blaming solely Israel for the deadly attacks by Hamas. And earlier this year, an antisemitic drawing was found at a dormitory at Stanford University, which was investigated by campus police as a hate crime.

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff, who has made fighting antisemitism a top priority in his role, will be joining Cardona Monday afternoon for a discussion with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Cardona will join White House domestic policy adviser Neera Tanden later this week for a roundtable with Jewish students at an unnamed university, the White House said.

Biden acknowledged the pain and fear in both Jewish and Muslim-American communities in Oval Office remarks earlier this month.

“Today, Jewish families worried about being targeted in school, wearing symbols of their faith walking down the street, or going out about their daily lives,” Biden said.

He continued: “We can’t stand by and stand silent when this happens. We must, without equivocation, denounce antisemitism. We must also, without equivocation, denounce Islamophobia.”

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Liz Brown-Kaiser contributed to this report.

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