White House meeting

Biden administration pledges plan to combat rising antisemitism on campuses within 2 weeks

Participants told eJewishPhilanthropy that the meeting provided the sense that the Biden administration is taking seriously the jump in antisemitic incidents

Jewish leaders suggested the Biden administration strip federal funding from universities that fail to address antisemitism on their campuses during a meeting at the Department of Education on Monday to discuss steps to counter the noted rise of antisemitic incidents on college campuses — which comes amid a 388% increase nationwide since the Oct. 7 terror attacks in Israel. 

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt and other members of the administration met with 13 Jewish leaders – from across the political and religious range of the community – who have been focused on the rise of antisemitism on campus. The meeting was requested and convened by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The administration pledged to make a plan within two weeks to address the wave of antisemitism.

Sheila Katz, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, proposed that universities lose their federal funding under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin. Nathan Diament, executive director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center — an organization that often does not see eye to eye with NCJW — said he had in mind to suggest the same. “The whole community is on the same page here,” he told eJewishPhilanthropy. “[Universities should be] made to understand that there are consequences to failing to serve your Jewish students appropriately.”

Several participants told eJP that the meeting provided the sense that the Biden administration is taking seriously the rise in antisemitism.  

“It was very clear that both the Department of Education and the Biden administration saw this as a worthwhile use of their time and something they needed to be at,” Julie Rayman, managing director of policy and political affairs at the American Jewish Committee, said, adding that the discussion was a “combination of voicing angst and anxiety of the community but also trying to provide some real, tangible recommendations for what we hope to see from the Department of Education.” 

Although the focus was antisemitism on college campuses, the meeting addressed the issue in K-12 schools as well. As the meeting was wrapping up, Cardona turned to his team and requested concrete plans to address the situation at universities and at K-12 schools within the next two weeks, Diament said.

“You put a defined timeline on something and direct your staff to do it, hopefully you can expect that will be the case,” Diament told eJP. “There will be follow-up conversations, for sure.”

Jewish community representatives “across the board did two things,” Diament continued. “We described in a compelling way how serious the situation is, and we made some recommendations for actions we would like to see.” 

“One of the phrases people kept using, and that the secretary picked up on, was that we’ve never seen anything like this before,” Diament said, adding that Cardona’s reply was that the response needs to be unprecedented.

At the meeting, the Anti-Defamation League called on the Department of Education to send new guidance to universities and K-12 schools on how to deal with antisemitic incidents, provide additional resources for the Office of Civil Rights so that it can meet the backlog of cases, and to be more proactive in investigating high-profile incidents as they occur, in addition to meeting their commitments under the administration’s National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, which was released in May. 

Jonathan Greenblatt, the group’s CEO, told eJP that “this is a critical time for the American Jewish community, particularly for Jewish students and faculty on college and university campuses across the country.”

“We appreciate Secretary Cardona and Second Gentleman Emhoff meeting with us today to share what the Biden Administration is doing to address the alarming uptick in antisemitic incidents on campuses following the Hamas massacre in Israel,” Greenblatt continued. “In our meeting today with Doug Emhoff and other administration officials, we had an open and spirited conversation, and the level of urgency was appreciated, especially in this moment when antisemitism is surging both across the U.S. and on campuses.”

Cardona and White House domestic policy adviser Neera Tanden are slated to visit an unspecified university’s Hillel later this week, where they will meet with Jewish students. 

The briefing did not address the recent move by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to outlaw the group Students for Justice in Palestine at state universities on the grounds it supports terrorism, and whether that move will be emulated by other states. 

Since Hamas’ rampage, the Secure Community Network has logged 94 incident reports on college campuses, putting October on track to register more antisemitic incidents than any month recorded since the group’s founding in 2004. 

The meeting came one day after the kosher dining hall at Cornell University was put on lockdown and Jewish students sheltered in their dorms as anonymous threats against the school’s Jewish community were posted on a student discussion forum.

Last week, near Tulane University, which has a student body that is more than 40% Jewish, a pro-Palestinian rally spiraled out of control and led to violence as two men, one of them masked, drove through the protest in a pickup truck waving a Palestinian flag. One of the men attempted to set an Israeli flag on fire, resulting in a fight that left a Jewish student with a broken nose.