Anti-Israel encampment at DePaul University
Anti-Israel encampment at DePaul UniversityREUTERS/Jim Vondruska

Dr. Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and author of more than 20 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust. His latest is Cartoonists Against Racism: The Secret Jewish War on Bigotry, coauthored with Craig Yoe.'

Published in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles.

President Joe Biden surely didn’t intend to wade into the public debate over how to define antisemitism, but he has just done so—in a big way.

In a June 14 post on X (Twitter), the president condemned what he called “the horrific acts of Antisemitism this week.” Those acts were “abhorrent,” he wrote. They didn’t “just threaten Jewish Americans,” but “all Americans.” And they “threaten our fundamental democratic values,” too.

What were the incidents that President Biden defined as antisemitic? He cited four types: “vandalism targeting Jewish homes,” “attacks on Jewish faculty at college campuses,” “harassment of subway riders” and—most notably—“a demonstration celebrating the 10/7 attack.”

He was referring to the demonstration by thousands of Hamas supporters outside the White House on June 8. How do we know that they were, in the president’s words, “celebrating the 10/7 attack”? The evidence was their clothing, their placards, and their slogans:

— Some demonstrators wore green Hamas headbands. Others wore the headband of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which also took part in the October 7 massacres.

— A huge banner read: “Jihad of Victory or Martyrdom - Al Qassam.” (The latter is the armed wing of Hamas.) Another banner declared: “Long Live October 7th,” in English and Arabic. Other demonstrators held signs urging “Intifada Now” and “F*** Israel / Stand with Hamas.”

— Protesters chanted slogans urging Hamas: “Kill another soldier now!” They also chanted, “There is only one solution: intifada, revolution,” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” echoing the Hamas goal of replacing all of Israel with a State of Palestine.

— The protesters unspooled a lengthy paper scroll on which, according to the New York Times, they wrote “names of the more than 36,000 Palestinians who had been killed during the war.” The number 36,000, which is the exaggerated figure Hamas circulates, includes both civilians and terrorists. By including all of the names, the demonstrators were memorializing and honoring approximately 15,000 dead terrorists.

The fact that the president considers those words and actions to be antisemitic has enormous implications, because almost all of the pro-Hamas rallies that have been held since last October have included one or more of those elements.

Whether they have been shutting down bridges, invading museums, blocking traffic, or pitching tents on college campuses, the protesters have, again and again, celebrated the October 7 pogrom in their chants, speeches, and signs.

They have openly cheered the attack as “resistance.” They have hailed dead terrorists as “our martyrs.” They have called for the “liberation of Palestine by any means necessary.” They have sported Hamas headbands or waved Hamas flags. They have circulated cartoons glorifying the killers who crossed into Israel on paragliders.

Now President Biden has, in effect, said that all of those actions were antisemitic, just as the rally outside the White House was antisemitic. He is saying that supporting the mass murder, rape and torture of Israeli Jews is antisemitic.

It’s antisemitic even if the protesters aren’t saying the words “We are against Jewish people” (which is how Rep. Ilhan Omar has defined antisemitism). It’s antisemitic even if demonstrators are not calling for the murder of every Jew in the world.

President Biden’s position is consistent with the definition of antisemitism that has been adopted by the 33 countries belonging to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, a definition used by the U.S. State Department since 2010. That definition includes eleven specific examples of antisemitism. The first one states: “Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.”

President Biden, in his tweet, has affirmed what many people have been pointing out for a long time. Now we need a serious discussion about how to address the fact that so many antisemites—not just “critics of Israel” or “critics of Zionism,” but antisemites—are wreaking havoc throughout the country.