Biden administration unveils new actions to combat antisemitism on college campuses

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is unveiling new actions Monday to combat antisemitism on college campuses after an “alarming” uptick in incidents since the Israel-Hamas war started in early October.

The departments of Justice and Homeland Securityare partnering with campus law enforcement to track hate-related threats and provide federal resources to schools, according to the plan, which was shared exclusively with NBC News.

Some of what they will be assessing includes specific and credible threats that are flagged online.  

Dozens of cybersecurity and protective security experts at DHS have been detailed to engage with schools as they navigate incredibly tense environments, a White House official said. 

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona will meet with leading Jewish organizations to discuss the issue of growing antisemitism at colleges Monday, the official said. 

The White House will also highlight how the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has expedited an update of its complaint form. For the first time, it will make it clear that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits certain forms of antisemitism and Islamophobia. 

Later this week, Cardona and White House domestic policy adviser Neera Tanden will visit a college campus and hold a roundtable with Jewish students.

The Education Department has conducted site visits to gather more information about antisemitism at schools in San Francisco, St. Louis and Maine in recent weeks, with stops planned in New York City and Baltimore this week, the official said. 

The White House recently expressed deep concern over “an extremely disturbing pattern of antisemitic messages” on college campuses since the Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel on Oct. 7, which left 1,400 people dead, including protests calling for the annihilation of the state of Israel or for genocide against the Jewish people.  

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“These grotesque sentiments and actions shock the conscience and turn the stomach. They also recall our commitment that can’t be forgotten: ‘never again,’” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said. 

More than 8,000 people, including women and children, have died in Gaza, according to Palestinian health officials.

Last week, anti-Israel messages were projected onto a building at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and there was a heated pro-Palestinian rally at Cooper Union College in New York.

More than 100 colleges and universities nationwide had planned walkouts in support of the Palestinian people last Wednesday afternoon, according to various social media posts.

Antisemitic incidents in the U.S. rose 388% since the terrorist attacks in Israel, compared to the same period last year, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which works to fight antisemitism and extremism. 

In May, the Biden administration announced it was releasing the first national strategy to counter antisemitism. It included dozens of new actions from the federal government to raise awareness about antisemitism and protect Jewish communities.  

It harked back to the idea that President Joe Biden said motivated him to run for president in 2020, which was the “battle for the soul of the nation” after neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. 

“That is why he has prioritized action to counter antisemitism and hate of all kinds,” the White House fact sheet said at the time. 

Just last month, two weeks before the Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel, the administration rolled out additional actions to combat antisemitism and Islamophobia more broadly across several federal agencies, citing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. 

For the first time, federal agencies clarified that the 1964 law prohibits “certain forms of antisemitic, Islamophobic, and related forms of discrimination in federally funded programs and activities.”  

Efforts to “inform communities of their rights to be free from such discrimination and how to file complaints” will be accelerated under the new plan in the coming days, an administration official said.  

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The White House has faced significant criticism from Muslim and Arab American communities that it has not shown the same sort of attention to their concerns as it has to those of the Jewish community. In recent days, White House officials have increased their outreach. Biden called the family of a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy who was murdered in what authorities are calling a hate crime, and White House aides have reached out to Muslim, Arab and Palestinian American elected officials across the country.

Last week, the White House hosted a meeting with a handful of Muslim leaders, although it was done with little fanfare and no public announcement — in marked contrast with the meeting Biden held with Jewish leaders a few days after the Hamas attacks.

The White House has also gone after former President Donald Trump — who is the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination — over his push for an expanded travel ban that would affect many people in Muslim nations, calling it “revolting and disgusting.”

In a statement over the weekend, Bates decried “disgraceful attacks against Arab Americans and the Muslim community,” saying they “are the opposite of what we stand for as a country, and they must be forcefully condemned by all Americans who, like President Biden, believe in human dignity.”

“The spike in Islamophobic incidents is a direct attack on the character of our nation,” he added. “It’s critical that we give hate no safe harbor.”

Monica Alba

Monica Alba is a White House correspondent for NBC News.

Peter Alexander

Peter Alexander is chief White House correspondent for NBC News.