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Second Gentleman at Antisemitism Roundtable: ‘I’m Proud to Live Openly as a Jew’

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avatar by Andrew Bernard

U.S. Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff listens during a panel discussion with women entrepreneurs during his visit to Mi Casa Resource Center in Denver, Colorado, U.S., March 11, 2022. Jason Connolly/Pool via REUTERS/Pool via REUTERS

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, the spouse of Vice President Kamala Harris, on Wednesday led a roundtable discussion with Biden administration officials and leaders of Jewish organizations on combating rising American antisemitism.

“We’re all in pain right now,” Emhoff said. “Our community is in pain. It hurts. It hurts me to see what we’re going through right now. What all people are going through right now. Antisemitism is dangerous. We cannot normalize this. We all have an obligation to condemn these vile acts. We must all–all of us–cannot stay silent. And there is no either/or on this one. There’s no ‘both-sides-ism’ on this one. There’s only one side. Everyone, all of us, must be against this. Must be against antisemitism.”

13 Jewish groups, including the American Jewish Committee (AJC), Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and representatives from Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox religious organizations joined the meeting, which was hosted by Emhoff at the White House with administration officials including Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt and Susan Rice, Director of the Domestic Policy Council.

The meeting comes amid the rapid and alarming mainstreaming of antisemitism in American cultural and political discourse in recent months, most notably former President Trump’s Thanksgiving-week dinner with rapper Kanye West and the Holocaust denying alt-right figure Nick Fuentes. Following that dinner and West’s subsequent antisemitic media rants, President Biden condemned antisemitism in a statement on twitter.

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The ADL’s representative at the meeting, Senior VP for National Affairs George Selim, told The Algemeiner that the US is experiencing a “perfect storm” of rising antisemitism.

In response to the growing number of antisemitic incidents nationwide, 126 members of Congress on Tuesday called for the Biden administration adopt a unified national strategy and to create an interagency task force to combat antisemitism.

AJC CEO Ted Deutch, who attended the roundtable, told The Algemeiner he supports that measure. “It would include more effective coordination between agencies so we can better understand, respond to, and fight anti-Jewish prejudice. This whole-of-government approach is needed because antisemitism does not just affect Jews. It makes all Americans less safe. And we need all Americans to join in the fight against it,” he said. The ADL also endorsed the letter.

The more than 4,000 page, $850 billion National Defense Authorization Act currently being negotiated in Congress includes some of the measures that Jewish advocacy groups have sought, including $360 million per year for the Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which provides money to improve physical security at nonprofits, including synagogues and other houses of worship.

Roundtable attendee Julia Jassey, the CEO of Jewish on Campus, a student-led Jewish advocacy group, told The Algemeiner that hearing a Jewish person in such a prominent position in American life speak about his Jewish identity was “a very significant moment for the American Jewish community.”

“I was the only student in the room,” Jassey said, “I’m finishing up at the University of Chicago, I’m 21 years old. To know that this administration takes my voice seriously as a young Jewish woman, as a student, was incredibly moving and I’m very thankful to have that opportunity.”

Ambassador Lipstadt, who as a historian has written extensively on Holocaust denial and antisemitism, said that she can no longer discuss antisemitic extremism with overseas partners as a distinctly foreign problem. “Unlike my predecessors – all very talented and committed people – I can’t go to these to these countries and say ‘you have a problem.’ Now we have to say ‘we have a very serious problem,’” Lipstadt said.

Emhoff told attendees that as the first Jewish spouse of an American President or Vice President that he understands “the weight of this responsibility.” “I’m proud to be Jewish. I’m proud to live openly as a Jew. And I’m not afraid. We cannot live in fear. We refuse to be afraid. So this is what makes America special, isn’t it?” Emhoff said.

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