‘A Stain on The Soul of America’: Biden Calls Out Antisemitism in US at White House Event
by Shiryn Ghermezian
President Joe Biden addressed the rise of antisemitism in the US at a White House event on Tuesday celebrating his recent declaration that May will be Jewish American Heritage Month.
“The contributions of Jewish Americans are shattered by a long and painful history of the oldest, the most sinister forces: hate and antisemitism,” he said, before explaining how he learned about the horrors of the Holocaust from his father. He added that hate “never goes away … It just hides under the rocks until someone breathes oxygen on the rocks and it comes roaring back out. The past several years we have given it too much oxygen.”
The president also listed a number of antisemitic incidents that have taken place around the US, calling them “unconscionable, almost unbelievable” and “despicable … it’s literally a stain on the soul of America.”
Biden, who recently announced his reelection campaign, also reminded that audience how his decision to run for the presidency in 2020 was inspired by the 2017 neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia.
He said his administration would “soon be” releasing the first ever US national strategy to counter antisemitism, which will include input from over 1,000 Jewish community members. Biden explained that the strategy will have four pillars — it will aim to increase awareness about antisemitism and Jewish American heritage; improve the safety and security of Jewish communities; “reverse the normalization of antisemitism and address antisemitic discrimination now and loudly;” and build coalitions among communities to fight hate together.
Biden’s remarks at the White House reception followed a performance by Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond, who recently received Tony Award nominations for their starring roles in the Broadway revival of Parade. The musical is about the real-life trial, imprisonment and ultimate lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish man who faced antisemitism and was wrongfully convicted in 1913 of raping and murdering a 13-year-old girl who worked at the the Atlanta, Georgia, factory that he managed. During a preview performance for Parade in New York City, neo-Nazis harassed patrons standing outside the theater.
Diamond and Platt, along with composer Jason Robert Brown, performed two songs from their show and a third from Into the Woods. They were introduced on stage by First Lady Jill Biden and dashed out after their performance to travel back to New York for the 8 pm show of Parade that evening.
Doug Emhoff, the Jewish husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, also spoke at Tuesday’s White House event and noted that around the US, Jewish Americans were “achieving at the highest levels of success.”
“How proud our ancestors would be to see us all here today, after many fled persecution, including my own ancestors, to live their dreams in the United States of America,” he said, before talking about the “overall epidemic of hate” and antisemitism taking place around the world.
James Beard-winning Israeli chef Michael Solomonov designed a glatt kosher menu for Tuesday’s celebration, which was attended by an array of Jewish guests including actress Mayim Bialik, chefs Eitan Bernath and Jake Cohen, comedian Alex Edelman and compose Benj Pasek.