WASHINGTON – The White House is tackling on Wednesday a rise in antisemitism that the Anti-Defamation League says has reached crisis levels. The ADL and other Jewish groups hope the roundtable discussion – hosted by second gentleman Doug Emhoff – will be a catalyst for a national strategy to combat the problem.
“We’re just hearing and seeing antisemitic tropes and activity coming from all angles,” said Oren Segal, vice president of the ADL’s Center on Extremism who has tracked the issue for more than 20 years. “People feel, in the Jewish community, that something is different here. And we see it on the ground and online.”
Emhoff will call it an “epidemic of hate facing our country,” according to an excerpt of his prepared remarks.
“Let me be clear: words matter,” he plans to say. “People are no longer saying the quiet parts out loud, they are screaming them.”
- New record: Antisemitic incidents in the United States rose 34% last year, reaching the highest number since the ADL began cataloguing harassment, vandalism and violence against Jews in 1979.
- Origins unknown: The vast majority of the 2,700 incidents identified in 2021 were not connected to an extremist movement or group, adding to the concern about where the hatred is coming from and how to stop it.
- High-profile incidents: Among recent high-profile incidents, the rapper Ye – formerly known as Kanye West – praised Hitler in an interview. Former President Donald Trump dined with Ye and white nationalist Nick Fuentes. Brooklyn Nets basketball star Kyrie Irving promoted an antisemitic film that falsely asserts the Holocaust didn’t happen.
- Social media: The ADL has noted an increase in antisemitic content on Twitter and a decrease in the moderation of antisemitic posts since Elon Musk took over Twitter in late October. In early November, an individual in New Jersey was arrested for sharing a manifesto online that threatened attacks on synagogues.
- Pervasive and persistent: In November, FBI Director Christopher Wray called antisemitism “a pervasive and persistent fact” and said the threat of violent extremism is real and urgent. More than 60% of the hate crimes in the U.S. involving religion were motivated by antisemitism, according to the FBI.
What’s about to happen
The White House is bringing together leaders of Jewish groups fighting antisemitism to discuss the rise and how to stop it. The groups represent Reform, Conservative and Orthodox denominations as well as students and seniors, according to the White House. Administration officials participating include senior presidential adviser Susan Rice and Holocaust expert Deborah Lipstadt, who is the first ambassador-level special envoy for monitoring and combatting antisemitism.
President Joe Biden is not scheduled to attend but tweeted last week that political leaders “should be calling out and rejecting antisemitism wherever it hides.”
“Silence is complicity,” he tweeted.
Scholar Peter Hayes, an expert on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, said it may have been more productive for the White House to bring together leaders of other religious denominations and “representatives of the political party that seems to be most closely associated with these ideas right now” to ask them what they think needs to be done.
“Because the audience for antisemitism is what you need to address,” he said. “We have to address the people who might be potentially receptive to this ideology.”
Doug Emhoff’s role
The issue is personal for Emhoff, the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president.
“I’m in pain about this. It hurts,” Emhoff said last week about the rise in antisemitism.
Emhoff said he has leaned into his representation of his faith – publicly celebrating Jewish holidays and affixing a mezuzah to the doorway of the vice presidential residence – because of how important it’s been to the Jewish community to see themselves represented at a high level of government.
“As long as I have this microphone, I’m going to keep speaking up, speaking out,” he said last week, “not just about antisemitism but about hatred and bringing everyone else together.”
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What Jewish groups hope to accomplish
The American Jewish Committee, which has long advocated for such a meeting at the White House, wants Biden to appoint a task force charged with creating a national action plan to combat antisemitism.
“We’re at a moment that calls for dramatic action,” said former Rep. Ted Deutch, who heads the AJC.
The ADL, which likewise describes the moment as a “breaking point,” has urged Congress to increase funding for the fight and wants the administration to develop a “unified national strategy.”
“The fact that the White House is holding a special meeting to discuss antisemitism shows that there is concern at the highest levels,” Segal said. “Hopefully, some concrete outcomes will come out of that.”
Not just a Jewish issue
Experts emphasize that rising antisemitism is not solely an issue for the Jewish community. It’s rare that one form of hate crime or extremism rises in isolation.
Allowing such behavior to percolate creates an environment in which other extremists feel comfortable acting, Deutch said.
“It affects everyone,” he said, pointing to recent mass shootings that were not targeted at Jews but had ties to antisemitism. “The shooter in Buffalo was an antisemite. And the shooter in El Paso was an antisemite.”
What they are saying
- “I just want to make a few things clear: The Holocaust happened. Hitler was a demonic figure,” Biden tweeted last week. “And instead of giving it a platform, our political leaders should be calling out and rejecting antisemitism wherever it hides.”
- “The ability to spread these messages from so-called legitimate influencers has a way of mainstreaming this form of hatred in a way that we just haven’t seen before,” said the ADL’s Segal.
- “We are experiencing an outbreak of attitudes and ideologies that we thought belonged to the past, and that we thought were completely out of the American tradition,” said Hayes, the historian.
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Story Credit: usatoday.com