Jewish leaders gathered near the White House on Wednesday for a roundtable discussion on ways to counter rising antisemitism.
Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff chaired the event at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building that featured representatives from different denominations of Judaism and Jewish organizations, as well as senior officials from the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden.
“Right now, there is an epidemic of hate facing our country," Emhoff, the first Jewish spouse of a U.S. president or vice president, said in prepared remarks.
“Let me be clear: words matter. People are no longer saying the quiet parts out loud, they are screaming them," Emhoff continued. “We cannot normalize this. We all have an obligation to condemn these vile acts. We must not stay silent. There is no either or. There are no two sides. Everyone must be against this.”
In recent weeks, political leaders in the U.S. have responded to public displays of antisemitism by rapper Kanye West. In his latest controversial outburst, the performer on Tuesday called on Jewish people to forgive Adolf Hitler. Last week, West praised the Nazi leader who oversaw the genocide of some six million Jews during World War II.
In a Twitter post following West's comments, Biden wrote that the "Holocaust happened" and that "Hitler was a demonic figure." The president also said that politicians should "call out" antisemitism.
"Any time the White House takes the opportunity to give special focus on the issue of antisemitism is a positive thing," Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of Global Social Action Agenda for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told i24NEWS from the Jewish human rights organization's headquarters in Los Angeles.
After former U.S. president Donald Trump last month hosted West and Holocaust denier, Nick Fuentes, at his Florida estate, his vice president Mike Pence said that the Republican businessman-turned-politician "should apologize" for hosting the two antisemites.
Cooper emphasized the importance of bipartisan support for combating rising antisemitism, stressing the importance of Republicans and Democrats coming together to address the problem so that it does not become a wedge issue.
"From the point of view of the Wiesenthal Center, the fight against antisemitism should not be seen or driven in the context of a political divide," the rabbi said.
Despite making up only two percent of the U.S. population, Jews are the target of nearly 60 percent of all religiously-motivated hate crimes, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation data released in 2020. Last month, amid the increased anti-Jewish rhetoric online from social media influencers, antisemitic hate crimes in New York City increased by 125 percent over November 2021 — 45 in November 2022 versus 20 in November 2021, according to local police data.
Both Republicans and Democrats must call out antisemitism within their ranks, Cooper said.
This point was also conveyed to i24NEWS by the British NGO Campaign Against Semitism whose spokesperson wrote, "As long as partisanship bedevils the fight against antisemitism, it cannot succeed," adding: "Political parties and movements across the spectrum must be willing to challenge antisemitism in their own camps and not just when it emerges somewhere else."
UK-based antisemitism activist Ambrosine Shitrit, founder of the British NGO Eye on Antisemitism, emphasized in comments to i24NEWS that Emhoff needs to condemn antisemitism when it comes from his own party and not just the opposition party.
"It is a hugely important event to hold with Doug Emhoff. However, being attached to the Democratic party through VP Kamala Harris isn’t enough. He needs to understand and call out antisemitism in their own ranks, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Linda Sarsour, and Rashida Tlaib," Shitrit said.
This is in reference to the so-called "Squad" of progressive Democratic members of the U.S. Congress accused by some of antisemitism. The membership ranks include representatives Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib, while Sarsour is a progressive activist known for her anti-Israel views.
Liora Rez, executive director of StopAntisemitism, a U.S. non-profit watchdog organization focused on combating antisemitism, lamented the lack of grassroots activists at the event.
“Though we appreciate the Second Gentleman's goodwill gesture for convening a round table focused on combating antisemitism, we don’t need any more meetings — we need action," Rez said. "It was disappointing to note that there aren’t any activists, such as StopAntisemitism, that were given a seat at the table. It takes boots on the ground to combat Jew-hatred, not more talking."
Cooper said that given the small size of the Jewish community in the U.S. that it simply doesn't have the resources to deal with this issue by itself.
"We are going to need allies, friends, neighbors, and business leaders to speak out. To educate a new generation of Americans of the lessons of the Shoah," Cooper said. Wednesday's White House event is an "important signal from the executive branch that antisemitism is real."
Jews need to form alliances with other groups facing discrimination, according to Ben Lorber, a senior research analyst at the U.S.-based progressive think tank Political Research Associates.
"We need to fight antisemitism by building grassroots coalitions between Jews and other marginalized groups, founded upon principles of solidarity, mutual support, and showing up for each other in the face of exclusionary structures and social movements which threaten us all," Lorber told i24NEWS.
Reprinted with permission from i24NEWS