'Attacks are despicable, unconscionable, un-American'

Biden again calls out antisemitism; Congress pushes appointment of special envoy

US president says he won’t allow Americans to be attacked because of who they are; bipartisan letter signed by 132 lawmakers urges more forceful response to targeting of Jews

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

US President Joe Biden speaks at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton, Va., Friday, May 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
US President Joe Biden speaks at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton, Va., Friday, May 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

US President Joe Biden spoke out Friday for the second time in days against a rise in attacks targeting Jews across the US, as 132 members of Congress made a bipartisan plea for him to appoint a special antisemitism envoy.

“I will not allow our fellow Americans to be intimidated or attacked because of who they are or the faith they practice,” Biden  said in a statement, lamenting the “targeting and terrorizing American Jews.”

“We have seen a brick thrown through the window of a Jewish-owned business in Manhattan, a swastika carved into the door of a synagogue in Salt Lake City, families threatened outside a restaurant in Los Angeles, and museums in Florida and Alaska, dedicated to celebrating Jewish life and culture and remembering the Holocaust, vandalized with anti-Jewish messages,” Biden noted.

“These attacks are despicable, unconscionable, un-American, and they must stop,” he added, referring to the spike in incidents that has come against the backdrop of the 11-day war between Israel and terror groups in Gaza.

Illustrative: Pro-Israel supporters chant slogans during a rally in support of Israel outside the Federal Building in Los Angeles, May 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, file)

Biden’s more lengthy statement came four days after he tweeted that the recent attacks are “despicable, and they must stop. I condemn this hateful behavior at home and abroad — it’s up to all of us to give hate no safe harbor.”

In the Friday statement, he noted that the Justice Department would be “deploying all of the tools at its disposal to combat hate crimes.”

Biden said recent days have proven that “no community is immune” and that Americans must stand together ” to silence these terrible and terrifying echoes of the worst chapters in world history, and pledge to give hate no safe harbor.”

“May is Jewish American Heritage Month, when we honor Jewish Americans who have inextricably woven their experience and their accomplishments into the fabric of our national identity; overcoming the pain of history, and helping lead our struggle for a more fair, just, and tolerant society,” he continued. “Let us all take up that work and create a nation that stands for, and stands up for, the dignity and safety of all of our people.”

Also Friday, 132 House members signed a letter to Biden organized by Democratic Reps. Ted Deutch and Grace Meng, and Republican Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick and Chris Smith, urging the president to take broad steps to respond to the rise in attacks.

“We urge you to continue your record of responding decisively to hate-based violence using these new tools at your disposal and take action to also protect the American Jewish community,” the lawmakers said, noting that “the majority of all religious-based hate crimes in our country are against Jews, according to the FBI.”

The congress members urged the Biden administration to swiftly implement the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act to strengthen the national response to the targeting of minorities, develop an inter-agency strategy to combat antisemitism and protect American Jews and to “expeditiously nominate” a State Department special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism.

Earlier this week, representatives from five organizations met with White House officials to discuss actions the Biden administration could take including appointing a monitor at the Department of Homeland Security and naming a liaison with the Jewish community.

Among the names that have been suggested as a monitor of antisemitism are former Anti-Defamation League leader Abraham Foxman; Nancy Kaufman, former chief executive officer of the National Council of Jewish Women; and Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Holocaust studies at Emory University, Bloomberg reported Tuesday, citing sources familiar with the matter.

“While these new tools are critical, we also know that they are merely a first step. Education and solidarity are necessary to eliminate the root causes of antisemitism and racial discrimination,”the lawmakers wrote.

“We stand ready to work with your administration to unequivocally condemn and confront antisemitism across America and around the globe,” they added.

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