WASHINGTON — US Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff on Wednesday lamented what he called an “epidemic of hate” facing the country, in remarks at a White House roundtable discussion with Jewish leaders on the recent rise of antisemitism.
The gathering was held amid a surge in anti-Jewish vitriol spread by public figures, including famous rapper Kanye West.
“Let me be clear — words matter. People are no longer saying the quiet parts out loud, they are screaming them,” Emhoff said. “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.”
Emhoff, who is Jewish, has become increasingly outspoken about growing bias toward adherents of the Jewish faith, and hate at large, in the United States. He has said what is happening is “painful.”
“For me, this is not the end. This is just the beginning of this conversation. And as long as I have this microphone, I am going to speak out against hate, bigotry and lies,” he said.
“On days like today, I think back to Ellis Island. I think about my family members and I think of the promise of America. That a young boy from Brooklyn – whose family fled persecution – could be sitting here today as the first second gentleman of the United States in the White House,” Emhoff added.
Also participating in the event were State Department antisemitism envoy Deborah Lipstadt, White House domestic policy adviser Susan Rice and senior Biden aide on public engagement Keisha Lance Bottoms along with representatives from roughly a dozen Jewish organizations.
The Jewish groups included the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Agudath, Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, American Jewish Committee, Orthodox Union, Jewish on Campus, National Council of Jewish Women, Hillel, Secure Community Network, Religious Action Center, Anti-Defamation League, Integrity First for America and American Friends of Lubavitch.
The roundtable came after former US president Donald Trump recently hosted Nick Fuentes, a Holocaust-denying white supremacist, at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida; West expressed love for Adolf Hitler in an interview after bringing Fuentes to the Mar-a-Lago dinner; basketball star Kyrie Irving promoted an antisemitic film on social media; and neo-Nazi trolls are clamoring to return to Twitter as new CEO Elon Musk grants “amnesty” to suspended accounts.
National Council of Jewish Women CEO Sheila Katz told The Times of Israel afterward that just about all Jewish representatives present urged the White House to adopt a “whole of government” policy to combating antisemitism, as was recommended earlier this week by a bipartisan group of 125 US lawmakers in a letter sent to Biden.
Katz acknowledged that few specifics were discussed in terms of policy recommendations but she said many representatives stressed the importance of improving education on Jews and antisemitism in schools where such issues are not taught.
She also noted the personal nature of Emhoff’s remarks, saying they opened the floor to participants to also reflect on how the latest wave of antisemitism has been affecting them on a more personal level.
Participants thanked the Biden administration for speaking out against antisemitism, Katz said. “There was a call for the second gentleman, and not only him, but also the president and others to be calling out antisemitism even more frequently… and not only when it’s a celebrity.”
The NCJW CEO said the White House was attentive to the recommendations made by participants and that Emhoff pledged to follow up with the Jewish leaders upon review.
AP contributed to this report.