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Emhoff to chair White House roundtable with Jewish groups on rising antisemitism

Jewish second gentleman to convene discussion that will include State Department envoy Deborah Lipstadt and other top officials

Doug Emhoff, the husband of US Vice President Kamala Harris, speaks during a reception to celebrate the Jewish new year in the East Room of the White House in Washington, September 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Doug Emhoff, the husband of US Vice President Kamala Harris, speaks during a reception to celebrate the Jewish new year in the East Room of the White House in Washington, September 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The White House will convene a roundtable with Jewish organizations on antisemitism on Wednesday that will be chaired by Douglas Emhoff, the Jewish Second Gentleman.

Also appearing at the event will be Susan Rice, US President Joe Biden’s top domestic policy adviser; Deborah Lipstadt, the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism; and Keisha Lance Bottoms, Biden’s senior adviser for public engagement, the White House said Monday in a statement.

Biden has made combating antisemitism and other bigotries a centerpiece of his agenda. He launched his campaign in April 2019 by saying that the deadly 2017 white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, and former president Donald Trump’s failure to unequivocally condemn it, made him decide to run for president.

Antisemitic expression has spiked following Elon Musk’s removal of content controls after he purchased the social media giant Twitter and unabashed antisemitism espoused by rapper and designer Kanye West. Biden convened a White House summit in September to address the threat extremism poses to various communities.

The Department of Homeland Security last week issued a terrorism advisory bulletin that the Jewish, LGBTQ and migrant communities face a “persistent and lethal threat,” NBC reported last week.

The same day, Senator Ben Cardin, a Jewish Democrat from Maryland, convened a meeting of top agency officials who handle the threat of antisemitic violence.

Sen. Ben Cardin, Democrat-Maryland, speaks during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 8, 2021. (Tom Williams/Pool via AP)

“We can and should be doing more,” Cardin, who convened the meeting in his role as chairman of the United States’ efforts to oversee human rights abroad, said after the meeting.

“A unified, national strategy on countering antisemitism is needed. While finding the proper balance between protecting free speech and protecting Americans from harm,” he said. “We need to up our game, rebuild coalitions with other groups that have been the target of hate-based violence, and institutionalize coordination that counters antisemitism wherever it is found.”

Emhoff, whose wife is Vice President Kamala Harris, said that his time on the job has made him more sensitive to Jewish tradition and to threats facing Jews.

“And coming in as Second Gentleman, I thought being the first man in this role would be the headline and it was,” Emhoff said last week at a conference of NewDEAL, a group of young progressive elected officials. “But like the one thing was being the first Jewish person of any of the four. There’s never been a Jew married to a president, or vice president, or has been president or vice president. As it turns out that has become a very big deal in the Jewish community and in other communities that aren’t represented.”

Emhoff warned against apathy regarding antisemitism.

“I don’t want it to feel normal,” he said. “I don’t want people to think, ‘Well it’s just words, it’s just Kanye.’ No — this matters. This is important. We have to all step up and speak out about this as leaders in your communities.”

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