US Jewish groups pushing White House to appoint antisemitism monitor

In quick response to letter asking for action, administration officials meet with reps from major organizations to discuss future measures including naming a Jewish liaison

US President Joe Biden speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, May 13, 2021. (Evan Vucci/AP)
US President Joe Biden speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, May 13, 2021. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Major Jewish organizations in the US have been pressuring the Biden administration to take action against antisemitism, including appointing a monitor at the Department of Homeland Security and naming a liaison with the Jewish community.

Representatives from five organizations met with White House officials on Monday to discuss the suggestions, as well as other issues, in the wake of a sharp spike in antisemitic attacks that came amid renewed violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

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.

The meeting was quickly organized by the White House after the organizations had sent a letter on Friday urging US President Joe Biden to speak out against the wave of antisemitism and to appoint special officials to deal with the matter.

The groups that sent the letter and were represented at the meeting, in addition to the Jewish Federations of North America, were the Orthodox Union, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and Hadassah.

Abraham Foxman, speaking in a Zoom interview, May 25, 2021 (Zoom screenshot)

The White House would not comment and the three Jewish officials who returned the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s calls did not feel comfortable going into details of what the White House officials said, or naming on the record who was present.

The participants said that each of the five requests they made was addressed during the meeting: nominating an antisemitism monitor at the State Department, naming a Jewish liaison, convening a summit on antisemitism, adding funds to secure nonprofits, and keeping in place an executive order by former president Donald Trump that combats antisemitism on campuses.

The last request, having to do with Trump’s executive order, could stir controversy. Some liberal groups, including a number of Jewish ones, have expressed concern that it targets legitimate Israel criticism, and Biden has shown a tendency to purge Trump’s more controversial executive orders.

“We went through the specifics that we did raise in our letter, and they were certainly open to all of those things and indicated that they were all good suggestions and they’re working on the things that we raised,” said Nathan Diament, the Washington director for the Orthodox Union.

“We should not take for granted the importance of the president recognizing that America has a problem with antisemitic violence and President Biden recognizes that action is required to protect Jewish communities and roll back the rise in hate against religious and ethnic minorities, over the short and long term,” said Karen Paikin Barall, the Washington director for Hadassah.

The aftermath of an allegedly antisemitic attack at the Chaverim Congregation in Tucson, Arizona on May 18, 2021. (Chaverim Congregation via JTA)

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday that the administration is working “to bolster safety and security of synagogues and other religiously affiliated facilities and organizations.”

“DHS has briefed security directors across the Jewish community in the United States and is preparing a public awareness bulletin that will include security messages — measures individuals and facilities can take,” Psaki said.

The letter calling for action went out at midday Friday, asking Biden to “use your bully pulpit to call out antisemitism” in the wake of the spike in attacks on Jews since the launch of the latest Israel-Hamas conflict.

By 8 a.m. Monday, Biden was saying on Twitter: “the recent attacks on the Jewish community are despicable, and they must stop.”

At 4 p.m. the same day, representatives of all five organizations were on a video conference call with top staffers at the White House and the Department of Homeland Security.

The participants were knocked back by the immediacy of the response.

“You know, the next business day after the letter was sent, they brought a good group of key officials together who are really substantive,” said Elana Broitman, the director of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Washington office, who attended the meeting.

Broitman said the meeting was likely the first of many.

“I was left with the impression that more meetings and more steps are to come,” she said.

The groups are convening a virtual rally on Thursday to combat antisemitism, which they say will include top lawmakers from both parties in Congress and from the Biden administration.

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