‘We cannot normalize this’: Emhoff at UN calls to widen fight against antisemitism

Second gentleman, special envoy Lipstadt, US ambassador urge broader approach to tackling Jew-hatred, condemn celebrity prejudice, at special UN session in New York

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

US Second Gentleman Douglass Emhoff speaks at the UN in New York, February 9, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
US Second Gentleman Douglass Emhoff speaks at the UN in New York, February 9, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

UNITED NATIONS — Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff called for broadening the fight against antisemitism at a special event at the United Nations on Thursday.

Emhoff spoke at the event, his first appearance at the United Nations, alongside US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt and American Jewish Committee CEO Ted Deutsch.

The side event at UN headquarters in New York City was aimed at working toward a global effort to combat antisemitism and sharing methods to address the hatred.

The panelists repeatedly called for forming partnerships to combat antisemitism, pervasive Jew-hatred online and repeated prejudice from celebrities and politicians.

Surveys and hate crimes data have repeatedly shown that antisemitism is at alarming levels in the US and Europe.

“We must all speak out against antisemitism and call out those who don’t. Silence is not an option. We must build coalitions to tackle this epidemic of hate. We must bring together people of all backgrounds,” Emhoff said.

“Hate is interconnected. It affects everyone and we must make sure that our communities are safe. All people must be able to live and worship and be who they are freely, without fear and without being subject to violence,” he said.

Emhoff also highlighted the importance of education to combat Holocaust denial and distortion, called for “consequences” for those who engage in antisemitism and decried recent instances of prejudice by the famous.

“Too often we see celebrities, comedians use antisemitism for cheap laughs, high profile entertainers, politicians openly espousing tired antisemitic tropes,” Emhoff said.

“We cannot normalize this. In order to combat antisemitism we need everyone to be committed and unified,” he said. “We need to make clear to the haters, the antisemites that there is no clear harbor.”

He pointed to the administration’s funding for nonprofit and synagogue security, appointing leaders to tackle the issue like Lipstadt and President Joe Biden’s working group to combat antisemitism. The administration said Monday that it is formulating a national, “whole-of-government approach” to addressing the problem.

Panelists at a United Nations session on antisemitism at UN headquarters in New York, February 9, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Emhoff last week returned from a tour of Poland and Germany to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day and invited a Holocaust survivor to Biden’s state of the union address.

Thomas-Greenfield said at the Thursday event, “The horrible truth is, all around the world antisemitism is pervasive and it is growing.”

She said it is stoked by extremists, “but also mainstream political leaders, popular celebrities, people in positions of power.”

“The hate is furthered both online and in person, directly and indirectly, covertly and out in the open,” Thomas-Greenfield said, citing data that four in 10 American Jews have changed their behavior out of fear.

“So much of the antisemitism that exists in the United States was on the margins. It happened in dark places,” Deutch said. “Now one antisemite with a large social media following suddenly broadcasts his hatred to millions of people which then continues to spread.”

Deutch on Wednesday condemned leading podcaster Joe Rogan for saying an antisemitic trope and offered to discuss the issue with him.

Deutch also called for more action from UN officials. Israel is disproportionately targeted at the world body, with the General Assembly passing more anti-Israel resolutions last year than against all other countries combined. Israel is also under greater investigatory scrutiny than any other country and two of the UN investigators have made antisemitic statements, without facing any repercussions from the UN.

“We need UN officials to speak out when there are insinuations that Israel itself, the only Jewish state in the world, is a racist endeavor,” Deutch said. He called on the UN leadership to publicly condemn antisemitism in its ranks.

White House antisemitism envoy Deborah Lipstadt at UN headquarters in New York, February 9, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

UN Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan also blasted the world body’s conduct.

“UN leadership is utterly failing to do what must be done in this war against evil,” Erdan said, demanding the UN adopt the widely-accepted IHRA definition of antisemitism.

He called on UN member states to take action themselves to “demand accountability” and take a more “offensive” approach.

Erdan made similar comments at an event held for Holocaust Remembrance Day late last month.

Lipstadt, a moral authority on antisemitism, said society needed a “community sense that it’s time to stop and condemn this.”

Even if people do not internalize the problem of antisemitic rhetoric, “at the very least let it become socially unacceptable.”

“What we need on social media is the influencer to say this is not acceptable. It’s sports figures, comedians” who need to speak out, she said, in addition to government action.

The US led the UN session and Israel, Canada, Argentina, Morocco and the UK were co-hosts. UN Undersecretary-General Melissa Fleming was also a panelist.

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