As a coalition of prominent Jewish organizations lobbied the White House to act on the rise in anti-Semitic incidents in recent weeks, a prolific deputy for the Biden administration with a personal stake ‘Steps up: Doug Emhoff, Vice President Kamala Harris’ husband.
Emhoff, the first Jewish wife of a president or vice president, on Wednesday opened a virtual meeting between group leaders and senior White House officials and staff, including with the National Security Council and officials. justice and education departments. He said the administration was united with them and working to counter the upsurge in violence and hate speech against American Jews this month as conflict between Israelis and Palestinians raged in the Gaza Strip.
“He was very sincere in his remarks,” said Nathan Diament, executive director of the Orthodox Union Defense Center, a non-partisan political wing of the country’s largest Orthodox Jewish organization.
Participants at the private meeting said Emhoff’s involvement is an encouraging sign that the White House wants to make the fight against anti-Semitism a high priority, and that he has the ability to carve out his own platform. trains as a second gentleman beyond campaigning and fundraising on behalf of Democratic candidates and being a high-level accelerator of the administration’s Covid-19 relief plan.
“It was clear that the heart of the Biden administration is in the right place and we have an ally in the White House who rejects the idea that Jews should be subjected to violence and intimidation,” Karen said. Paikin Barall, director of government relations at Hadassah, the Zionist Women’s Organization of America. “However, we are closely monitoring how the White House reacts with specific actions and policies.”
This includes the immediate filling of key roles, including a State Department special envoy tasked with monitoring anti-Semitism, as well as a White House liaison with the Jewish community, a post that was vacant under the Trump administration.
Participants said President Joe Biden’s administration was actively considering candidates for the envoy post, but had not listed any potential names for an affair.
A White House official hammered home the idea that Emmoff might have a related escape role, telling NBC News he would not be serving as a liaison and that his involvement in this week’s meeting was “not part of of a platform or an agenda, “rather than his relationship with the Jewish community” is an integral part of his values, it is part of who he is and his family background. “
Emhoff tweeted earlier this week that the rise in anti-Semitic attacks was “reprehensible” after a wave of anti-Semitic incidents and apparently hate crimes against synagogues and schools, including in San Francisco, suburban Chicago and Tucson , Arizona.
Jews were also physically assaulted and harassed on the streets of Los Angeles, New York and South Florida, while mosques in New York City reported anti-Muslim vandalism this month – highlighting tensions which remain even after the signing of a bilateral ceasefire agreement. hold May 21. The pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protests have been largely peaceful.
Friends of Emhoff say he is proud of his Jewish heritage and that they are sure he will use his influence, even if it is not part of any formal capacity, to fight anti-Semitism and keep it at bay. foreground of the Biden-Harris agenda.
“I think he understands the urgency and importance of this issue and recognizes that it must remain at the forefront,” said Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner, Emhoff’s childhood friend who runs Temple Shalom at Louisville, Kentucky.
His synagogue has received anti-Semitic threats in the past and has security inside the building during services as protection.
For Emhoff, “it’s not just a political issue,” she said, “it’s also a personal issue”.
Use your platform
Before moving to Washington, DC, Emhoff worked as an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles. Born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in New Jersey, Emhoff served as a liaison with Jewish groups and donors during the 2020 election campaign, sharing personal stories about playing sports at Jewish summer camps and about how he wore a three-piece suit in his bar. mitzvah.
“A Biden-Harris administration will firmly resist anti-Semitism, period,” he said. said in august at the Jewish Summit of Floridians hosted by the Florida Democrats. “They have a comprehensive plan to tackle both the violence that stems from anti-Semitism and the hateful and dangerous lies that drive it. Joe and Kamala will call hatred by its proper name, whatever its source, and the hate. will condemn every time. “
While Emhoff has said his wife’s goals as vice president will center on “the pursuit of justice,” his priorities remain more vague.
Typically, presidential and vice-presidential spouses can take charge of charitable issues or programs that complement administration. When First Lady Jill Biden was Second Lady, she advocated for community colleges and education for women and girls, while Michelle Obama advanced her healthy eating initiative as First Lady. Former Second Lady Karen Pence has promoted art therapy and helping military families.
During a virtual fundraiser last year with former late-night host David Letterman, Emhoff mentioned helping provide free access to legal services. Politico reported this month he is also interested in the issue of food security.
“All of his friends who are lawyers, including myself, have been told by him that we should be prepared to be asked to do something,” said Aaron Jacoby, a longtime friend and former associate lawyer. “Anyway, I’m not sure yet. He can be a strong advocate for anything he thinks is important.
The right role
People who previously served as the White House liaison to the Jewish community say the Biden administration should move quickly to nominate someone in the face of the rise in anti-Semitism, propelled in recent years by a growth in the extreme right and extremism online.
The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights group, said preliminary analysis of Twitter data from May 7-14 revealed more than 17,000 tweets using variations of the phrase “Hitler was right “, coinciding with the latest round of fighting in Gaza and increased social media attention to the conflict.
“This is a crisis and must be treated as such,” said Noam Neusner, home policy speechwriter for President George W. Bush when he was chosen as White House liaison with the Jewish community in 2004 and 2005..
Neusner said the role today will require ensuring that the president is regularly briefed on the matter, that he and the White House press office speak forcefully against anti-Semitism and wholeheartedly, even against members. of its own party, and that of key agencies such as the Department. of Homeland Security and the FBI coordinate with state and local authorities to protect Jewish religious institutions and buildings and alert their members of potential threats.
Biden’s team already has a number of Jews in leadership and advisory roles, including his chief of staff, Ron Klain, and Attorney General Merrick Garland. The liaison post “shouldn’t be treated as a side scramble for the VP’s spouse just because he’s Jewish,” Neusner said in an email, adding that “it should be a staff position with deep knowledge. the community … that means the person must be responsible for the work they do and step down from the staff, if necessary. “
Matt Nosanchuk, who served as the White House liaison in the Obama administration, said the role was also consuming and required navigating international disputes and exploiting what members of the Jewish community, representing a range of political and political interests, believe it needs to be done.
Nosanchuk, who is chairman of the New York Jewish Agenda, a progressive advocacy group, said the Biden administration had been effective in engaging with the Jewish community so far, but agreed that a liaison role would not cannot be relegated to an inexperienced staff member.
Someone like Emhoff “may be a face of the White House,” he said, “but that’s different from the day-to-day relationship building that is required.”