Jewish groups are pushing the White House to fight anti-Semitism. For Doug Emhoff, it’s personal.

As a coalition of prominent Jewish organizations pressured the White House to act in the wake of the increase in anti-Semitic incidents in recent weeks, a prolific deputy in the Biden administration with a personal interest s ‘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. ministries of justice and education. 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 candid in his remarks,” said Nathan Diament, executive director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, a non-partisan public policy arm 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. forms as a second gentleman beyond campaigning and fundraising on behalf of Democratic candidates and being a high-level amplifier of the administration’s Covid-19 relief plan.

“It was clear that the heart of the Biden administration was 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 Paikin said. Barall, director of government relations for 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 focused on 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 hushed up the idea that Emhoff 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 in of a platform or an agenda, “rather, his relationship with the Jewish community” is an integral part of his values, it is part of who he is and of his family history. “

Emhoff tweeted earlier this week that the increase in anti-Semitic attacks was “reprehensible” after a reported wave of anti-Semitic incidents and hate crime attacks on synagogues and schools, including in San Francisco, a suburb of 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 acts of anti-Muslim vandalism this month – highlighting tensions which remain even though a bilateral ceasefire agreement has been concluded. 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 Chotiner, childhood friend of Emhoff 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

Prior to 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 how he wore a three-piece suit in his bar. mitzvah.

“A Biden-Harris administration will be tough on anti-Semitism, period,” he said said in august at the Jewish Floridian Summit 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 hate 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 care of charitable issues or programs that complement administration. When First Lady Jill Biden was the Second Lady, she advocated for community colleges and women’s and girls’ education, while Michelle Obama pushed her healthy eating initiative forward as First Lady. Former Second Lady Karen Pence has promoted art therapy and helped military families.

During a virtual fundraiser last year with former late-night host David Letterman, Emhoff mentioned helping provide pro bono 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 told him that we should be prepared to be asked to do something,” said Aaron Jacoby, a longtime friend and former legal partner. “Whatever that something, 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, which has been propelled in recent years by the growth of the far right and online extremism.

The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights group, said preliminary analysis of Twitter data from May 7 to 14 revealed more than 17,000 tweets that used variations of the phrase “Hitler had 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, who was a domestic policy speechwriter for President George W. Bush when he was chosen to also serve as the liaison of the White House to the Jewish community in 2004 and 2005..

Neusner said today’s role 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 his own party, and that 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 to 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 scramble for the vice president’s spouse just because he’s Jewish,” Neusner said in an email, adding that “it should be a post for staff who know deeply into the community… this means the person must be responsible for the work they do and can be removed from the staff, if necessary. ”

Matt Nosanchuk, who served as White House liaison in the Obama administration, said the role is also consumer and requires navigating international disputes and exploiting what members of the Jewish community, representing a range of political and political interests, believe it should be done.

Nosanchuk, who is president of the New York Jewish Agenda, a progressive rights group, said the Biden administration has so far been successful in engaging with the Jewish community, but agreed that a liaison role 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.”

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