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'We cannot normalize this': Doug Emhoff leads White House roundtable to combat antisemitism

Conference speakers also drew a link between antisemitism and another scourge the Biden administration wants to confront: threats to democracy.

WASHINGTON — Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, opened a roundtable discussion on antisemitism Wednesday with a plaintive pronouncement that the Jewish community “is in pain.”

With antisemitic incidents on the rise in the U.S., Emhoff called for more people to step up and publicly denounce “vile” speech and violent acts directed against Jews.

“Antisemitism is dangerous,” said Emhoff, the country’s first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president. “We cannot normalize this. We all have an obligation to condemn these vile acts.”

The conference included an assortment of Biden administration officials and representatives of Jewish groups as assault, harassment and vandalism targeting Jews have risen to their highest levels in more than four decades, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Second gentleman Douglas Emhoff during a roundtable about the rise of antisemitism.
Second gentleman Douglas Emhoff at a roundtable about the rise of antisemitism in Washington on Wednesday.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Last week, the rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, was suspended from Twitter after he posted an image that appeared to show a swastika embedded in a Star of David.

Earlier that day, Ye had told the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in an interview, “I see good things about Hitler,” a reference to the German dictator whose Nazi regime presided over the murders of 6 million Jews.

Late last month, former President Donald Trump had a private dinner at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida with Ye and two other guests, including the white nationalist Nick Fuentes.

Trump has faced criticism from within his own party for hosting them at his Florida club. His former vice president, Mike Pence, said Trump had shown “profoundly poor judgment.” On his Truth Social platform, Trump said that he did not know who Fuentes was and that Ye did not express any antisemitic sentiments during the meal.

At Wednesday's conference, part of which was open to the media, none of the participants specifically named Ye or mentioned the Mar-a-Lago dinner in their public remarks. But one of the speakers, Susan Rice, the director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, said, “There’s nothing more vicious than what we are seeing today out of the mouths of our leaders, of our public figures, of our celebrities, of our elected officials.”

Emhoff described the event as the start of what would become an ongoing project to combat antisemitism. The speakers noted steps that the Biden administration has taken so far, including setting aside $250 million to protect places of worship like synagogues. President Joe Biden has proposed raising that to $360 million for the 2023 fiscal year.

Conference speakers drew a link between antisemitism and another scourge the Biden administration wants to confront: threats to democracy. Those who consider Jews to be puppeteers manipulating government and the media do not believe the U.S. is a true democracy, a speaker said.

“Antisemitism is the death knell of democracy,” said Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt, the Biden administration’s special envoy to combat and monitor antisemitism. “The antisemite believes Jews control the government, the press, the media — and therefore democracy is an illusion.”