Biden faces growing pressure to take action on antisemitism

President Biden is under growing pressure to take action amid the rise in violent attacks targeting the U.S. Jewish community.

Biden has condemned the surge in disturbing incidents, but Democratic lawmakers and outside groups are pushing for more, calling for the president to take more steps to stop antisemitism.

One trio of Democrats in a letter to Biden asked that he nominate a United States ambassador-at-large to monitor and combat antisemitism.

“We need a united, bipartisan, national-level commitment to confront and address the threat of antisemitism head-on. Antisemitism is wrong, and it deserves to be unequivocally condemned by all,” Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Elaine Luria (D-Va.) and Kathy Manning (D-N.C.) wrote to Biden on Tuesday.

Five prominent Jewish advocacy groups — the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Committee, the Orthodox Union, the Jewish Federations of North America, and Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. — in a Friday letter to Biden expressed concern about a surge in attacks.

The ADL says antisemitic incidents in the United States have increased 63 percent said since new hostilities broke out 11 days ago between Israel and Hamas. The two sides reached a cease-fire on Friday.

There have been clear incidents of antisemitism related to the conflict in the Gaza Strip, though much of the focus in Washington has also been on antisemitic remarks by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) that were condemned by leaders in both parties.

Greene compared vaccinated employees wearing a “vaccination logo” to Nazis forcing Jews to wear a yellow star during the Holocaust, which led to the genocide of 6 million.

Past remarks by liberal Democrats comparing Israel to an apartheid state have also come under new scrutiny from lawmakers who say they can contribute to antisemitic violence.

In response to the pressure, Biden and the White House have taken a number of steps to reassure the Jewish community.

The Orthodox Union Advocacy Center met virtually with White House senior staff and personnel office staff on Monday, and the meeting was also attended by staff from the National Security Council and Department of Homeland Security.

Nathan Diament, executive director of the Orthodox Union, said the White House meeting was “very positive.”

“We discussed the issues raised in the letter. The White House staff weren’t so specific as to say, ‘Yes, we’re going to do this.’ But they were very receptive about what we were raising. They said that from the president on down, they’re very concerned about the situation, intend to act comprehensively on it, along the lines of the suggestions we raised. For a bad situation, it was very positive,” he said.

The White House said Biden has been in constant contact with the Jewish community to offer his support.

“The President recognizes that this is a persistent evil that always deserves our attention and efforts, and as he tweeted this week, these attacks must stop, and we must work collectively to give hate no safe harbor,” a White House official told The Hill.

Jewish organizations plan to keep pushing for more from the president. 

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) is calling for a twofold approach to the uptick in violence. It wants the White House to appoint a Jewish liaison to the community and fill the position of ambassador-at-large to monitor and combat antisemitism.

Biden should also “strongly condemn antisemitism when we see a rise in hate toward the Jewish people. It’s important that’s not always advocacy from Jewish groups that leads to condemnation,” said Melanie Gorelick, JCPA senior vice president.

The JCPA has been invited to an off-the-record meeting with the White House.

“The White House has reached out to the Jewish community, and so there is outreach right now, which is very much appreciated,” Gorelick said.

Biden signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law last week. That legislation was focused on attacks against Asian Americans that have occurred since the coronavirus pandemic, but it also includes a provision named in part for Heather Heyer, who was killed counterprotesting at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 that included self-identified neo-Nazis and Nazi symbols. 

Gorelick said the JCPA has been pressing for the provision for years, while Diament said he wanted to see how the new law could be implemented to combat anti-Jewish hate.

A White House official said the administration is working to bolster the safety and security of synagogues. As part of that effort, the Department of Homeland Security will brief heads of security in the Jewish community.

Doug Emhoff, the first Jewish second spouse in the U.S., spoke at a ADL event earlier this month about the administration’s work fighting anti-Semitism. 

“He recognizes this is a persistent evil that always deserves our attention and efforts,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday of Biden. 

Tags Antisemitism Doug Emhoff Elaine Luria Israel-Palestinian conflict Jen Psaki Joe Biden Josh Gottheimer Marjorie Taylor Greene

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