(WASHINGTON) — Second gentleman Doug Emhoff hosted a roundtable at the White House on Wednesday about antisemitism, saying he was compelled to use his “microphone” to address the issue.
“There’s an epidemic of hate facing our country,” he said, kicking off his remarks. “We’re seeing a rapid rise in antisemitic rhetoric and acts.”
“Let me be clear: Words matter,” continued Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris and the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president. “People are no longer saying the quiet parts out loud. They are literally screaming them.”
The roundtable, which was attended by Jewish leaders, dignitaries and advocates, was organized amid high-profile antisemitic controversies including former president Donald Trump; Kyrie Irving, a star basketball player for the Brooklyn Nets; and Ye, the rapper and designer formerly known as Kanye West.
Police in some parts of the country have also noted increasing violence against Jews.
Last month, Irving shared an antisemitic film on Twitter and later said, after being suspended by his team, “I don’t stand for anything close to hate speech or antisemitism or anything that is going against the human race.” In November, Trump dined at his Mar-a-Lago resort with Ye and Nick Fuentes, a white nationalist. During a subsequent interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on InfoWars, Ye said, “I like Hitler” and later tweeted an image of a swastika combined with the Star of David.
In November, law enforcement alerted the public to threats made against the New York City and New Jersey Jewish communities, which officials later said were mitigated without incident.
Hate crimes also rose 70% last month in New York City compared to the same month a year earlier, led by a surge in antisemitic attacks, which rose 125%, according to the New York Police Department.
During Wednesday’s roundtable, Emhoff described his anguish over antisemitism and urged people to speak out against it.
“I’m in pain right now. We’re all in pain right now. Our community’s in pain,” he said. “It hurts me to see what we’re going through right now. What all people are going through right now. Antisemitism is dangerous. We cannot normalize this. We all have an obligation to condemn these vile acts.”
“We know when people refuse to condemn this vile speech and these vile acts … it only serves to ignite violence, violence among extremists,” he said.
Emhoff said his great-grandparents fled persecution over their Jewish identity in current-day Poland and recalled viewing their names on the ship manifest on Ellis Island and in early census reports.
“Those images, they just live on in my mind,” he said.
Emhoff also vowed to keep using his role to amplify important topics, calling the roundtable only the beginning of the conversation.
“As long as I have this microphone, I’m going to speak out against hate, bigotry, lies,” he said. “I’m going to speak out against those who praise fascist murders and idealize extremists. I’m going to speak out against Holocaust deniers. I’m going to call those out who won’t do it.”
The White House’s top domestic policy adviser, Susan Rice, and Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt also spoke during the event.
Rice, who is Black and who grew up in a predominately Jewish neighborhood and attended friends’ Passover Seders, said she has understood what it was like to be hated for who you are, “but there’s nothing more vicious than what we are seeing today — out of the mouths of our leaders, of our public figures, our celebrities, our elected officials.”
Lipstadt said “for too long” people have failed to take antisemitism seriously.
“Jew hatred has been belittled or discounted because Jews have erroneously been considered white and privileged,” she said. “This is a very real threat to Jews, and that alone would make it worth fighting with all our soul and with all our might.”
But antisemitism threatens more people than just Jews, Lipstadt said. It is linked to other forms of prejudice and hate and is “the death knell of democracy. The antisemite believes Jews control the government, the press, the media and therefore democracy is an illusion.”
“I will not remain silent,” Emhoff said. “I’m proud to be Jewish. I’m proud to live openly as a Jew, and I’m not afraid. We cannot live in fear. We refuse to be afraid.”
None of the speakers during the opening part of the roundtable, which was the only part open to press, mentioned Ye, Irving, or Trump by name.
The organizations that participated in the roundtable included the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Jewish on Campus, Religious Action Center and Anti-Defamation League, according to a White House official. The groups spanned across different Jewish denominations and movements.
Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.