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Second gentleman Emhoff says antisemitism has become an epidemic

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President Harris, delivers remarks during a roundtable about the rise of antisemitism.
Chip Somodevilla
Getty Images
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President Harris, delivers remarks during a roundtable about the rise of antisemitism.

Updated December 7, 2022 at 6:05 AM ET

The White House is hosting a roundtable on the rise of antisemitism in the United States on Wednesday.

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff will lead a discussion with Jewish leaders following a surge in anti-Jewish comments involving prominent people.

"Let me be clear: words matter. People are no longer saying the quiet parts out loud, they are screaming them," Emhoff plans to say, according to excerpts of his remarks released by the White House.

The rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, has expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler, among other remarks; and former President Donald Trump recently had dinner with Ye and Holocaust-denier Nick Fuentes.

"There has been a normalization of hate speech," said Rabbi Noah Farkas, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, "open talk of maybe what was always said in private, but now is being said in public."

It's personal for the second gentleman

Wednesday's meeting will also be the first high-profile policy issue that Emhoff leads at the White House. He is the first Jewish person in his position and has become more outspoken about fighting what he describes as "an epidemic of hate."

"We cannot normalize this," he will say, according to excerpts from his remarks. "We all have an obligation to condemn these vile acts. We must not stay silent. There is no either/or. There are no two sides. Everyone must be against this."

The meeting, slated for 11 a.m. ET, will include participants from Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox organizations, the White House said.

Jewish people are very concerned, said Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks antisemitism.

He said the ADL has tracked more anti-Jewish attacks last year than it has in any year since started tracking in the 1970s.

"I don't think it's an understatement to assert that we are reaching a point where this is becoming a national crisis," Greenblatt said. "We have celebrities repeating antisemitic tropes. We have the former president breaking bread with bigots, including white supremacists. We have athletes normalizing Holocaust denialism."

President Biden raised his own concerns on Twitter last week when he called out "political leaders" for not strongly denouncing antisemitism.

"I just want to make a few things clear: The Holocaust happened. Hitler was a demonic figure. And instead of giving it a platform, our political leaders should be calling out and rejecting antisemitism wherever it hides. Silence is complicity," the president wrote.

The rhetoric is changing and so is the response

In the past, politicians have raised concerns about giving extremists more oxygen by paying attention to their views, but leaders say it's a different time.

Ian Russell, a Democratic strategist, says that was a view before the election of Trump, whose blunt rhetoric and aversion to political correctness angered detractors and fueled supporters.

"There was a unspoken tacit understanding between the two major parties that there were some things you just didn't say," said Russell, a former deputy executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

"Some dog whistles you didn't send and some things we just kept out of mainstream political dialogue in the United States because we all believe in never again. Instead, Trump said the quiet part out loud. He turned the dog whistle into a megaphone."

But this type of talk is now part of the mainstream political dialogue. He said the White House is right to call it out.

Farkas said social media has helped fuel issues that were before relegated to the dark corners of society.

"Someone once told me you're never weird online," he said. "You'll always find, 'your people.' And while that might be true for people who love to roller skate or people who love kittens, it's also true for people who hold the deeply hateful feelings, thoughts and actions in their hearts. And the truth is, is that social media thrives on these kinds of viral, emotional in-group feelings."

It's not just Democrats who are concerned, though some Republicans have been careful not to attack Trump directly.

A number of Republicans, including Sens. John Cornyn of Texas, Tim Scott of South Carolina and James Lankford of Oklahoma, signed onto a bipartisan letter, led by Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-N.V., calling on Biden to develop a national strategy against antisemitism.

"Rising antisemitism puts Jews both in the United States and around the world at risk," the lawmakers wrote. "Antisemitic voices, inciting hateful and violent action, are finding new audiences, with anti-Jewish conspiracies gaining traction across the globe and through social media."
Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.