Second gentleman Doug Emhoff – the first Jewish person in his position – will convene an antisemitism roundtable Wednesday at the White House, Emhoff’s office tells CNN.
Planning for the event was underway for weeks, but White House aides said that it’s taken on extra significance now following a series of antisemitic comments from the rapper Kanye West, who now goes by Ye, as well as the revelation that former President Donald Trump hosted West along with White nationalist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes at a dinner at his Mar-a-Lago estate in late November.
“Literally every single day it gets worse,” Emhoff said on Friday, appearing at an event in Washington last week where he described himself as “in pain.”
“Jews in our generation didn’t experience this level of antisemitism at all,” he added. “Like with so many issues, we thought that it was behind us.”
Emhoff, joined by domestic policy advisor Susan Rice, director of public engagement Keisha Lance Bottoms and administration special envoy to combat antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt, will bring together leaders of 13 different Jewish groups from the Anti-Defamation League to Jewish on Campus and several religious organizations.
President Joe Biden is not expected to attend the roundtable, but he is expected to continue to speak out – including potentially at the Hanukkah reception the White House is planning for later this month, sources tell CNN. On Friday, he tweeted, “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.”
Aides have worked not to make denouncing antisemitism seem like a political ploy, or just another chance to swing at Trump.
There aren’t any direct actions expected out of the event, but participants say even just having the conversation is important.
“By convening this roundtable, the Biden Administration is showing its commitment to act in partnership with the Jewish community to confront antisemitism in all its forms,” said Ted Deutch, a former Democratic congressman from Florida who’ll be attending in his new role as CEO of the American Jewish Congress.
Emhoff has talked before about how he wasn’t religiously observant for much of his life and was surprised by how much attention has come on him for being Jewish since Biden named his wife, Kamala Harris, to Biden’s presidential ticket. The vice president and her husband tweeted photos of lighting a menorah last year at Hanukkah, hosted a Passover Seder at the Naval Observatory and he attended Rosh Hashana services at a Washington synagogue this past September, but Emhoff said taking on a role combating the current rise in hate feels even more personal.
“I do not see this just as a Jewish issue. This is an issue for all of us. Because we’ve seen this before. This is how it started 70 years ago. So I don’t want it to feel normal,” Emhoff said. “I don’t want people to think, ‘Well it’s just words, it’s just Kanye.’ No. This matters.”