Last week the White House hosted a roundtable meeting on antisemitism led by second gentleman Douglas Emhoff. Numerous administration officials and several representatives of Jewish organizations attended. The urgency for the meeting was clear and was reflected in the words of one of the attendees, Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. State Department’s special envoy to combat antisemitism, who declared that antisemitic beliefs “must be stopped by any means necessary.” It begs the question of how to get that done.
Emhoff, who is Jewish and married to Vice President Kamala Harris, spoke of an “epidemic of hate facing our country.” That’s certainly true. Days before the roundtable meeting, former President Donald Trump outraged a bipartisan chorus of his critics and longtime supporters and friends by hosting a dinner with the gleefully antisemitic Kanye West, and white nationalist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes. Trump giving oxygen to hate-mongers is as offensive as the hate they spew.
Rising antisemitism has Congress worried as well. On Dec. 7, a total of 122 members of the Senate and House sent a letter to President Joe Biden, urging him to develop a unified, national strategy to monitor and combat antisemitism. The bipartisan letter called for a “whole-of-government approach” to combat the “anti-Semitic voices” that are “finding new audiences, with anti-Jewish conspiracies gaining traction.”
Similar recognition is coming from the states. For example, a recent report from the state-chartered Virginia Commission to Combat Antisemitism tracked the growth of antisemitism is that state, which has recorded nearly 350 reports of such acts this year. But the Virginia report does more than just record numbers. It explains the commonwealth’s monitoring process, reviews the history of antisemitism in the state and in a frank manner admits that “some of the most high-profile antisemitic incidents in recent history have occurred in the Commonwealth” — most notably, the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August 2017.
In addition to its comprehensive review of antisemitic trends and activity in the commonwealth, the Virginia report makes 21 recommendations to address the problem. First among them is adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, including its “Contemporary Examples.” It calls on the state to expand Holocaust standards of learning and include the study of Jewish history in world history courses. And it proposes banning public entities from adopting and practicing BDS positions.
We are encouraged by the Virginia report. It goes beyond traditional hand-wringing and inflated rhetoric, and suggests tangible action. That’s the kind of comprehensive approach we need from the federal government.
We agree with the members of Congress letter that urges a “whole of government approach” to address poisonous antisemitism. But we need the right people leading the effort. In that regard, the designation of Emhoff to chair the taskforce seems more ceremonial than substantive, as he lacks the necessary background or experience to lead the comprehensive government effort that is needed.
We need an experienced hand leading this crucial government effort. We don’t have time to waste on ceremony.