When’s the last time an important policy initiative was spearheaded by the vice president’s spouse?
I couldn’t think of one either.
Expect Wednesday’s White House roundtable with unspecified Jewish leaders, hosted by Vice President Kamala Harris’ husband, Douglas Emhoff, to be long on optics and short on results. Evidently Emhoff, who is Jewish, was tapped because the Biden administration wants to impress Jews that it takes the issue seriously.
That’s a tough argument to make, given President Joe Biden’s passive response to rising antisemitic violence and threats nationally. Antisemitism is running rampant through American society, from both left and right. After years of crouching underground in the post-Holocaust, post-Gentleman’s Agreement world, it has been re-mainstreamed into an acceptable sentiment for public discourse.
Antisemitism is allegedly the motive for the Oct. 5 murder of University of Arizona Professor Thomas Meixner by a graduate student. The head of Secure Community Network publicly charged the murder could have been prevented if antisemitism were taken more seriously. Last April, two Lakewood Jews were critically injured in carjacking/ramming/stabbing attacks. In February, a Jewish Kentucky mayoral candidate was shot at. Last month, two men were arrested for planning to attack New York synagogues. An 18-year-old New Jersey high-schooler was arrested for threatening to attack Jews.
In New York City, it’s the most frequent hate-crime motive. The city reported 45 hate crimes in November, or one every 16 hours. That’s more than twice as many as November 2021. For January-September 2022, the New York Police Department reported 195 anti-Jewish hate crimes.
“From our perspective, we see the Jewish community getting it from all sides,” FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee during a Nov. 17 hearing.
Wray has probably seen the FBI’s 2021 hate-crime report. The public hasn’t. FBI statistics are usually released around mid-November to early December. Last year, they came out early—in August (later updated). Not this year.
Given Wray’s comments, and ceaseless reports of antisemitic incidents, maybe the report will show a spike in hate crimes targeting Jews.
The Anti-Defamation League’s 2021 audit of antisemitic incidents did. Its summary began, “Antisemitic incidents tracked in the 2021 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents reached an all-time high of 2,717 in the United States last year—an average of more than seven incidents per day and a 34 percent increase year over year, including assaults, harassment and vandalism.”
The ADL audit includes both criminal and non-criminal behavior, and official hate-crime reports are notoriously incomplete, so there’s no guarantee the FBI report will also show record high numbers of crimes targeting Jews. Still, maybe it does show that. Maybe the administration is slow-walking it, to get ahead of the news cycle. Maybe that’s what Emhoff’s meeting is intended to do.
In reality, Biden’s record on antisemitism is MIA.
After nearly two years in office, Biden has yet to implement Executive Order 13899 on Combating Anti-Semitism. Signed by former President Donald Trump in December 2019, EO 13899 makes it easier to fight campus antisemitism by interpreting anti-discrimination legislation to clarify that it covers antisemitism. While antisemitism spikes on campus, the Department of Education has taken a lackadaisical approach to sanctioning it. It targeted this month—23 months after Biden took office—to issue a rule to amend its administrative regulations to implement EO 13899. To date, it hasn’t issued a proposed rule.
On Dec. 2, Biden tweeted a general condemnation of antisemitism that named no names. He didn’t identify or call out any of the several individuals who have publicly voiced antisemitism. Asked whom Biden was targeting, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre refused to answer. Jean-Pierre herself has a dicey history with antisemitism. During the 2020 presidential campaign, she argued that supporting pro-Israel organizations like AIPAC wasn’t progressive. She then worked for MoveOn.org, which supports boycotting AIPAC and opposes anti-BDS laws. As Biden’s press secretary, Jean-Pierre has condemned Kanye West and Donald Trump for antisemitism, but said nothing about Kyrie Irving or others on the left.
Emhoff looks like the administration’s latest diversity appointment, selected for his religion. He holds no official position within the administration, and his mixed marriage will probably make him a source of angst rather than comfort for several in the Jewish community, including many ultra-Orthodox Jews who’ve been targeted in hate-crime attacks. On the other hand, it’s unclear whether they’re even invited to the Dec. 7 meeting.
More likely, it’s designed to give a platform to groups like Jonathan Greenblatt’s ADL, which can be relied upon to promote the interests of the progressive left rather than the Jewish people. And to give the impression the administration cares about increasing crime against Jews, when the evidence is, it doesn’t.
Johanna E. Markind is a research editor and counsel at Legal Insurrection Foundation.
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