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Asked if Biden worries about rising antisemitism, press secretary pivots to Muslims

Karine Jean-Pierre, White House press secretary, claimed that "Muslim and those perceived to be Muslim have endured a disproportionate number of hate-fueled attacks."

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre answers a question about antisemitism at an Oct. 23, 2023 press briefing. Source: YouTube/White House.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre answers a question about antisemitism at an Oct. 23, 2023 press briefing. Source: YouTube/White House.

About three-quarters of the way into the White House press briefing on Monday, a reporter asked about U.S. President Joe Biden’s “level of concern right now about the potential rise of antisemitism in light of everything that’s going on in Israel?”

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, began with “a couple of things.”

“Look, we have not seen any credible threats. I know there’s been always questions about credible threats. And so, just want to make sure that that’s out there,” she said.

The next thing she said has raised a lot of eyebrows, both for its pivot away from the question and for its contradiction of statements that Biden has made in the past.

“But, look, Muslim and those perceived to be Muslim have endured a disproportionate number of hate-fueled attacks. And certainly, President Biden understands that many of our Muslim, Arab—Arab—Arab Americans and Palestinian American loved ones and neighbors are worried about the hate being directed at their communities,” Jean-Pierre said, per the official White House transcript. “And that is something you heard the president speak to in his—in his address just last—last Thursday.”

The White House press secretary went on to discuss Biden’s direction to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to “prioritize prevention and disruption of any emerging threats that could harm the Jewish, the Muslim, Arab Americans or—or any other communities. And that is something that the president has sought to do and—and—since day one.”

“And we—you know, we’re going to continue to denounce any sort of hate towards any American here,” she added. “And so, that’s what we’re going to continue to be steadfast on. Again, he has—he has advised—directed his homeland security team to make sure that they’re on top of this.”

Jean-Pierre’s claim that those who are “Muslim and those perceived to be Muslim have endured a disproportionate number of hate-fueled attacks” was technically in line with, but appeared to violate the spirit of, a statement that Biden released a week ago about FBI hate-crime statistics.

“Antisemitic hate crimes rose 25% from 2021 to 2022, and antisemitism accounted for over half of all reported religion-based hate crimes,” Biden said on Oct. 16. “Anti-LGBTQI+ hate crimes rose 16%, and Muslim Americans and African Americans continue to be overrepresented among victims.”

“Why is this White House in denial about antisemitism?” wrote Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.). In a separate post on social media, the congressman shared a video that appeared to show a Jewish man being attacked by a mob of pro-Palestinian protestors in the Chicago area. “Is this proof?” he asked, tagging Jean-Pierre. “What are you all afraid of?”

“I’m proud to stand with the Jewish community of Arizona,” wrote Rep. Eli Crane (R-Ariz.). “We’ve seen disgusting protests in support of Hamas on college campuses in Arizona and across the country. Antisemitism is one of the world’s oldest forms of hate and it’s terrible to see the White House press secretary downplaying it.”

Jean-Pierre also drew criticism from Jewish leaders. Dov Hikind, a former New York state assemblyman, wrote that the response was “grotesque,” noting that there are credible threats against Jews and “anti-Jewish attacks far outpace anti-Muslim attacks.”

“So, KJP, you’re a sick piece of work, scumbag liar, gaslighter, just horrible a human being,” he wrote.

Ted Deutch, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, wrote that the press secretary was asked “a very clear question on antisemitism.”

“While all forms of hate must be confronted, we have seen pro-Hamas rallies taking place across the country. American Jews are fearful. Hate has been on full display,” he added. “We need to be better here.”

“No clue what the press secretary was trying to say. Of course, all hate crimes are bad, but the question was about antisemitism,” wrote Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “ADL has tracked a massive increase in antisemitic incidents in the past two weeks—on top of the historic levels of anti-Jewish hate we’ve already been seeing.”

“This is odd … ,” wrote the journalist Yashar Ali. “Karine Jean-Pierre was asked about antisemitism and said there were no credible threats and pivoted to talking about anti-Muslim/anti-Arab hate.”

“It’s not an issue that she talked about Muslims and Arabs, rather that she seemingly dismissed antisemitism threats,” Ali added.

Jean-Pierre wrote back to him. “To be clear: The president and our team are very concerned about a rise in antisemitism, especially after the horrific Hamas terrorist attack in Israel,” she wrote. “That’s why the president mobilized his homeland security team to address any potential threats that could harm Jewish communities, as well as Muslim, Arab American and Palestinian American communities.”

“I have nothing in my briefing book about rising antisemitism, direct threats to Jews at rallies in major cities and universities or the people tearing down posters of kidnapped Jewish kids, but I have lots to say about the dangers of Islamophobia, so here I go,” wrote Joel Petlin, superintendent of the Kiryas Joel School District.

JNS has reported in the past on inconsistencies that govern when antisemitism requires Islamophobia “and other forms of bigotry” as chaperone.

“At times, efforts to denounce antisemitism can become watered-down if they are reworded to include all other forms of bigotry,” Ethan Katz, associate professor of history and Jewish studies at the University of California, Berkeley and co-director of its antisemitism education initiative, told JNS in March.

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