In his first visit to the United Nations, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff called on U.N. leaders to globalize the fight against antisemitism. He told the body on Thursday that it cannot normalize spiking rates of Jew-hatred.
Emhoff, the Jewish husband of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, addressed ambassadors and members of civil society at a special, high-level side event. The U.N. missions of the U.S., Israel, Argentina, Canada, Morocco and the United Kingdom hosted the event.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. State Department Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt and American Jewish Committee CEO Ted Deutsch also offered remarks individually, and on a subsequent panel.
“Silence is not an option. We must build coalitions to tackle this epidemic of hate,” Emhoff said. “We must bring together people from all backgrounds, faiths and ethnicities, because hate is interconnected. It affects everyone.”
Emhoff also addressed Holocaust denial and distortion.
“Too often we see celebrities–comedians use antisemitism for cheap laughs, high-profile entertainers, politicians openly espousing tired antisemitic tropes,” he said. There ought to be “consequences” for those who commit acts of antisemitism, he said.
Following the Biden administration’s Monday announcement that it is actively putting together a “whole-of-government” collective to address antisemitism, and a December White House roundtable on the topic, which Emhoff hosted, the second gentleman implored attendees to form alliances and speak out when they see Jew hated.
“We cannot normalize this. In order to combat antisemitism, we need everyone to be committed and unified,” he said. “We need to make clear to the haters, the antisemites, that there is no clear harbor.”
Thomas-Greenfield, Washington’s ambassador to the U.N., lamented several recent antisemitic occurrences.
“Swastikas were spray-painted on a Jewish grave site in Australia. A Holocaust memorial was vandalized in Hungary. A Russian missile hit a Ukrainian synagogue. And less than 20 miles from here, in Bloomfield, N.J., someone with hate in their heart threw a Molotov cocktail at a synagogue,” she said. “All in one week.”
Deutch, the AJC leader who was a U.S. congressman, lamented the movement of antisemitism in America from the margins to the mainstream.
“Now one antisemite with a large social media following suddenly broadcasts his hatred to millions of people, which then continues to spread,” Deutch said. He referred to popular podcaster Joe Rogan’s recent antisemitic statement about Jews and money.
Deutch cited a lack of action by U.N. officials in a body where Israel is perennially targeted and singled out with a disproportionate number of critical resolutions and investigatory actions. The U.N. has also failed to take action against those within its ranks, who have made public antisemitic comments.
“We need U.N. officials to speak out when there are insinuations that Israel itself, the only Jewish state in the world, is a racist endeavor,” Deutch said.
Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Gilad Erdan said U.N. leadership was guilty of “utterly failing to do what must be done in this war against evil.”
“U.N. employees spew antisemitic tropes, yet remain in their posts without even receiving public condemnation,” he said. “U.N. agencies continue to employ antisemites, including even Hitler glorifiers.”
Erdan, who continues to call for the U.N. to adopt the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, said, “Words that are not backed up by actions are empty words.” Member states must “demand accountability” and take a more “offensive” approach, he said.
Emhoff also called for “collective action and urgency, not just words.”
The second gentlemen has made the fight against antisemitism a signature issue. He recently returned from a tour of Europe, where he visited sites of devastation wrought by the Nazis in Berlin and Krakow. Though Emhoff did not grow up particularly religious, he’s largely created and embraced his role as the White House’s Jewish issues point person.
“I know we will meet this moment together,” Emhoff said.