Doug Emhoff hosts a roundtable on antisemitism at the White House The second gentlemen, Doug Emhoff, gathered a group of Jewish leaders at the White House to discuss the surge in anti-Jewish comments involving prominent people.

Second gentleman Emhoff says antisemitism has become an epidemic

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The White House today is hosting a roundtable on anti-Semitism in this country. The husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, Doug Emhoff, will lead a discussion with Jewish leaders. Emhoff is expected to say there is a, quote, "epidemic of hate" facing this country. This event is happening after all the anti-Semitic remarks by Trump-ally Kanye West in that dinner that Donald Trump had with Holocaust-denier Nick Fuentes. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is covering the efforts by the White House today. Hey, Franco.


MARTIN: So the Biden administration clearly feeling like it needs to elevate the conversation about hate speech in this country right now.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, and that's because there's been a surge in anti-Jewish comments being made by prominent people. It's not just Kanye West and Trump, but basketball star Kyrie Irving was temporarily suspended after posting about a documentary promoting anti-Semitism. He later apologized. Now, Jonathan Greenblatt is the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks anti-Semitism. He says a big problem is that people with power and with platforms are normalizing this kind of talk.

JONATHAN GREENBLATT: We have celebrities repeating anti-Semitic tropes. We have the former president breaking bread with bigots, including white supremacists. We have athletes normalizing Holocaust denialism.

ORDOÑEZ: And he says that they've tracked more anti-Jewish harassment and attacks last year than they have in any year since the 1970s.

MARTIN: So they're going to hold this roundtable at the White House, and they have tapped the vice president's husband, Doug Emhoff, to do this, huh?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, this will be the first kind of high-profile policy issue that he's delving into, that he's leading. He's the first Jewish person in that position, and he's becoming more outspoken on the issue. You know, according to more of those early excerpts, he will also say that there are no two sides to this issue and that it really must be condemned.

MARTIN: So sometimes Democratic politicians raise concerns about giving extremists more oxygen when we pay attention to their views. Clearly, the White House thinks they can't just ignore the rise in anti-Semitism, though.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, that's exactly right. And I did have the same question about concerns about fueling extremism. I was repeatedly told no, though, that silence is a greater problem. Ian Russell is a veteran Democratic strategist. He says that basically that's a way of thinking from a time before social media allowed extremists to emerge from the fringes of society and for politicians to be able to use that to their advantage.

IAN RUSSELL: That is a view from an earlier time, a pre-Trump time, where there was a unspoken, tacit understanding between the two major parties that there were some things you just didn't say, some dog whistles you didn't send, and some things we just kept out of mainstream political dialogue in the United States.

ORDOÑEZ: But he says it's too late now and that, unfortunately, this type of talk is now part of the mainstream dialogue. And he says the White House is right to call it out.

MARTIN: Are Republicans going to be at this roundtable? I mean, they've been uncomfortable with this but also very careful not to attack Trump directly.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, it's been kind of a high-wire act for some, especially those considering runs for president in 2024, you know, or those being afraid of being primaried. You know, they don't want to alienate Trump supporters, but you have heard from some, including former Vice President Pence, who called on Trump to apologize for dining with Nick Fuentes, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that anyone who meets with white supremacists is unlikely to be elected president of the United States. But I will just add that a number of Republicans, including some of McConnell's allies, did sign on to a bipartisan letter sent to President Biden, calling on him to develop a national strategy against anti-Semitism.

MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Thank you.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you, Rachel.

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