My Message to Douglas Emhoff for his White House Roundtable on Antisemitism

“We must fight in a strategic and firm way, without giving the haters the massive publicity they crave. It is that publicity, as much as anything else, that normalizes antisemitism."
December 7, 2022
Second gentleman of the United States Douglas Emhoff (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images for World Athletics)

I have no idea what will be said at Wednesday’s White House roundtable with Jewish leaders on the rise in antisemitism and efforts to combat hate.

The only thing I know for sure—given that representatives of 13 Jewish organizations will attend, in addition to eight officials from the Biden-Harris administration— is that there won’t be much time for speeches.

But since I received excerpts from the Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff’s office of his prepared remarks, I figured I had enough material to throw in my two cents. This is the gist of his well-intentioned remarks:

“Right now, there is an epidemic of hate facing our country. Let me be clear: words matter. People are no longer saying the quiet parts out loud, they are screaming them. We cannot normalize this. We all have an obligation to condemn these vile acts. We must not stay silent. There is no either or. There are no two sides. Everyone must be against this.”

These words feel so true and obvious I can assure you the many heads at the roundtable will all eagerly nod. They will nod with such enthusiasm because we’ve all heard these words a million times: Epidemic of hate! We must condemn! We must not stay silent!

But does Mr Emhoff sincerely believe we need more of the same? Does he follow the news? Google the words “condemnation of antisemitism” and you’ll get 1.45 million mentions. Google “denouncing Jew hatred” and you’ll get 3.1 million mentions.

The “condemn and denounce hate” industry is huge and growing, with major philanthropic support. It’s not that “condemn and denounce” are not noble acts; it’s just that we’ve been overdosing on those acts for years without ever asking: Is any of it working? It may make us feel good, but how strategic is it?

I hope someone gets up during the roundtable and has the courage (and the time) to say something like this:

“Mr Emhoff and fellow attendees,

“The most important message we must convey to Jew haters is that they can’t hurt us and we’re not afraid of them. Jews are thriving in this great country and nothing the haters do will stop that. They must know that they do not have the power to disrupt our lives. We recognize that the First Amendment protects even vile and offensive speech, so we won’t waste our time trying to silence them.

“When the law permits, we will seek justice. When institutions show systemic bias against Jews and Israel, we will take action. When we feel physically threatened, we will arrange for security.

“We must fight the haters in a strategic and firm way, but without giving them the massive publicity they crave. It is that publicity, as much as anything else, that normalizes antisemitism.

“It is not silence that emboldens hate, but fear and weakness on the part of the victim. That’s when the haters smell blood. That fear and weakness come through loud and clear every time the haters see the Jewish community get all agitated over yet another incident. We can’t allow a state of constant agitation and insecurity to define us.

“Instead of seeing Jews as alarmed and afraid, Jew haters must see us as confident, proud and happy, as hard-working patriotic Americans going about their lives. The haters must see how so much of America loves and admires Jews, and how our diverse community is completely woven into the fabric of this great nation. Indeed on that narrative we must be very noisy.

“Mr Emhoff, you said in your opening remarks that for you, this roundtable is ‘not the end. This is just the beginning of this conversation.’ I hope we can include this more strategic approach to countering antisemitism in future conversations.”

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