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Biden faces calls for special envoy after anti-Semitic attacks

Pro-Israel demonstrators attend a rally. (Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Jewish groups are pressuring the White House to appoint a special envoy to monitor anti-Semitism in the U.S., after recent violence between Israel and Hamas sparked a wave of attacks on American Jews.

Biden administration officials met last Monday with Jewish community leaders, who have discussed possible candidates to serve as special envoy.

Groups have put forward names including Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Holocaust studies at Emory University; former Anti-Defamation League leader Abraham Foxman; and Nancy Kaufman, former chief executive officer of the National Council of Jewish Women, people familiar with the matter said.

Calls for President Joe Biden to address anti-Semitism rose last week after Jewish men were assaulted outside a Los Angeles restaurant as several vehicles waving Palestinian flags drove past. Several lawmakers are also calling for a special envoy amid the Los Angeles attack and others across the country.

The administration, which has taken recent steps to increase enforcement against hate crimes, hasn’t specified what it will do, but officials appear poised to act, according to Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, who attended the meeting on Monday.

“They conveyed that they’re looking to act and that this is something they are deeply concerned about,” Diament said.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki last Tuesday said the administration is “working to bolster safety and security of synagogues and other religiously affiliated facilities, and organizations.”

She said Biden “recognizes that this is a persistent evil that always deserves our attention and efforts.”

The virtual meeting on Monday included officials from the National Security Council, Department of Homeland Security and White House personnel office. They spoke with representatives from organizations including the American Jewish Committee, Hadassah, the Anti-Defamation League and Jewish Federations of North America.

The group had sent Biden a letter on Friday — via Melissa Rogers of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and Susan Rice, Biden’s top domestic policy aide — asking for concrete steps, such as the appointment of an ambassador-level U.S. envoy to monitor anti-Semitism and a White House liaison to the Jewish community.

Diament said he told White House aides the bursts of violence that erupted during and after the recent conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas is some of the worse he has seen in his 25 years representing the Orthodox community.

“It’s not a new thing for enemies of Israel to attack her but this is the first time that I can recall that a conflict that Israel has had with her enemies has generated physical attacks on American Jews in the United States,” Diament said. Such attacks, including in New York and Miami, mark “a turn for a worse and that’s very, very unnverving for people.”

The White House is planning more steps to combat both anti-Semitism and domestic extremism more generally. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has warned that violent domestic extremists pose a heightened threat for carrying out attacks in the near future, with White supremacists being the most dangerous.


© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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