Remarks at a U.S. hosted, High-Level Side Event on Globalizing Efforts to Combat Antisemitism

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Douglas Emhoff, the First Gentlemen at the a High-Level Side Event on Globalizing Efforts to Combat Antisemitism

United States Mission to the United Nations
Office of Press and Public Diplomacy
February 9, 2023

Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a U.S.-hosted, High-Level Side Event on Globalizing Efforts to Combat Antisemitism with Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff

AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you so much for coming. We’re truly honored you could join us this afternoon.

Last week, 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 twenty miles from here, in Bloomfield, New Jersey, someone with hate in their heart threw a Molotov cocktail at a synagogue. All in one week.

The horrible truth is, all around the world, antisemitism is pervasive and it’s growing. The world’s oldest form of hatred is once again threatening the safety, security, and sense of belonging Jewish people deserve.

This hate is being stoked not only by extremist groups, but also by mainstream political leaders, popular celebrities, and people in positions of power. The hate is furthered both online and in-person. Directly and indirectly. Covertly and out in the open.

Here in the United States, four in ten – four in ten – American Jews have changed their behavior out of fear of antisemitism. And here in New York City, in November of last year, antisemitic hate crimes were up 125 percent.

We need to stand up – we need to stand up to this threat and stand up for Jewish people everywhere. And that’s why we are here today.

On behalf of the United States, I’m proud to have partnered with our colleagues from Argentina, Canada, Israel, Mexico, Morocco, and the United Kingdom on the UN side event to stop the global rise of antisemitism. I’m grateful to have all of you here today – as partners in this urgent, necessary work.

For our part, at the end of last year, President Biden announced that we’re launching a national strategy for countering antisemitism. Central to this strategy will be addressing antisemitism through education.

We see this as an immediate security imperative, and also as a long-term investment in promoting love, compassion, tolerance, and the primacy of human rights.

I am particularly proud that last year the United States co-sponsored and helped pass a UN General Assembly resolution to condemn Holocaust denial and distortion. This was the first resolution of its kind in fifteen years. It passed by consensus, giving hope to humanity in the fight against hope – against hate.

Today, let’s give more fuel to hope. Let’s come up with practical solutions, and forge stronger partnerships, to halt the spread of antisemitism and prevent more violent acts against the Jewish community.

To help us foster those hopeful ends, I’d like to introduce our keynote speaker: the Second Gentleman of the United States, Mr. Doug Emhoff.

From celebrating Passover in the White House, to hanging a mezuzah on the front door of the Vice President’s residence, Mr. Emhoff has joyfully shared his heritage and culture with America. As the first Jewish spouse of an American vice president, Mr. Emhoff has been working hard to counter antisemitism in America and around the world.

He has led events with Jewish groups, toured college campuses, and worked to forge bonds with representatives from all kinds of religious communities. Along with Special Envoy Lipstadt, he has been designing and building out the national action plan to counter antisemitism that I mentioned.

He was also recently in Europe, where he visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and death camp, a trip I’m sure he will tell us about this afternoon.

This is his first visit to the UN. And, sir, I hope it is not your last. But, everyone, please join me in welcoming the Second Gentleman of the United States of America, Mr. Douglas Emhoff. [Applause.]

SECOND GENTLEMAN DOUGLAS EMHOFF: Good afternoon. Thank you, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield. I also want to recognize my close colleague, Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, our Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, and our esteemed guests who represent other countries from around the world.

But I first want to start by addressing the horrific earthquakes that have devastated areas of Türkiye and Syria. The images just continue to get worse. They are hard to see. The Vice President and I send our sincere and deepest condolences to those who have lost loved ones.

I also want to thank the first responders on the ground, and they’ve come from all over the world to help other human beings in need.

President Biden has already authorized an immediate United States response, and we are working with our Turkish counterparts and humanitarian partners in Syria to help those in need.

I am honored to be here today at the United Nations speaking before you. As the ambassador mentioned, I recently returned from a trip to Poland and Germany. While there, I attended a ceremony at Auschwitz and Birkenau to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day on behalf of the Biden-Harris administration.

The trip was intense. It was emotional. It was somber. While there, we honored the six million Jews who were systematically and savagely murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust. We also recognized the Roma and Sinti, the Slavs, people with disabilities, LGBTQI+ individuals, and political dissidents who were also killed.

But I also met with our allies and partners both inside and outside of government to deepen our coordination to combat antisemitism and hate in all of its forms.

President Biden and Vice President Harris have made revitalizing our partnerships and alliances a priority, and that extends to fighting hate and antisemitism. And this is what brings me to the United Nations today: to continue this work with all of you.

And my message to all of you is the same message that I carried with me throughout my trip to Europe. We must all speak out against antisemitism and call out those who don’t. Silence is not an option. We must build coalitions to tackle this epidemic of hate. We must bring together people from all backgrounds, all faiths, all ethnicities, because hate is interconnected. It affects everyone.

And we must make sure that our communities feel safe. All people must be able to live and worship and be who they are freely, without fear and without being subject to violence. Let’s be clear. Any threat to one community is a threat to all communities.

Lastly, education – we’ve talked about it. We must instill knowledge in our future generations to help fight antisemitism. We must start that process right now. Because it is important to tell the truth about the Holocaust. It is important that we educate others on this history. It is important that we push back on Holocaust denial, distortion, and disinformation.

We all know that antisemitism has been around for years – thousands of years, in fact. It’s one of the oldest forms of hatred. But in recent years there has been a dramatic spike in antisemitism in the United States, in Europe, and all around the world.

Throughout my time in Poland and Germany, I was encouraged by all those speaking out and all those taking action. And while there, in our meetings we agreed there must be consequences for those who engage in antisemitism. There must be accountability. We cannot normalize this.

But in order to combat antisemitism, we need everyone to be committed and unified in this mission. Too often we see celebrities, comedians, use antisemitism to draw cheap laughs. High-profile entertainers, politicians, openly spouting tired antisemitic tropes. Others making comments laced with not-so-subtle innuendo.

That’s why this convening is so important. As mentioned, I am the first Jewish spouse of a president or a vice president. So that is why antisemitism has a special significance for me personally. And yet, this is not just about me. It’s not just about Jews. It’s about all of us.

Antisemitism is often accompanied by other forms of hatred, and that’s the same hatred – the same hatred that fuels antisemitism is often the same hatred directed at other ethnic or religious groups, immigrants, LGBTQI+ community, and others. There is a chilling interconnection between all of these forms of hate.

As my wife, the Vice President, always says, we must build coalitions – coalitions across all groups – to combat hate.

In Berlin, I hosted an interfaith roundtable, which included clergy and laypersons. And they were all working together to promote tolerance and inclusiveness. And one of the people I met was named Burak. He was a young activist in Berlin who spoke passionately to me about a project he is leading. It’s called Young Muslims in Auschwitz. Burak and his project seek to engage fellow German Muslim teens in dialogue about history, antisemitism, and stereotypes through a visit to Auschwitz.

And the Muslim teens see that – what they have in common with the Jewish community there, their lived experience of being a target of right-wing violence, and belonging to an often-stigmatized minority.

This powerful realization often leads to solidarity and understanding. So we need more of this type of dialogue, not less. By joining forces, we can build on each other’s experience, expertise, and reach to stand together against antisemitism and hatred of all kinds, once and for all.

We need to make clear to the haters – the antisemites out there – that there is no safe harbor for them, anywhere.

We know we are living in difficult times right now. Acts of violence are taking place at houses of worship. Religious leaders are facing threats. Graffiti displaying dangerous messages are taunting communities right in their face. Banners over freeways in my home city of Los Angeles. People are literally being forced to practice their faith behind guarded doors.

President Biden and Vice President Harris are taking concrete steps to ensure that everyone can live openly, proudly, and without fear. Make no mistake: the United States will lead on this issue. The Biden-Harris administration has increased funding for the physical security of nonprofits and synagogues – the largest increase ever.

The administration has appointed leaders to focus on hate crimes, including my colleague, Special Envoy Lipstadt, to track and fight antisemitism. The administration hosted the first-ever United We Stand Summit to take on hate-fueled violence, including antisemitism.

And in December of last year, I personally convened a roundtable with Jewish leaders at the White House. I heard directly from them about how the rise in antisemitism is impacting their communities. We discussed how we can work closely together to overcome this hate. And following that roundtable, President Biden established a working group to counter antisemitism and other forms of discrimination and bias.

Just this week, on Monday, we hosted our first principals committee meeting with leaders from all across the Biden-Harris administration. The purpose of this interagency group is to increase and better coordinate the United States Government efforts to counter antisemitism and hate. And through our coordinated efforts, we are going to create a national strategy plan that will raise people’s understanding about antisemitism and the threat it poses not only to the Jewish community, but to all Americans and the world at large.

And our conversations here in New York and around the world are going to help shape our national strategy as we draw on the lessons that I’ve learned here today, I will learn as well in this meeting here, and from my trip to Europe last week.

The United States strongly supports the ongoing work of the United Nations to combat antisemitism. We are proud – we were proud to sponsor last year’s resolution to condemn Holocaust denial and distortion. And in our administration, the UN will have a willing partner to do what is needed to fight this rise in antisemitism and hate.

But let’s be clear. This moment requires bold, collective action and urgency – not just words, not just concepts. And I know we will meet this moment together.

Thank you so much. I appreciate it. [Applause.]

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you, Mr. Emhoff. Thank you so much for your thoughtful remarks. I know we’re all looking forward to getting more of your insights today as we discuss how to combat this horrific rise in hate and spike in antisemitism.

Now, I would like to introduce our host for the remainder of the session and moderator for our panel discussion: Sarah Hurwitz. From 2009 to 2017, Sarah served as a White House speechwriter, first as a senior speechwriter for President Barack Obama and then as head speechwriter for First Lady Michelle Obama.

She also had the honor of serving on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. Sarah is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School and is the author of Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life – in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There).

She is an incisive writer and a brilliant thinker, and I know we’re all looking forward to the urgent discussion she is going to foster today. So welcome, Sarah. I’m glad we are in your good hands.


*A sculpture in Sweden honoring the diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Holocaust, was vandalized.