Vice President Kamala Harris Headlines Antisemitism Conference

Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Douglas Emhoff walk off of Air Force Two on arrival to Johnstown, Pa., on Sept. 11, 2021, en route to a memorial service. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

(RNS) — Vice President Kamala Harris headlined the opening session of the Anti-Defamation League's Never Is Now conference Sunday (Nov. 7), with a full-throated support for fighting a rising tide of antisemitism. 

In her three-minute taped video introduction to the conference, which goes through Nov. 9, Harris reiterated her commitment as part of President Joe Biden's administration to fighting attacks on Jews and prosecuting hate crimes.

"In two days, we will mark 82 years since Kristallnacht, the night of unthinkable evil that foreshadowed more evil to come," Harris said, referring to the Night of Broken Glass, the Nov. 9, 1938, pogrom, in which the Nazi Party destroyed hundreds of synagogues and Jewish businesses in Germany, Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia.

"Sadly, we know antisemitism is not a relic of the past. In fact, in recent years, the Jewish American community has faced an alarming rise in hate crime," Harris said.

A March survey by the Anti-Defamation League found that 63% of American Jews have experienced or heard antisemitic comments, slurs or threats in the past year, mostly online.

Just last weekend, a fraternity house at George Washington University was vandalized and a Torah scroll desecrated with what appeared to be laundry detergent. The same weekend, a fire was set at a Jewish synagogue in central Austin by a man carrying a 5-gallon container of fuel.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported antisemitic crimes make up more than half of all religion-based bias crimes, according to a 2020 report.

The ADL, a 108-year-old organization based in New York, fights antisemitism, tracks incidents and promotes anti-bias education. Its past Never Is Now conferences have attracted star speakers, including actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and Apple CEO Tim Cook. This year's lineup includes Yair Lapid, Israel's minister of foreign affairs, as well as actress and producer Tracee Ellis Ross.

This was Harris' first appearance at the Never Is Now conference. Harris, who is married to Los Angeles lawyer Douglas Emhoff, a Jewish man, was criticized recently  for praising a college student who accused Israel of committing "ethnic genocide."

Harris visited George Mason University in September to discuss voting rights when a student said she was heartbroken that the U.S. approved $1 billion to replenish Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system while Israel was committing crimes against Palestinians. 

"Your voice, your perspective, your experience, your truth should not be suppressed," Harris responded to the student.

In Sunday's prepared remarks, however, Harris said that when "Israel is singled out because of anti-Jewish hatred, that is antisemitism." 

Whether criticism of Israel is antisemitism is a much-contested issue in American Jewish circles.

Harris also mentioned the nomination of renowned Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt as State Department special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism. 

"We know, a harm against any one of us is a harm against all of us," Harris said. She used a Hebrew phrase beloved by liberal Jews, "tikkun olam," or "repairing the world," to reiterate her commitment to fighting hate.

 
 

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