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CNN: To fight antisemitism, we must remember, speak out and act
[President Joe Biden, 04/05/23]
Tonight, Jews around the world will gather around the seder table to celebrate Passover. They will recount the miraculous story of the Jewish people’s exodus from slavery in Egypt to freedom. It is a timeless, powerful story of faith, hope and redemption that has inspired oppressed people everywhere for generations.
But Passover is more than just a recounting of the past. It is also a cautionary tale of the present and our future as a democracy. As Jews read from the Haggadah about how evil in every generation has tried to destroy them, antisemitism is rising to record levels today.
According to the FBI, more than half of religious hate crimes in America in 2021 targeted Jews and were motivated by antisemitism. The Anti-Defamation League similarly found that in 2022 antisemitic incidents in America reached their highest levels on record since it started tracking incidents more than 40 years ago.
We see this evil across society. Terrorist attacks on synagogues. Bricks thrown through windows of Jewish businesses. Antisemitic flyers left on the front lawns of Jewish homes. Swastikas on cars and cemeteries.
Antisemitic graffiti and acts in elementary, middle and high schools. Jewish students harassed on college campuses.
Jews wearing religious attire beaten and shot on streets.
Antisemitic conspiracy theories rampant online. Antisemitic tropes treated as honest public debate. Celebrities spouting antisemitic hate. All of it – flagrant embraces of extremism in public life.
These acts are unconscionable and despicable. They carry in them terrifying echoes of the worst chapters in human history. And they’re not only a strike against Jews, they’re also a threat to other minority communities and a stain on the soul of our nation.
To the Jewish community, I want you to know that I see your fear, your hurt and your concern that this venom is being normalized. I decided to run for President after I saw it in Charlottesville, when neo-Nazis marched from the shadows spewing the same antisemitic bile that was heard in Germany in the 1930s.
Rest assured that I am committed to the safety of the Jewish people. I stand with you. America stands with you. Under my presidency, we continue to condemn antisemitism at every turn. Failure to call out hate is complicity. Silence is complicity. And we will not be silent.
As the Passover holiday teaches, our work starts with the sacred duty to remember. Last year, I visited Israel once again to reaffirm America’s unshakeable commitment to its security. I returned to Yad Vashem to honor the 6 million murdered Jews, to keep alive the truth and horror of the Holocaust and to remind us all of our shared responsibility to make real the promise of “Never Again.”
It was a promise my father first instilled in me at our family dinner table, educating my siblings and me about the horrors of the Shoah.
It’s a lesson I’ve passed on to my own children and grandchildren by taking them to Dachau, a concentration camp in Nazi Germany, to understand for themselves the depths of this evil and the culpability of indifference.
And it’s a message that Jill and I have continued, along with Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, by bringing Holocaust survivors to the White House and to the State of the Union – so the entire nation bears witness.
But Passover teaches that remembering is not enough; we must also speak out. The word “Haggadah” means “telling” – and it reminds us of our moral obligation to state clearly and forcefully that this scourge of antisemitism must stop.
That’s why I appointed Deborah Lipstadt – a Holocaust expert – as our first Ambassador-level Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism around the world. The Second Gentleman – the first Jewish spouse of a vice president in our history – has also been a leading voice against antisemitism and visited Poland and Germany to promote Holocaust awareness. And I hosted the first United We Stand Summit at the White House, convening governmental and non-governmental leaders from across the country to declare that hate-fueled violence can have no safe harbor in America.
But as we speak out, we must also act. Central to the seder are actions, rituals and reenactments that help us feel the exodus experience and collectively reinforce the truth that words alone are insufficient.
That’s why I signed a bipartisan law to help state and local law enforcement better identify and respond to hate crimes. And the Justice Department has made combating hate crimes one of its top priorities. My administration also secured the largest-ever increase in funding for the physical security of nonprofits, including synagogues, Jewish community centers and Jewish day schools. Because nobody should have to fear walking down the street wearing symbols of their faith.
We’ll also be releasing the first-ever national strategy to counter antisemitism, which will outline comprehensive actions the federal government will undertake, and that reflects input from over a thousand Jewish community stakeholders, faith and civil rights leaders, state and local officials and more.
Taking action also means reinforcing that Jewish culture and values are essential to the fabric of America. That’s why we hosted the first High Holiday reception at the White House and lit the first permanent White House Hanukkah menorah in our nation’s history.
But government alone cannot root out antisemitism and hate. All Americans, including businesses and community leaders, educators, students, athletes, entertainers and influencers must help confront bigotry in all its forms. We must each do our part to create a culture of respect in our workplaces, in our schools, on our social media and in our homes.
Because hate never goes away, it only hides until it is given just a little oxygen. And it is our obligation to ensure that hate doesn’t grow or become normalized. It is our duty to preserve and protect the sacred ideals enshrined in our Constitution: religious freedom, equality, dignity and respect. That is the promise of America.
And that is the story of Passover – a story of redemption, resilience and unity. A story of people coming together with a shared faith, a shared hope for a better tomorrow and a shared resolve to reach the Promised Land.
We were reminded of this enduring story in the aftermath of the hostage-taking at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, last year. Hate did not pierce a community’s goodness and grace. Heroic law enforcement officials were joined by local faith leaders, including an imam and Baptist minister who offered their help. The nearby Catholic Church opened its doors to the hostages’ families. At sunset, a group of Muslim women, friends of the rabbi’s wife, arrived with the rabbi’s favorite foods. They hugged and wept and held strong together.
That’s the America that I know. From darkness, we find joy and hope and light. Rather than driving us apart, faith can move us together. Not just faith in a higher power, but faith to see each other as we should – as fellow human beings.
As we celebrate Passover, let us reflect that like the four children in the Haggadah, despite our differences we sit at the same table, as one people, one nation, one America. Let us join hands across faiths, races, and backgrounds to make clear that evil will not win; hate will not prevail; and antisemitism will not be the story of our time.
Let us remember, speak out and act to restore the soul of America together.