I am pleased to be here with you today. Thank you to Ambassador Lauder and the World Jewish Congress for convening us. I want to thank Foreign Minister Albares for giving us time out of his busy schedule to engage in these important conversations, as well as President of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, President Pinto for being such an excellent host.
There is a significance to this year’s SECCA gathering being held in Spain: the expulsion of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula more than five centuries ago is one of the greatest antisemitic acts in history. Prior to the expulsion, the Jewish community here thrived. Spain was home to Torah scholars, scientists, and thought leaders—some of the world’s greatest in fact, like Nachmanides and Maimonides. But like most countries in Europe at the time, Jews faced rising antisemitism, and in Spain’s case, at unprecedented levels in the fifteenth century. Despite these attempts to banish and even destroy the Jewish life in Spain, a vibrant community exists today, and so too does the ancient and unique Judeo-Spanish Ladino culture.
Yet, it is sobering to see that in today’s Europe, and in countries around the world, Jew-hatred and antisemitism endures, though the forms it takes have evolved over the centuries and we need to condemn and combat its contemporary manifestations. Unfortunately, it is also growing at a rate I didn’t think I would see in my lifetime, especially so soon after the world’s worst atrocity towards the Jewish people, the Holocaust. Jew-hatred is on the rise across Europe, in South America, as well as in my home, the United States. My predecessors in the past might have been able to travel abroad and meet with government officials and say, “you have a problem, and you need to take it seriously.” Today, I cannot do that. Rather I must say, “WE have a problem, and just as my government is taking it seriously, so too does yours.”
But the point I want to emphasize here, is that my government is taking the issue seriously, very seriously at that. I want to take the rest of the short time I have with you to describe just a little bit about what my government has done in the past three months to take concrete steps to tackle growing hate in the United States.
On December 12, President Biden announced the formation of an inter-agency group to combat antisemitism, Islamophobia and related forms of bias and discrimination. As its first order of business, the President directed this group to develop a national strategy to counter antisemitism. Since then, the “inter-agency,” as we call it, has met weekly to understand the scope of the problem and identify solutions to it.
Now, some of you have asked me what exactly does an “inter-agency process” entail, and if it is something that was created merely to make a statement and appease the American Jewish community.
I am happy that I can answer no to the latter.
Over the past 14 weeks or so, I have watched as representatives from more than 20Departments and Agencies across the U.S. government met regularly to discuss how we could best work together to create a strong national strategy and specific actions that would combat antisemitism. I listened to presentations from officials from domestic agencies like Housing and Urban Development, and Health and Human Services, as well as security agencies like Homeland Security and the FBI that shows how they confront antisemitism with their unique tools how they can collaborate with other agencies to creatively address this issue using a whole-of-government approach.
Even though the process is barely three months old, I have already seen its benefits. I can report that for the first time, the vast and disparate United States Government is engaged in a formal, White House-led systematic effort to tackle antisemitism. Departments and Agencies with a wide array of mandates are formally tasked on a regular basis to not only contribute to weekly discussions but to provide official updates on progress and to submit formal policy recommendations. My team and I are heartened by the seriousness of the deliberations thus far and I am confident that a vigorous national strategy will be drafted, debated, and finalized in the not-too-distant future.
While I could go on and share more stories with you all, I won’t take up unnecessary time to do so. Instead, I will give you a homework assignment, similar to one that was given to us. (Once a professor, always a professor). I encourage envoys and Jewish community leaders alike to think outside the box when it comes to the uphill battle we climb. Think deeply about how Jews live their lives, and the old and new obstacles they face. Then be creative about the solutions to these problems, and the agencies that might partner in the fight. Because as we know, the more people who understand antisemitism and its dangers, the more allies we will have to try to stomp out the embers, and sometimes fires, antisemitism ignites.