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Biden compares Hamas attack to Holocaust in antisemitism warning

REUTERS/EVELYN HOCKSTEIN
                                President Joe Biden addresses rising levels of antisemitism, during a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Annual Days of Remembrance ceremony, at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, today.
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REUTERS/EVELYN HOCKSTEIN

President Joe Biden addresses rising levels of antisemitism, during a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Annual Days of Remembrance ceremony, at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, today.

WASHINGTON >> President Joe Biden warned today that the threat of antisemitism is growing in the United States, including on college campuses, as his support for Israel’s assault on Gaza divides Democrats and alienates some young voters.

In a speech honoring the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, Biden joined a heated American debate about Jewish security, Zionism, free speech and support for Israel, in the country with the largest Jewish population after Israel.

Addressing a bipartisan audience at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s annual commemoration, he warned of the risk that the truth about the systematic killing of Jews during World War Two would be lost.

“‘Never again’ simply translated for me means: Never forget. Never forgetting means we must keep telling the story, we must keep teaching the truth,” Biden said at the U.S. Capitol’s Emancipation Hall. “The truth is we’re at risk of people not knowing the truth.”

Biden spoke seven months to the day after the Palestinian militant group Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 by Israeli tallies, in what he has called the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust.

“This hatred (of Jews) continues to lie deep in the hearts of too many people in the world and requires our continued vigilance and outspokenness,” Biden said.

“Now here we are, not 75 years later, but just seven and a half months later, and people are already forgetting … that Hamas unleashed this terror,” he said. “I have not forgotten, nor have you. And we will not forget.”

Biden’s speech comes as Israel’s retaliation has killed nearly 35,000 people in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, according to Gaza health authorities, left many of the area’s 2.3 million people on the brink of starvation and sparked protests in the U.S. demanding that universities and Biden withdraw support for Israel.

Biden acknowledged Americans’ right to protest and demonstrate, but didn’t mention the Gaza deaths.

“We know scapegoating and demonizing any minority is a threat to every minority,” Biden said. “There is no place on any campus in America for antisemitism, hate speech or threats of violence of any kind.”

Israeli forces today seized the main border crossing between Egypt and southern Gaza, shutting down a vital aid route for Palestinian civilians as they prepared a possible offensive aimed at eliminating Hamas fighters.

Many Jewish Americans have been critical of Israel’s Gaza attacks, leading protests against actions of right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and condemning Netanyahu in Congress.

Biden said his commitment to Israel was ironclad, even amid disagreements with the country’s government. The U.S. government has been holding up several shipments of weapons to Israel, a source told Reuters today.

ANTISEMITISM, HATE CRIMES JUMP

Law enforcement and advocacy groups report a sharp rise in antisemitic attacks in the U.S. since Oct. 7, as well as anti-Muslim attacks. Some Americans favor zero-tolerance policies defining antisemitism broadly, while others see the threat of attacks against Jews being used to limit legitimate criticism of U.S. support for Israel.

“Antisemitism is reaching crisis levels in our country,” said Carol Ann Schwartz, national president of Hadassah, a women’s Zionist organization that has been consulted by the White House.

Biden, who is in a tight race for the White House with Republican rival Donald Trump, pledged to unite the country.

He said he was inspired to run by then-President Trump’s response to the 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia, white nationalist rally, where marchers chanted, “Jews will not replace us.” Biden now governs a country no less divided than when he took office in 2021, most statistics show.

The FBI reported a 36% increase in anti-Jewish hate crime incidents between 2021 and 2022, the latest year for which data is available, as well as a jump in crimes against Black Americans and gay men.

CAMPUS PROTEST POLITICS

Trump has sought to exploit Democratic divisions over Israel’s response and widening college protests to improve Republicans’ lot with Jewish voters, who traditionally vote Democratic.

Police crackdowns on some campuses have given ammunition to Trump’s claim that U.S. cities are under siege from violent crime, illegal migration and out-of-control leftist policies. Trump’s Republican Party has argued that the protests are driven by antisemitism.

“Jewish Americans are realizing that the Democrat Party has turned into a full-blown anti-Israel, antisemitic, pro-terrorist cabal,” said Karoline Leavitt, a Trump campaign spokesperson.

Biden has asked the Department of Education to provide colleges with examples of antisemitic discrimination that could lead to a federal civil rights investigation, and technology firms to determine the best ways to monitor antisemitism online.

About seven in 10 U.S. Jewish voters support Democrats, while three in 10 are Republican-aligned, according to the Pew Research Center.

Kenneth Stern, director of the Bard Center for the Study of Hate, who helped craft a modern “working definition of antisemitism,” said the word is being misused to stifle protected speech about Israel.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill last week that would apply the definition Stern helped develop to enforce federal anti-discrimination laws on college campuses. Stern opposes the bill.

“I don’t think that you can combat hatred of any type effectively with weak democratic institutions,” said Stern. “When we have a government that decides it’s going to stop certain things from being said, that creates an opportunity for totalitarianism, authoritarianism, and that’s never good for the Jews.”

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