The tenor of some of the protests over Israel’s response to the Hamas’ attacks that killed 1,400 have shocked him, he said. He believes Americans are dispensing with distinctions between being critical of Israeli politics and Jewish people.
“There seems to be a conflation of not being able to separate the actions of the Israeli government and Jewish people and taking out feelings that they have about the actions of the Israeli government on all Jews, irrespective of how those Jews may also feel about the actions of the Israeli government,” he said. “And that is very concerning. “I think you’re seeing that in a lot of the actions on college campuses and now K-through-12 schools and a lot of the discourse — not able to deconstruct what’s happening and put in a box.”
Emhoff’s remarks are among the sharpest to date from the administration about a wave of protests that have erupted at colleges and universities. Across the nation, students and faculty have demonstrated their opposition to Israel’s Gaza campaign and its support of settlements in the West Bank. In some instances, Jewish students have begun expressing fear over being targeted for their religion, irrespective of their position on Israeli politics.
The most alarming instance of this came days ago, when Jewish students on Cornell’s campus were threatened by an individual who said he would rape Jewish women and “behead any Jewish babies.” Patrick Dai, a 21-year-old student at the university, was subsequently charged with posting threats to kill or injure another using interstate communications.
The White House has taken recent steps to address the rising tensions on college campuses.
Emhoff and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona held a roundtable in October with several prominent Jewish leaders to discuss an uptick in antisemitism and Islamophobia on college campuses. Emhoff also dropped by a Jewish Day School in DC, talking with a group of students, some who told the second gentleman they felt “powerless.”
While Emhoff was in London, Cardona and White House domestic policy adviser Neera Tanden visited Towson University for a roundtable on antisemitism where students shared how they’ve been harassed by classmates, including writing “Fuck Jews” on a chalkboard, POLITICO reported Thursday.
“We have to navigate complicated issues around politics,” Tanden told the students, adding that it was important to see everyone as human.
On the day of Hamas’ attacks, Emhoff said he was at the Naval Observatory, the official residence of the vice president and spouse. He said that all of a sudden his phone started blowing up, with news of what had happened in southern Israel.
“It was just a shock, just absolute shock seeing that,” he said.