Synagogue Shooting-Groundbreaking

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff, left, is joined by Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, second from left, and other dignitaries during a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Tree of Life complex in Pittsburgh, Sunday, June 23, 2024. The new structure is replacing the Tree of Life synagogue where 11 worshipers were murdered in 2018 in the deadliest act of antisemitism in U.S. history. Rebecca Droke/Associated Press

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff said reelecting President Biden is crucial for combating antisemitism and accused Donald Trump of “fanning the flames” of hatred in comments after speaking at the site of a 2018 synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh.

Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, called the U.S. election in November a “binary” choice between Biden, who is “moving forward against hate and antisemitism,” and Trump, who has cited his record on Israel in attacking Jews who vote for Democrats.

“When someone like that is purporting to tell a Jewish person like myself who to vote for, that’s just outrageous,” Emhoff said in an interview on Sunday.

Emhoff, the first Jewish spouse of a nationally elected U.S. leader, has been an outspoken White House voice against antisemitism at home and abroad. He has acted as a consoler to Jewish Americans, most recently after antisemitic incidents have flared following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and the subsequent military campaign against the group, which the U.S. and European Union label a terrorist organization.

Speaking earlier Sunday at the groundbreaking of a new campus that includes a memorial for victims of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting, Emhoff said antisemitism has since risen to “unprecedented levels.”

“When Jews are targeted because of their beliefs or identity, and when Israel is singled out because of anti-Jewish hatred, that is antisemitism, and it must be condemned clearly, unequivocally and without context,” Emhoff told the audience.

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Biden’s backing for Israel and refusal to halt most U.S. weapons deliveries has exposed rifts in the Democratic Party, antagonized some of its voters and prompted protests and tension on U.S. college campuses.

At the same time, Biden is fighting to keep the support of Jewish voters rattled by what Emhoff called a “crisis of antisemitism” in the U.S. and worldwide in the backlash tied to the Israel-Hamas war.

Emhoff helped develop the Biden administration’s national strategy on antisemitism, released last year. There’s been a “razor focus” in the administration to improve the strategy after the Oct. 7 attack, including “more funding, more focus on what’s happening with the college campuses, more investigations and more focus on what’s happening online,” Emhoff said in the interview.

All Americans, not just elected leaders, should speak up and “not let this hate divide us,” he said.

The synagogue attack in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood was the deadliest on U.S. Jews in the country’s history. A gunman killed 11 worshipers and wounded six others, including Holocaust survivors. The shooter posted on social media beforehand that he was trying to stop Jewish people from bringing migrants to replace White people, an antisemitic conspiracy theory.

The memorial is part of a new campus for the Tree of Life synagogue, including a new sanctuary, a museum chronicling antisemitism in America and an education center designed to combat hate.

During a visit to Tree of Life last fall, Emhoff said, survivors and victims’ families appeared “re-traumatized” by the Hamas attack on Israel.

“Today I think it’s markedly different than that,” he said. “They are now cognizant of the memorial, all the things that we’ve heard today. Light over darkness.”

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