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Biden steps up security for Jewish communities in the U.S. after the attack in Israel

President Biden addressed Jewish community leaders at the White House Wednesday, in a meeting led by Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, the first Jewish spouse of any U.S. president or vice president.
Drew Angerer
/
Getty Images
President Biden addressed Jewish community leaders at the White House Wednesday, in a meeting led by Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, the first Jewish spouse of any U.S. president or vice president.

President Biden met with leaders from prominent U.S. Jewish groups at the White House on Wednesday to express solidarity and support after the Hamas attack on Israel, and pledge that his administration is doing what it can to ensure the safe release of hostages.

Biden said the United States is sending experts to advise and assist with hostage recovery efforts. He also said he directed Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland to work to boost security and address threats to the Jewish community in America.

"You worry about kids being targeted at school, going about their daily lives, hurt by the downplaying of Hamas' atrocities, and blaming Israel. This is unconscionable," Biden said.

John Kirby, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, said Wednesday that the White House is not tracking any specific targeted violence toward Jews in the United States since the attack in Israel by Hamas, a Palestinian military group, this past weekend.

The meeting included officials from more than 20 Jewish organizations ranging from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to J Street and included top Biden aides such as national security adviser Jake Sullivan. It was led by Douglas Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Harris. Emhoff is the first Jewish spouse of any U.S. president or vice president.

In his remarks, Biden spoke about the need to speak out against the horrific violence of the attack. "I would argue it's the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust," Biden said.

"I never really thought that I would see, have confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children," he said. It was unclear whether Biden had seen pictures. A National Security Council official said Biden was referring to media reports from Israel. NPR has not independently verified the reports.

Biden also said he and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have a
"frank" relationship and he told Netanyahu that it was critical for Israel to "operate by the rules of war," despite all the anger and frustration over the attack.

Emhoff, who introduced Biden, has been leading the administration's efforts on combating antisemitism.

"We witnessed a mass murder of innocent civilians," Emhoff told the group of Jewish leaders, pounding his fist on the lectern. "It was a terrorist assault. There is never any justification for terrorism. There are no two sides to this issue. The images that we saw will be seared in our brains forever," Emhoff said.

Earlier this year, the Biden administration released its national strategy to counter antisemitism, which included plans to improve safety and security for Jewish communities and to increase awareness about antisemitism.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.
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