President Biden spoke late this morning at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on anti-Semitism, and while he missed the opportunity to deliver a still-needed rebuke to his own party, Biden did manage to avoid repeating the two biggest mistakes he’s made on this issue: the false equivalence and the “legitimate grievance” trap.

Last month, for example, he demonstrated both blunders in the same answer to a question about the anti-Semitic protesters at various U.S. college campuses: “I condemn the anti-semitic protests… I also condemn those who don’t understand what’s going on with the Palestinians.”

There, in one breath, the president gave equivalent condemnation of those committing anti-Jewish violence and those who lack sufficient empathy for the violent anti-Semitic protesters. Underlying it all is the idea that the protesters have a legitimate grievance with their victims.

It was the closest the president has come to his own “there are very fine people on both sides” moment.

Fact is, Jews are being openly harassed in the U.S. as retribution for something the protesters are falsely accusing the state of Israel of doing thousands of miles away. That’s it—that’s the whole scene. There is, in other words, no possible justification for the actions of these pro-Hamas extremists. There is no “both sides.”

Similarly, we all know exactly what Gaza has to do with the guy who threw a bottle at a Jewish man’s head at the Columbia gates and told him to “go back to Poland”: Nothing at all.

The examples go on for days, but the point is clear: Anti-Semitic violence as a response to the war in Gaza is indefensible on any level. Linking the two as some sort of cause-effect equation is nothing less than making anti-Semites’ arguments for them.

To his credit, this morning the president did not suggest otherwise. “I understand people have strong beliefs and deep convictions about the world. In America, we respect and protect the fundamental right to free speech, to debate and disagree, to protest peacefully, and make our voices heard. I understand, that’s America. But there is no place on any campus in America, any place in America, for anti-Semitism or hate speech or threats of violence of any kind.”

It is crucial, in fact, in these situations to be dismissive of the protesters’ concerns. They have no bearing on today’s topic of Jew-hatred in the long shadow of the Shoah. An address on anti-Semitism in honor of Holocaust Memorial Day (or week; the day of observance was yesterday) is not a speech on geopolitics at the Council on Foreign Relations. Joe Biden’s genuine sympathy for the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza is, also, irrelevant to his responsibility to properly communicate the lessons of the Holocaust.

And so it was a relief that Biden ignored the ongoing prosecution of the war without ignoring the war itself. Indeed, he correctly connected Hamas’s instigation of this war to the Holocaust itself. “This ancient hatred of Jews didn’t begin with the Holocaust, and didn’t end with the Holocaust either, or even after our victory in World War II… That hatred was brought to life on October 7, 2023.”

The president expressed his outrage over Jews who feel they must hide their yarmulke under a baseball cap or their star of David pendant beneath their shirt. There is a war on open Jewish expression right here in the United States. It routinely takes violent forms. And it is currently being driven primarily by members of Biden’s party and political coalition, some of whom are members of the United States Congress.

And that is the one place the speech fell shy of its mark. Ilhan Omar visited the “tentifada” like a celebrity and suggested the Jews on campus who didn’t join the protests calling for the destruction of the Jewish state were “pro-genocide.” Bernie Sanders spends most of his time falsely accusing Israel of “deliberately starving children,” and called for the media to stop covering the anti-Semitism on campus and just cover alleged Israeli crimes instead. Elizabeth Warren and Chris Van Hollen in the Senate; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jamaal Bowman, Rashida Tlaib and host of others in the House—a growing number of the president’s fellow elected Democrats have an obsession with riling up crowds against the Jews.

Joe Biden was, we were told, the man for this moment because of his empathy. And there’s something to the idea that 2020 was the perfect time for a leader who had, tragically, much experience in picking up the pieces after a trauma and showing people how to put one foot in front of the other, even when it’s hard. But it’s not 2020. It’s 2024. And in 2024 the country desperately needs a leader who has no time for the self-justifications of the hate merchants in his own party, the men and women who stand next to him and smile as he signs legislation or rallies voters knowing full well he won’t read them the riot act.

We don’t need a fire chief who empathizes with fire. Just put out the flames, Mr. President.

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