Biden marks Hanukkah amid rising anti-Semitism, war in Gaza

President Joe Biden blows a kiss as he walks by the menorah at a Hanukkah reception at the White House in Washington D.C., on Monday. Pool photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/UPI
1 of 9 | President Joe Biden blows a kiss as he walks by the menorah at a Hanukkah reception at the White House in Washington D.C., on Monday. Pool photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 11 (UPI) -- Amid rising anti-Semitism across the United States, which has surged since Israel launched its war against Hamas in early October, President Joe Biden on Monday night marked the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah by reaffirming his commitment to the safety of the Jewish people and Israel's right to exist as an independent Jewish state.

"You don't have to be a Jew to be a zionist, and I'm a zionist," Biden told invited guests at the annual lighting of the White House menorah in the East Room.


Leaders of the Jewish community, including Holocaust survivors, members of Congress, entertainers and local officials, were in attendance at the event. Biden spoke after first gentleman Doug Emhoff at about 7: 22 p.m. lit the first candle of the menorah, which was built from timber removed from the White House during a President Harry S. Truman-era renovation project.


Biden started his remarks by acknowledging that this year's Hanukkah holiday is different due to the Oct. 7 surprise attack by Hamas on Israel that killed some 1,200 people with another roughly 240 being taken hostage, and the ongoing war the country is waging against the militant group which has resulted in a growing death toll of more than 18,000 as of Monday, according to the Hamas-run Palestine ministry of health.

The president described his commitment to the security of Israel and the Jewish people as "unshakable," while stating that "were there no Israel, there wouldn't be a Jew in the world that was safe."

"We continue to provide military assistance until they get rid of Hamas, but we have to be careful, they have to be careful," Biden said, in reference to criticism over how Israel is conducting its offensive, with his own administration also starting to voice concerns about the number of civilians being killed.

"The whole world's opinion can shift overnight. We can't let that happen," he said.

"We will continue to lead the world in humanitarian assistance to innocent Palestinian civilians. We emphasize to our friends, to our Israeli friends, we need to protect civilian life."


During last year's lighting ceremony, Biden vowed to not be silent in the face of growing anti-Semitism across the United States, with high-profile figures at the time, including former President Donald Trump, Rapper Kanye West and NBA star Kyrie Irving, having spread and amplified anti-Semitic conspiracies and comments. Trump received criticism for the comments he made at the time on his Truth Social social media platform, while shoemaker Adidas severed its relationship with West over his comments and Irving was suspended without pay by his NBA team, the Brooklyn Nets.

This year, the prevalence of anti-Semitism has surged in the United States and across the globe since the war in Gaza began, and Biden repeated a line he had said at the previous ceremony: "Silence is complicity."

"I also recognize your hurt from the silence and the fear for your safety because the surge of anti-Semitism in the United States of America and around the world is sickening," he said.

Anti-Semitic comments and acts in U.S. communities renews "painful scars from millennia of hate" and it is a problem "we're not going to walk away from," the president said, referring to the White House's national strategy to address the issue, which was unveiled in May.


Biden's speech was made on the same day the Jewish Anti-defamation League produced a report that found there has been 2,031 anti-Semitic incidents committed in the United States since Oct. 7, which is the highest number during any two-month period since the anti-hate group started tracking in 1979.

"We're calling upon all Americans to make clear there is no place for hate in America against jews, Muslims or anybody else," Biden said.

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