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turtle bay talk

Andrew Weinstein pushes back against antisemitism from inside the U.N.

A public delegate at the General Assembly, he helped craft today's high-profile forum on global antisemitism in Turtle Bay

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Andrew Weinstein at the U.N.

When Andrew Weinstein was appointed to represent the Biden administration as one of three public delegates at the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly last September, the Jewish Democrat from South Florida, who has long been politically active, knew exactly how he wanted to approach his yearlong stint with the federal government.

“Sadly, we’ve seen this incredible rise in antisemitism both domestically and globally,” he said in a recent interview with Jewish Insider. “I felt like this was an opportunity for me to use this position and this platform to push back on that, to identify where it exists in the U.N. system and to help promote the Biden administration policy of combating antisemitism.”

Over the past five months or so, Weinstein, 53, has frequently demonstrated his commitment to addressing such issues, particularly while navigating instances where denunciations of Israel from U.N. member states, hardly uncommon at the organization, have derived from what he perceives as antisemitic bias.

On Thursday afternoon, U.S. government officials, Jewish community leaders and representatives of several countries were set to convene at the U.N. headquarters to hash out potential strategies for combating antisemitism at the global level, at a high-profile event conceived by Weinstein. 

Led by Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., the gathering will open with remarks from Doug Emhoff, the Jewish second gentleman who recently concluded a five-day tour through Poland and Germany to observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day, followed by a panel discussion moderated by Sarah Hurwitz, an author and speechwriter.

The three panelists will include Melissa Fleming, the U.N. undersecretary-general for global communications; Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. special envoy for monitoring and combating antisemitism; and Ted Deutch, a former Democratic congressman who now serves as chief executive of the American Jewish Committee.

While the meeting isn’t the first to tackle antisemitism at the U.N., Weinstein, who initially proposed the idea last year amid a sharp uptick in anti-Jewish sentiment, believes it is a unique opportunity to spotlight a worrying trend in partnership with a “diverse, cross-regional” group of participating member states, including Argentina, Canada, Israel, Morocco and the United Kingdom.

“The fact that it’s being done at the United Nations, which is probably the most significant global forum to have this conversation, will hopefully resonate around the world,” he told JI. 

In a statement to JI, Thomas-Greenfield said Weinstein “played a crucial role in getting this important event organized,” adding that she is “proud to have partnered with” Emhoff as well as U.N. colleagues “for this discussion focused on practical solutions to stop the global rise of antisemitism.”

“The horrible truth is, all around the world, antisemitism is threatening the safety, security and sense of belonging Jewish people deserve,” Thomas-Greenfield said in the statement. “This hate is being stoked not only by extremist groups, but also by mainstream political leaders, popular celebrities and people in positions of power. It’s being furthered both online and in-person, directly and indirectly, covertly and out in the open. We need to stand up to this threat, and stand up for Jewish people everywhere.”

For his part, Weinstein, who also serves on the advocacy and engagement committee of the Anti-Defamation League, expressed optimism that the discussion could at least tentatively lead to a plan of action for addressing anti-Jewish bigotry rather than simply lingering on the phenomenon itself, as other panels have done.

“I myself have been to a number of events that do a very good job of identifying the rise of antisemitism but don’t necessarily talk about effective strategies that have been utilized,” he said. The discussion, which will be live-streamed, is designed to encourage participants to arrive at “some ideas and plans” and “to continue U.S. leadership in countering antisemitism,” he explained.

The Biden administration has taken a proactive approach in addressing concerns from the Jewish community, recently forming a new interagency task force to develop a national strategy for combating antisemitism, which Weinstein approvingly described as “a remarkable step.”

Weinstein, a lawyer and Democratic fundraiser who lives in Parkland, Fla., has for years maintained close ties to President Joe Biden, and he drew on his connections in the White House to formalize the U.N. event, which has been in the works since last fall.

“Back in October, I was, like most of us, extremely troubled and upset about the precipitous rise in antisemitic violence and harassment and other incidents — and was looking for a way to work within the framework of my role to do something,” he told JI. “I came up with the concept of hosting an event at the United Nations.”

The original plan, he said, included Thomas-Greenfield, Lipstadt and others, but as he engaged in conversations with White House officials, they came to a collective decision that Emhoff’s participation “would be really significant,” as the second gentleman has increasingly devoted himself to highlighting antisemitism in the U.S. and abroad.

According to prepared remarks shared by Emhoff’s office in advance of the event, the second gentleman will speak to his own experience as the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president, while calling on participants to “build coalitions to tackle this epidemic of hate.”

“This moment requires bold collective action and urgency, not just concepts,” Emhoff is expected to say.

Weinstein declined to preview any solutions the panelists may agree to promote before they have gotten the chance to speak. But he said attendees can expect the discussion to cover, among other things, examples in which anti-Israel sentiment can intersect with antisemitism.

In his role as a public delegate, Weinstein has on occasion felt compelled to speak up on such issues in prepared remarks to U.N. committees and on social media, even as he made sure to emphasize that he is always careful “to differentiate criticism of Israeli policies and practices and that which is rooted in antisemitic behavior and attitudes.”

Some instances, however, he views as clear-cut, including a controversial report from the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry investigating Israel, which he called “extraordinarily problematic.” 

He has been especially critical of the council’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, Francesca Albanese, who in past social media comments claimed that the U.S. is “subjugated by the Jewish lobby” and compared Israelis to Nazis, among other statements uncovered by the Times of Israel in December. 

“I think it is important for the U.S. to call out those comments,” Weinstein said. “When she then renders an opinion, you have to wonder about the bias and motivation of the opinion that comes from someone who has made some statements which are unquestionably antisemitic.”

Albanese has denied accusations that her comments were antisemitic, saying that “some of the words” she used were “unintendedly offensive.”

During his time at the U.N., Weinstein has also encouraged member states to adopt the working definition of antisemitism promoted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which the Biden administration has embraced, while condemning resolutions that he has accused of revealing “a profound anti-Israel bias.”

“I felt a great responsibility in delivering those remarks as a stated position of the United States,” he said broadly, “especially given the way that things often play out here at the U.N.”

Before he was nominated by the Biden administration to serve at the U.N., Weinstein had been a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council and sat on former President Barack Obama’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. In 2015, he worked with the White House to promote the Iran nuclear deal among Jewish groups.

His past experience in the realms of foreign policy, cultural diplomacy and historical commemoration, he maintained, have served him well as a public delegate, a position he will hold until the current session of the General Assembly concludes in September.

Though his portfolio is not exclusively limited to antisemitism and Israel, Weinstein — who has also worked on issues related to food insecurity, among other things — has remained principally dedicated to raising awareness of a global increase in threats to the Jewish community.

The forum, he stressed, is just one component of such advocacy, albeit his most significant project to date.

“We’re all quite upset about the fact that it’s necessary but heartened by the response that the leadership in the White House and the importance that the White House has placed on this,” he said. “It makes me optimistic that we will continue to keep this focus going forward.”

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