Interfaith initiative

U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield brings young Jews, Muslims together to discuss antisemitism, Islamophobia 

The event marked an effort at interfaith dialogue, after White House officials had discussed the issues separately with the Jewish and Muslim communities

Twitter/ Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff

U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff and Rashad Hussain, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, co-host roundtable conversation with Jewish American, Muslim American, and Arab American young leaders

When a group of more than a dozen young Jewish and Muslim activists — among them several people of both Israeli descent and Palestinian descent — met in New York last week to discuss their experiences with antisemitism and Islamophobia after Oct. 7, organizers knew that breaking the ice, at a time of rising tensions, might be difficult. 

So the roundtable conversation, hosted at the United Nations by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, began with what one attendee described as “food diplomacy”: croissants from Librae, a Bahraini-owned bakery in the East Village, and black and white cookies from Russ & Daughters, the famed Jewish bakery that has been on the Lower East Side for more than a century.

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff and Rashad Hussain, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, co-hosted the Thursday event. 

“I left the meeting with them hopeful,” Thomas-Greenfield told CNN. “But one thing that came out that I thought was extraordinarily powerful was the power of hate, the unifying power of hate — that the same people who hate Palestinians, hate Muslims, hate Jews, hate Blacks, are unified in their hatred. And we need to be unified in our understanding and in our love to find a path forward.” 

The Biden administration has generally held different sets of meetings with Jewish leaders and Muslim leaders to discuss antisemitism and Islamophobia, two problems viewed as distinct but also increasingly connected by the White House. Senior administration officials went to Michigan earlier this month to meet with Muslim leaders who are angry about President Joe Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war. Some of those officials also held a separate meeting in Detroit with members of the Jewish community.

Last May, the White House released a national strategy to counter antisemitism, and it is now undertaking a similar but separate process to draft a national strategy to combat Islamophobia.

Last week’s meeting with young leaders was one of the first hosted by the Biden administration after Oct. 7 with the goal of fostering dialogue between Jewish, Muslim and Arab Americans. Thomas-Greenfield, Emhoff and other senior administration officials have held several high-level events with Jewish American leaders since Oct. 7 to discuss the Israel-Hamas war and rising antisemitism in the U.S.

“Words like ‘complex,’ words like ‘conversation,’ have almost become taboo. To even say that this is something that we can come to the table and discuss together has been such a taboo topic on campus and on social media among my generation,” Julia Jassey, CEO of the nonprofit advocacy group Jewish on Campus, told Jewish Insider. “I think what was really encouraging for me was that this kind of broke that assumption.”

Hussain, who traveled with Emhoff to Poland in 2023 to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, spoke about the “pernicious dehumanization” that has occurred in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in Israel and the resulting war in Gaza, according to Jassey.

“In my opinion, that’s the biggest thing to fight. That’s the hardest thing to fight,” Jassey said. “I think a lot of the reason why antisemitism has been able to spread so prolifically in recent years, in recent months, is because the experiences of Jewish people and Jewish students have been rejected from public dialogue.”

“Finding opportunities to challenge that, finding opportunities to speak to those who don’t naturally know your opinion, [who] might have no idea why you’re calling these things antisemitic, why a connection to Israel is important to you, how your Jewish identity manifests, and otherwise would never know if they never had that dialogue with you … I think that’s the only way to actually change for the better a dialogue that’s become so entrenched,” Jassey continued.

The names of event participants were not made public, given the sensitive nature of the topic. But Thomas-Greenfield told CNN that the young people in the room found that they have had many similar experiences in recent months. 

“One young person told me that she hid the fact that she was Jewish because of fear, and a Palestinian woman said her mother stopped wearing her scarf because of fear. And what I left that meeting with was a sense that these young people want to find solutions,” she said. 
Emhoff, in a post on Instagram, said that the “courageous leaders” at the meeting “joined the conversation because they understand the importance of fostering dialogue, finding common ground and working to create solutions.”

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