Why were some Orthodox Jews excluded from the White House hate crime summit?

Four Orthodox reporters and the CEO of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce were reportedly barred from last week's "United We Stand" summit against hate crimes at the White House.

 US PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN during a speech in the East Room at the White House in Washington, this week. (photo credit: REUTERS/ELIZABETH FRANTZ)
US PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN during a speech in the East Room at the White House in Washington, this week.

Some Orthodox Jewish leaders are claiming to have been snubbed from a White House antisemitism event last week.

The New York Post reported that Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce CEO Duvi Honig attempted to RSVP to the White House's September 15 “United We Stand” summit against hate crimes, at which President Joe Biden condemned hate crimes against Jews. Honig reportedly contacted three Biden staffers and even had endorsement from New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s office to be honored as a Uniter — an award bestowed to 16 people at the event. Honig said he never heard back. His theory, as reported by the Post, is that the Biden administration is punishing Orthodox Jews for their overwhelming support for former President Donald Trump. He likened the exclusion to hosting a wedding and excluding the bride and groom.

“The White House used hate. They used us, our blood — they used our DNA of Jews being persecuted and attacked daily as an excuse to make an event and didn’t include Orthodox Jews, who were the number one [target of] hate and antisemitism,” Honig told the Post.

Among the hundreds of guests, there was at least one Orthodox Jew in attendance — Nathan Diament, Executive Director of the Orthodox Union. But Honig said a New York-area member of the community should have been included, given that about 800 of 2,700 antisemitic incidents in 2021 — or nearly one third of them — occurred in New Jersey or New York.

The summit hosted Joseph Borgen, a New Yorker assaulted near 48th Street in Manhattan in 2021 while wearing a kippah, minutes after stepping off the subway on his way to a pro-Israel rally. 

The OU's Diament pushed back against Honig's statements. "We’re the largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization in the United States. And I was invited as well as Rabbi Moshe Hauer," he said. Hauer, the union's vice president, was invited but was not able to attend. Diament added that he did not have knowledge about how journalists are selected to cover events. 

In a written statement to The Jerusalem Post, Diament added:

"It is not accurate to say Orthodox Jews were excluded from the White House Summit on Combatting Hate Fueled Violence. I was in attendance and I represent the largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization in the USThe OU's executive vice president, Rabbi Hauer, was also invited but was in Israel that day so was unable to attend.Other Orthodox Jews were present, including Joseph Borgen who was a speaker on the program as a panelist along with other victims of hate crimes."

"The OU, through our OU Advocacy Center, has been working closely with key senior officials of the Biden Administration - as we have with officials of past Administrations of both political parties - to advocate for our community's interests and values," Diament continued.  "Right now, combating antisemitism - especially attacks targeting Orthodox Jews who are the most "visibly Jewish" - is at the top of that list and we have worked very productively on this with the White House as well as Attorney General Garland and senior DOJ officials as well as DHS Secretary Mayorkas and senior DHS officials.  There is, of course, more to be done, but the White House Summit and the attention it paid to antisemitism - including in President Biden's remarks - was a very important step."

The Summit, organized by President Biden's administration, is intended to "counter the corrosive effects of hate-fueled violence on our democracy and public safety," according to the White House.

In addition to Honig, a group of four Orthodox Jewish journalists from Ami magazine, which caters to the Orthodox Jewish community, were denied entry to indoors the summit due to  “spacing constraints." They were reportedly offered a spot from the driveway to cover the event, rather than inside with Biden. Reportedly, 50 journalists applied to cover the summit and 20 received spots.

A handful of Reform Jews were in attendance, but Honig said they are less likely to come up against hate crimes because they don’t wear the conspicuous attire of many Orthodox Jews.

During his remarks at the Thursday summit, Biden said after hearing the “antisemitic bile” of white supremacists during the 2017 racial clashes in Charlottesville, he was inspired to run for president. He added that there’s a “through line” of deeply ingrained prejudice in US society, mentioning violence against numerous religious groups: antisemitic, anti-Catholic, anti-Mormon, anti-Muslim, anti-Hindu, anti-Sikh. Vice President Kamala Harris spoke as well. 

The event also paid respect to communities that have been through hate-based attacks, including the mass shootings that took place at a gay nightclub in Orlando in 2016; at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in 2019, where the assailant said he was targeting Mexicans; and the racist shooting by an avowed antisemite and white supremacist that killed 10 Black people in a Buffalo, NY, supermarket earlier this year.