- Thursday, October 26, 2023

It’s possible that President Biden’s press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, misheard a reporter’s question about increasing threats to Jews in America, but that doesn’t make it plausible.

In a press briefing this week, she was asked about the president’s concern about the “potential rise of antisemitism,” and her answer left the clear impression that the safety of Jewish Americans was not top of mind in the White House.

As Israel continues to retaliate and defend itself in the weeks after Hamas carried out the deadliest attacks against Jewish people since the Holocaust, Ms. Jean-Pierre shrugged off any worries of antisemitism.

“Look, we have not seen any credible threats,” she said from the lectern in the White House press briefing room.

This is despite widespread and openly anti-Jewish demonstrations on college campuses and in cities across the country, the closing of some synagogues and Jewish schools because of threats, and the killing of the president of a synagogue in Detroit.

“Nothing to see here” was effectively the message from the president’s mouthpiece. But she took it a step further by pivoting to answer a question about Muslims that had not been asked.

“Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim have endured a disproportionate number of hate-fueled attacks,” she said. “And certainly, President Biden understands that many of our Muslim, Arab American, and Palestinian American loved ones and neighbors are worried about the hate being directed at their communities.”

Presumably, Ms. Jean-Pierre felt compelled to say those things because Hamas, the perpetrator of inhuman acts against Israeli men, women and children, is a militant Islamist terrorist group.

While it’s not funny in the slightest, Ms. Jean-Pierre’s remarks amounted to a piece of performance art that memed a sarcastic post from the late comedian Norm MacDonald on social media in 2016.

“What terrifies me is if ISIS were to detonate a nuclear device and kill 50 million Americans,” MacDonald wrote. “Imagine the backlash against peaceful Muslims?”

It’s true that we should not tolerate the targeting of any group of people based on their religion or identity, but we should also not tolerate attempts to use false equivalencies to minimize reaction to the systematic murder of Jews.

Ms. Jean-Pierre’s comments drew sharp criticisms from across the land, including from the Anti-Defamation League and some Democrats in Congress.

Nonetheless, she waited a day to address her extraordinary pronouncements and then did so in a written statement to Politico, Fox News and other media outlets.

“I did mishear the question,” she said by way of lame excuse before attempting a do-over on the fact that antisemitism has indeed spiked recently.

That same day, she held another press briefing and began the session with a brief monologue to try to further control the damage.

“I want to make something clear at the top because I understand how important moral clarity is, especially at this time,” she said. “So, when Jews are targeted because of their beliefs or their identity, when Israel is singled out because of anti-Jewish hatred, that is antisemitism, and that is unacceptable.”

She sounded like any celebrity who’s been caught saying or doing something atrocious and has been instructed to say specific words to apologize. And she did not repeat her claim that she had misunderstood the question.

Let’s not understate what a disaster this was for the White House on the world stage. At a time when so much global attention is focused on the Middle East, the top spokesperson for the president of the United States initially declined to condemn antisemitism and instead took the opportunity to change the subject to Islamophobia.

Hamas and other militants around the world undoubtedly heard that and took it as a signal to them that the U.S. was not fully engaged on Israel’s side. No wonder Ms. Jean-Pierre was forced to try to clean it up.

There are a few possible explanations for this whole mess.

One, of course, is that Ms. Jean-Pierre is not good at her job. There is plenty of evidence of this.

Another is that there is little sympathy for Israel among the extreme leftists who inhabit the White House today, and the press secretary inadvertently verbalized those inclinations.

Another is that the White House was prepared for the question, and it was answered that way intentionally because those leftists are setting policy and are hostile to Israel and Jews generally.

None of those options is good, and the truth is that the answer is probably a combination of all of them.

And for the Biden administration, which took power under the premise that “the adults are back in charge,” it was proof that it’s more accurate to say that incompetent leftists are the ones calling the shots.

• Tim Murtaugh is a Washington Times columnist and vice president for communication strategy at National Public Affairs, a political consulting firm.

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