Remarks by Vice President Harris at the Jewish Democratic Council of America Leadership Convening

The Pendry
Washington, D.C.

10:05 A.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Hi, everyone.  Please have a seat.  Have a seat.  Hi.  Let me first start by thanking Halie.  As she said, we worked together in the U.S. Senate.  She was my national security advisor.  And I remember when you decided to take this position and you were so excited about the potential and what it would mean, and always understanding the opportunity of a moment but also the responsibility in that moment to lead. 

And I just want to say in front of all of the friends: Halie is an extraordinary leader.  She is so committed.  She is so committed.  (Applause.)  She is smart as a whip.  She is committed.  She works so hard.  She has passion about all that is right.  She’s a fighter for justice and a dear friend and advisor.  So, thank you, Halie, for all you have done.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

So, I’m so glad to see all of the friends.  The first Second Gentleman of the United States brings you his best after seeing you last night, and he really enjoyed being with everyone last night.  And I just wanted to stop by to thank you all for the work that you are doing.

You know, Doug — he has — he’s been traveling the world to fight against hate and fight against antisemitism.  And one of the — the things that he has been saying — he just came up with it.  But he said and talks about — and in particular with young people — about the importance of living openly as a Jew. 

And for any of you who have seen him when he does this — in particular with young people, but people of every generation — it’s really so important for people to hear those words and understand what that means.  Because in our fight against hate, what we are also fighting against is powerful forces that aim to suggest that we are alone and without community and without support — those who aim to make people feel powerless and unsafe.

And so, the work that we do is, yes, to fight against those forces, to call them out where they exist.  And sadly, we are seeing them in many places around our country and the world.  But in that fight, it is also important to remind people that they are not alone and that we all stand together and that it is a sign of our collective strength to say no one will be made to fight alone.

And so, that’s how I think about this moment. 

I will tell you, I am deeply concerned about what we are seeing in our country in terms of hate and, in particular, antisemitism. 

As many of you know, in my career, I was an elected DA of San Francisco and did a lot of work prosecuting hate crime.  When I was Attorney General of the State of California, I ran the second-largest Department of Justice in the United States, second only to the U.S. Department of Justice.  And I issued hate crime reports every year.

And therefore, tracking with empirical data what we were seeing in terms of the hate that was manifesting itself in threats of violence and acts of violence against various people in our communities, including the antisemitism we were seeing in a state like California.

And now, as Vice President of the United States, when I travel the country and meet with folks and hear the stories — stories from students, stories from grandmothers, and everyone in between — we know this is an issue that we have to remain vigilant about.

You know, I often quote Coretta Scott King, and I’ll paraphrase.  And she famously said that the fight for justice, for civil rights, for equality, must be fought and won with each generation. 

And I think what she meant were — there were basically two things.  One, that these fights will produce gains, but those gains will never be permanent.

So, the second point, then, isn’t an admonition; it’s the very nature of it.  Whatever gains they — that we make, they will not be permanent unless we are vigilant — unless we are vigilant to preserve what we have achieved. 

And in that admonition, I think what she was saying is: Understanding it is the nature of it all, let us not be overwhelmed.  Let us not be living in a state of fear.  Let us not throw up our hands when it’s time to roll up our sleeves.

And that is the work of this organization and each of you: understanding we must be vigilant, we can take nothing for granted.  We have known this, and history has shown this to us.

And so, we are prepared then to do what is necessary to fight back against hate and to speak up for the pride and the strength that we each share, in terms of thinking about what all of this represents.

And I must say, Halie, thinking about it, and we’ve — so many of us work together when it comes to the work that we do to fight antisemitism in a variety of ways, including the work that is happening here around elections. 

And so, first, let me congratulate this group for the midterms and what happened there, in terms of the activism that resulted.  You know, it was supposed to be this wave, they said.  It was just a foregone conclusion.  Well, it didn’t happen because we were not willing to sit back and let it happen, and created a counterforce that was based on fighting for our ideals — not fighting against anything, fighting for something.

And elections matter.  Elections matter.  Elected leaders, whatever their level — local, state, federal — usually have a bouquet of microphones in front of them.  And with that, I think we all agree, the responsibility to elevate public discourse, to educate the public about how they should be thinking about history, the present, and the future, in addition to so many other things. 

And so, we want to make sure that when people then achieve these elected offices, they will use these microphones in a way that is responsible and reflective of what we all expect from leaders. 

You know, what’s really been bothering me a lot, I must say, is the tone out there these days amongst some elected leaders who are suggesting that it is a sign of weakness to have empathy. 

It is a sign of strength to have empathy, to have a level of concern, much less a sense of connection to those who are suffering or have been wronged.

But we’re working in an environment in this year, 2023, where there are people who are going around pounding their chests about how strong they are when their measure of strength is based on who they beat down.  But our measure of strength is based on who you lift up — (applause) — who you lift up.

And so, that is the work we are doing to support those folks who understand what we, I think, know and history has always shown to be the attributes of true leaders, especially in times like this where there are concerted efforts to divide us as a nation, when we know truly that our best moments is when we have understood, as I wrote in Yad Vashem — when we know and we remember and hold dear that the vast majority of us have so much more in common than what separates us.

So, with that, I say again thank you, everyone here, for the work you are doing, the work you continue to do.  This is work that is fueled by optimism.  Every success we have achieved is because we are optimistic and know and believe in what is good and what is right and that it is achievable.

So, let’s let that continue to fuel us as we do our work going forward.

Thank you all very much.  (Applause.)

                                                                                         END                10:16 A.M. EDT


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