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Second gentleman and UN ambassador hold session on Gaza fallout with Jewish and Arab youth

By Edward-Isaac Dovere, CNN

(CNN) — Second gentleman Doug Emhoff slipped into New York on Thursday for a small meeting with youth leaders selected from across the Jewish American, Muslim American and Palestinian American communities, marking the administration’s latest move in its evolving response to the Israel-Hamas war.

The event, hosted by United Nations Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Rashad Hussain, the US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, was kept quiet by administration officials hoping to facilitate a conversation, rather than a debate or another opportunity for the protests that have followed President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris across the country.

But Emhoff is not involved with administration policy, so the discussion was not about a ceasefire nor negotiations over a hostage release nor the White House’s maneuvering with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Nor was it about ongoing political fallout, according to a person in the room. It focused on how the situation has affected people in America, billed as “a roundtable discussion on the sharp rise in Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate after the October 7 terrorist attacks in Israel.”

In January, the Anti-Defamation League recorded a 361% rise in reported antisemitic incidents in the three months after the Hamas attack began on October 7 compared to the same period in 2022. In November, the Council on American-Islamic Relations said it had received an “unprecedented” rise in reported anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias incidents in the month following the start of the war.

“These communities have felt real pain, fear, and isolation,” Thomas-Greenfield said in a statement to CNN. “In this moment in which it’s all too easy to focus on what divides us, we must carve out moments like today’s roundtable to remember what unites us: to find shared humanity, and shared purpose, in one another’s stories, and work together to create a lasting peace for all.”

Though he was working on the issue before, Emhoff’s portfolio as second gentleman has increasingly been consumed with countering hate across the country since October 7. He’s had community conversations with leaders in Michigan, California and at Cornell University in New York. But Thursday’s event – coordinated by Andrew Weinstein, who was appointed by President Joe Biden in 2022 to serve as a public delegate to the United Nations – was the first structured specifically around youth leaders, and across Jewish Americans and Arab Americans at once.

The event itself was kept closed to the public and press, but the person in the room described an honest conversation defined by participants talking about their own experiences over the last few months, with Emhoff, Thomas-Greenfield and Hussain mostly listening.

Emhoff finished by talking about the need to keep building coalitions and executing on the national strategy to combat antisemitism and the coming strategy on combating Islamophobia, the person in the room said.

An aide to the US mission to the United Nations explained that the names of the participants were kept private to protect sensitive discussions.

“Obviously everyone didn’t agree on policy, but everyone agreed on the need to combat hate and to work against dehumanization,” said another person familiar with the event.

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