Second gentleman Doug Emhoff said on Thursday that a "crisis of antisemitism" was making it difficult for many Jews in America to celebrate Hanukkah, and singled out for criticism the presidents of three elite universities for their Capitol Hill testimony this week about antisemitism on campus.

Speaking at a ceremony to light the National Menorah, Emhoff cited the testimony as an example of why many Jews have felt "feeling unmoored and afraid" because of backlash to Israel's military response in Gaza to the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas.

The presidents of Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania have been criticized for failing to say whether students calling for genocide would be disciplined. Liz Magill, the president of UPenn, said the issue would be "context-dependent." She has since apologized.

"Seeing the presidents of some of our most elite universities literally unable to denounce calling for the genocide of Jews as antisemitic — that lack of moral clarity is simply unacceptable," Emhoff said.

"Let me be clear. When Jews are targeted because of their beliefs or identity, and when Israel is singled out because of anti-Jewish hatred, that is antisemitism. And it must be condemned and condemned unequivocally and without context," he said.

Since the Oct. 7 attacks, President Biden has pronounced unequivocal support for Israel while expressing concerns about civilian deaths in Gaza. But polls show a majority of Democratic voters feel like Israel's response has gone too far.

Vice President Harris said on Saturday that Israel needed to do more to protect civilians in Gaza. "Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed. Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering and the images and videos coming from Gaza are devastating," she said.

Emhoff — who is the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president — has led White House efforts on combating antisemitism, and earlier this year he helped unveil a plan to boost safety and security for Jewish communities.

At the National Menorah lighting ceremony, he said that Hanukkah was a time to "live out the legacy of the generations of ancestors who came before us" and "rededicate ourselves to embracing our faith and practicing our traditions.

"We cannot live in fear or be afraid. We must always live openly and proudly as Jews," he said.

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