WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden is hosting a White House reception Monday to mark Hanukkah, celebrating the holiday as he has continued to denounce rising antisemitism in the U.S. and abroad amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.
The president, first lady Jill Biden and second gentleman Doug Emhoff will attend the event with nearly 800 guests. Invitees include Holocaust survivors, members of Congress, state and local officials, entertainers, and leaders from across the Jewish religious denominations, the White House says.
A menorah is lit nightly during the eight-day Jewish festival, which this year is being celebrated from Dec. 7 until Friday.
The White House reception will be led by Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, Senior Rabbi at Central Synagogue in New York City, and feature menorah lighting by Emhoff and White House staff that are descendants of Holocaust survivors.
Biden plans to talk about how Hanukkah is a timeless story of miracles, and that — even in dark times — we can find the light, the White House says.
Earlier Monday, a group of protesters staged a demonstration outside the White House, as nearly 20 women describing themselves as "Jewish elders" chained their bodies to the fence guarding the White House. Wearing black T-shirts that read "Not In Our Name," the women chanted "Biden, Biden, pick a side! Cease-fire not genocide!" while reading the names of those killed in Gaza, along with their ages.
Officers from U.S. Park Police eventually took the women away, after using a bolt cutter to cut the chains that had encircled the protesters' waists. Organizers said they deliberately picked Monday — the day of the White House's Hanukkah celebration — to protest.
"We as elder Jews, we know what genocide looks like. We know what genocide feels like. It’s in our bodies, in our bones," said Esther Farmer of Jewish Voice for Peace, which organized the demonstration. "It's horrifying, it's devastating. Sometimes, it's hard to get up in the morning to see this, and it's being done in the name of Jews. So we are here — as elderly Jews — to say, not in our name."
The U.S. Park Police said they issued 18 citations to the protesters and released them from custody.
The Biden administration in May announced what it called the first-ever national strategy to counter antisemitism. That laid out more than 100 actions, including a series of steps to raise awareness and understanding of antisemitism and the threat it poses around the U.S.
Still, antisemitism has only intensified in some quarters since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas and other militants sparked Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza, which faces heightened criticism for the mounting Palestinian death toll. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned of an impending "humanitarian catastrophe" in Gaza and urged its members to demand an immediate humanitarian cease-fire.
The husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, Emhoff is the first Jewish person to be the spouse of one of the country’s nationally elected leaders. Last week, he presided over the lighting ceremony of a massive menorah in front of the White House to mark Hanukkah’s first night, saying then that American Jews are "feeling alone" and "in pain."
The White House supported a since-expired, temporary pause in the fighting as Hamas released some of the hostages it held in Gaza, and is pushing for another truce — but the fighting continues in the meantime.
On Saturday, Liz Magill, the president of the University of Pennsylvania, resigned amid pressure from donors and criticism over testimony at a congressional hearing where she was unable to say under repeated questioning that calls on campus for the genocide of Jews would violate the school’s conduct policy.
Universities across the U.S. have been accused of failing to protect Jewish students amid rising fears of antisemitism worldwide and fallout from the war in Gaza.
White House spokesman Andrew Bates declined to comment on Magill’s decision to resign. Presidents Claudine Gay of Harvard and Sally Kornbluth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who appeared alongside Magill, have also faced criticism. Gay has apologized for her remarks.
Bates noted that Magill issued a statement withdrawing her remarks.
"That was the right thing to do," Bates said.
Associated Press writer Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.