Letter to White House Spokesperson Josh Earnest

February 10, 2015

Mr. Josh Earnest
Office of the Spokesperson
The White House

Dear Mr. Earnest, 

The comment made by President Obama in his interview with Vox.com in which he referred to “…a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris,” was construed by some as downplaying the deliberate targeting of Jews by Islamic extremists. 

We are mindful of the very clear position the President expressed in his statement last month on the occasion of the United Nations General Assembly special session on anti-Semitism in which he said that “Anti-Semitic attacks like the recent terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris pose a threat that extends beyond the Jewish community.  They also threaten the values we hold dear -- pluralism, diversity, and the freedoms of religion and expression…”

However, we are writing to express concern about your response to a reporter’s question regarding the President’s comment in the Vox.com interview.  Rather than clarifying the President’s comment in the interview, your answer to the question further clouded the issue and provided justification to those who thought the President did not appropriately describe the murder of four Jewish hostages in the kosher market when he did not reiterate the anti-Semitic nature of the attack and referred to it as “random.” 

Our concern is heightened by the fact that when your colleague at the State Department, Jen Psaki, was asked today about the President’s Vox.com comment, she also did not refer to the murders as an anti-Semitic attack.

Certainly, the Hypercacher kosher supermarket was deliberately chosen by Amedy Coulibaly on January 9 because it was a location frequented by Jews.  Mohamed Merah made the same calculation in March 2012 when he shot three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse, as did Mehdi Nemmouche when he fired on the Jewish museum in Brussels in May 2014.  

The President has a clear position on the events at the Hypercacher kosher supermarket and, respectfully, we request that you find the earliest opportunity to clearly reiterate that position in the context of the question posed by the reporter.


Abraham H. Foxman
National Director