By Gabe Friedman
(JTA) — It’s official: Kamala Harris is Joe Biden’s choice for vice president.
The California senator, who made history Tuesday as the first Black woman to join a major party presidential ticket, is still in her first term. But during several years in public office, the 55-year-old lawmaker’s outspoken opinions on a range of issues and her presidential run have given Jewish voters plenty to scrutinize.
She is also married to Jewish lawyer Douglas Emhoff, who would become the country’s first Jewish second husband.
As a senator, Harris has been aligned with Biden on Israel: She is seen as a strong supporter with ties to AIPAC, the country’s largest pro-Israel lobby, and unlike some Democrats has not broached the idea of conditioning aid to Israel to influence its policies. During her presidential run, Harris separated herself somewhat from even the mainstream moderates in the pack, firmly opposing the idea of condemnatory U.N. votes or even strong public criticism aimed at swaying Israeli policy.
While the more liberal pro-Israel group J Street has endorsed the centrist Biden, who also has committed to keeping spats with Israel private and the idea of not allowing any “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel in diplomatic terms, it has not backed Harris. J Street, which lobbies for a two-state solution, has endorsed more than half of Senate Democrats.
However, Harris has said that she would rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, an agreement that conservative Jews despise over its aid to Iran, a regime that routinely calls for Israel’s destruction. That keeps her aligned with Biden, who was part of the Obama administration that brokered the 2015 agreement over vehement objections by Israel.
“This nuclear deal is not perfect, but it is certainly the best existing tool we have to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and avoid a disastrous military conflict in the Middle East,” Harris wrote in a statement in 2018 after Trump pulled the U.S. out of the deal. “As the international community and the Administration’s own national security team has confirmed multiple times, Iran remains in compliance with the deal. In the absence of an Iranian violation, it is reckless to break this agreement without presenting any plan on how to move forward.”
Like many other Democratic lawmakers, Harris is also against Israel’s potential unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank. She wrote a letter to President Trump in June arguing that annexation would “harm prospects for a negotiated two-state solution.” She did not, however, sign onto a letter signed by other senators stating that annexation would fray U.S.-Israel ties. (Since then, on August 13, as part of an agreement between Israel and the United Ara Emirates to normalize relations, Israel agreed to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories.)
Harris, previously the attorney general of California, is a self-described progressive who’s also known for being “tough on crime” — a quality that has hurt her standing among other progressives but could be seen as a plus by Jewish Americans rattled by a series of historic antisemitic attacks during the past few years, including the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that killed 11 in 2018.
As San Francisco’s district attorney, Harris created a hate crimes unit, and as attorney general, she reported in 2012 that anti-Jewish hate crimes were the most commonplace religion-based hate crime in California.
In the Senate, she has urged better hate crime reporting and helped pass a resolution that named religious institutions as possible targets of hate crimes.
Outside of politics, Harris’ husband Douglas Emhoff has two Jewish children from a previous marriage — and often cheerleads for his wife on Twitter.
PHOTO: Harris, Biden
CAP: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) in 2017 signing the guestbook at Yad Vashem as her husband, Doug Emhoff, looks on. (Credit: Office of Sen. Kamala Harris).
Kamala Harris’ Yiddish nickname is indicative of her closeness with her Jewish family
By Gabe Friedman
“My family means everything to me. And I’ve had a lot of titles over my career, and certainly, vice president will be great, but ‘momala’ will always be the one that means the most,” she said Thursday in Wilmington, Delaware.
Harris’ two step-children deserve the credit for that mashup of “mom” and “Kamala,” CNN reported last year.
Despite the fact that their father — Harris’ husband, Douglas Emhoff — is Jewish, it’s unclear if they realized their nickname for their stepmom is the exact pronunciation of an endearing Yiddish word: “mamele” — which literally means “little mama” and is a term of endearment for moms.
Regardless of the intent behind it, the nickname symbolizes how close Harris is with her husband and stepkids. If Harris is elected vice president, Emhoff would become the country’s first Jewish presidential or vice presidential spouse.
Their courtship story began in 2013, when Harris’ friend Chrisette Hudlin set them up on a blind date. Harris, now 55, was then California’s attorney general. Hudlin was a public relations consultant, and Emhoff was (as he still is) an entertainment lawyer. He was also divorced with two kids from a previous marriage.
In Harris’ memoir, The Truth We Hold, she said Emhoff sent this awkward text before they met up: “Hey! It’s Doug. Just saying hi! I’m at the Lakers game.”
“Then I punctuated it with my own bit of awkwardness — ‘Go Lakers!’— even though I’m really a Warriors fan,” Harris wrote.
Then, the morning after their first date, Emhoff got candid.
“I’m too old to play games or hide the ball,” he said in an email to Harris. “I really like you, and I want to see if we can make this work.”
The two were married by 2014. The wedding incorporated Jewish and Indian traditions (Harris’ father is Jamaican and her mother was Indian) — Emhoff broke a glass, and Harris gave him a traditional Indian garland to wear.
Since then, both Harris and Emhoff have gotten sappy about each other on social media.
But the best quotes that Harris has given about their relationship involve Emhoff’s parents, who lived in Brooklyn and New Jersey before moving to California.
In a January 2019 talk at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, Harris describes meeting her in-laws for the first time. When her interviewer asks if Emhoff’s parents still live in New Jersey, Harris says “They are in California now, but New Jersey is very much in them.”
She then talks about the reaction of Emhoff’s parents the first time they saw her.
As Harris recalls, Emhoff’s mother Barbara put Harris’ face in her hands and said: “Oh, look at you! You’re prettier than you are on television!”
Barbara then called for her husband: “Mike, look at her!”
PHOTO: Kamala Harris family
CAP: Kamala Harris with her husband Doug Emhoff and his children, Cole and Ella.