Gov. Gretchen Whitmer during virtual event
“Jewish Community Conversation” with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer event was hosted by MDJC Founder and Chairman Noah Arbit, and the Zoom call reached nearly 900 members at one point. (Screenshot provided by Danny Schwartz)

The governor spoke about her battles with the White House and state house.

The Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus (MDJC) held a virtual “Jewish Community Conversation” with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday night, Oct. 19, chatting about her past few weeks, the rise of antisemitism, and the looming election.

The event was hosted by MDJC Founder and Chairman Noah Arbit, and the Zoom call reached nearly 900 members at one point. Several local Jewish politicians, including current Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner; Rep. Robert Wittenberg, the Democratic nominee for Oakland County Treasurer; and nonpartisan Oakland County Circuit Court Judge nominee Lorie Savin, were also on the call.

The event took place two days following a rally held in Michigan by President Trump, where chants of “lock her up” were heard just weeks after a foiled militia plot to kidnap Gov. Whitmer, and one day after both Trump and Whitmer appeared at a virtual event hosted by Yeshiva Beth Yehudah in Oak Park.

“The aspect of this whole challenge that I never could have imagined is having to battle a White House and having to battle our state house at the same time while we’re trying to do such important work to save lives,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer said that she’s asked the White House to do what they can to bring down the heated rhetoric, saying that it has brought much abuse directed at her, dating back to her early coronavirus restrictions and lasting through the recent kidnapping plot.

“The death threats started back in April, and they have been consistently growing,” Whitmer said. “Every time the President tweets or mentions me, they grow more and more, and the vitriol gets more dangerous. And we saw it culminate to a very scary threat and plan to kidnap and put me on some sort of a trial and then execute me. I’m grateful that it was thwarted, but yet just a week later, the president came to our state and kept inciting it.”

After being vetted as a potential running mate for Joe Biden, Whitmer was ultimately passed up for California Senator Kamala Harris. She mentioned it being an “honor of a lifetime” to be asked to go through the vetting process.

“I think that’s going to give us the ability to get a lot more of our agenda accomplished here at the state level,” Whitmer said. “I’ve taken every chance to elevate our state. And I think that that’s going to be really important going forward. (Biden) understands Michigan. So I feel very good about what our future looks like with a Biden/Harris White House.”

Whitmer mentioned how grateful she is that the State amended their constitution to make it easier for people to vote early, and how encouraging people to vote early has been a major priority recently.

“We’ve already had almost 1.5 million people vote absentee,” Whitmer said on the call.

Whitmer was also asked how the state government has been partnering with Michigan’s Jewish community in confronting antisemitism.

“One of the things that we’ve recognized in this moment is how important it is that we are working together to combat hate and to root out threats to people’s safety,” Whitmer said. “I know that the Colonel of the State Police has been working very closely with leaders in the community, including rabbis and people that have confronted and seen the hate firsthand. When the spray paint happened on the synagogue in Grand Rapids, I sat down with the rabbi to find out how we can lend support.”

Whitmer also mentioned working closely with the Civil Rights Commission and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel to ensure hate crimes are prosecuted.

Jewish Senator Jeremy Moss from the 11th State Senate District was on the call and mentioned the day on April 30 when armed protesters demonstrated against the COVID-19 lockdown at Michigan’s Capitol, and how it affected him.

“That infamous day where everybody saw the pictures on April 30 of the storming of the Capitol, I was there,” Moss said. “It was very concerning to be the only Jewish state senator where there was a rally with Nazi imagery prevalent everywhere. I think about those threats within the Capitol and how our Republican counterparts have not been serious about mitigating those threats all the while not being serious about mitigating the threat of this virus and allowing massless legislators to run through the Capitol building.”

Moss and Whitmer advocated voting in local races, as much of the policy that impacts Jewish Detroiters happens in the state legislature.

Arbit, who founded MDJC in March 2019, said the rise of antisemitic violence and rhetoric is one of the major reasons the organization was founded.

“This was the reason it was time to start the Jewish Caucus,” Arbit said. “I believed fiercely that Jewish Michiganders needed to have a voice of our own, to organize politically on behalf of our values. From now on, no one else speaks for us.“

According to Arbit, MDJC has raised over $110,000, endorsed 50 candidates for public office, and recruited nearly 2,000 members from across 30 counties in just their first year-and-a-half.

To end the call, Gov. Whitmer gave her final thoughts on the year so far and the next two weeks ahead before Election Day.

“I’ve got so many friends on this call. I just am so grateful to be with you. And throughout these challenging times, you have sustained me with your kind words, with your quiet support, with your loud support. And it means a lot,” Whitmer said.

“It’s been hard, but you know what? We’re going to get through this. We’re going to come through this stronger than ever and together we can make sure that 2020, this tough year, ends on a high note in two weeks.”