The White House announced on Thursday that Karine Jean-Pierre, a veteran anti-Israel activist who is a partner to CNN correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, will replace outgoing press secretary Jen Psaki, raising potential ethical quandaries.
The announcement drew celebratory headlines in the mainstream press: Jean-Pierre is the first black woman and openly gay person to serve in the role.
But her relationship with the CNN reporter raises ethical questions about her new role. The White House did not respond to a request for comment about whether Jean-Pierre would recuse herself in dealing with CNN. Malveaux's colleagues include Valerie Jarrett's daughter, CNN justice correspondent Laura Jarrett, and Israel ambassador Tom Nides's wife, Virginia Moseley, who serves as CNN's senior vice president of news gathering.
"Suzanne Malveaux will continue in her role as CNN national correspondent covering national/international news and cultural events but will not cover politics, Capitol Hill, or the White House while Karine Jean-Pierre is serving as White House press secretary," a CNN spokesperson told the Washington Free Beacon.
Jean-Pierre’s anti-Israel past—which includes a stint as senior adviser and national spokeswoman for MoveOn.org, a far-left anti-Israel group that advocates for boycotts of the Jewish state—is raising red flags in the pro-Israel community. The selection of an Israel critic is also likely to further strain ties with the pro-Israel community and Israeli government, which already is strongly opposed to the Biden administration’s efforts to ink a new nuclear deal with Iran.
Jean-Pierre has been open about her animosity toward the Jewish state. She has accused Israel of committing "war crimes" and has backed efforts to boycott the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the United States' most prominent pro-Israel lobbying shop, cheering Democrats in 2019 for boycotting the group's annual gathering in Washington, D.C., for "boldly [choosing] to prioritize diplomacy and human rights over the power of a lobbying organization." AIPAC, she claimed, helped the Trump administration "sabotage" the Iran nuclear deal and also "supported the group that's credited with inspiring President Trump to enact the Muslim Ban and has been known to spread anti-Muslim racism." She accused the group without evidence of trafficking in "severely racist, Islamophobic rhetoric."
Ellie Cohanim, who served as the State Department's deputy special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism during the Trump administration, told the Free Beacon that Jean-Pierre's promotion sends the wrong signal during a time of rising anti-Semitism.
"Joe Biden’s promotion of Jean-Pierre signals to all would-be Israel haters that their efforts will be rewarded with White House appointments and promotions," Cohanim said. "At a time of rising anti-Semitism in America, Biden’s promotion of Jean-Pierre is exactly the wrong signal to send."
"Promoting Jean-Pierre further proves the point that the Democrat party has become a breeding ground of anti-Israel hostility that goes right up to the White House," Cohanim added.
"As a child of Holocaust survivors and as an American Jew, I am both appalled and frightened that Biden has chosen as his principal deputy press secretary, Ms. Jean-Pierre, who has shown essentially antisemitic hostility toward Israel and is willing to lie about and vilify Israel and Jews to promote her ugly Israelophobic agenda," Mort Klein, CEO of the Zionist Organization on America, said in a statement.
"Americans should be deeply concerned that this outrageous, incomprehensible anti-Israel, pro-terrorist and pro-Iran appointment indicates the dangerous direction the Biden administration is going to take against America’s greatest ally Israel and U.S.-Israel relations," Klein said.
One veteran pro-Israel community leader expressed shock that the president decided to hire Jean-Pierre.
"Jewish Americans will get slapped in the face every time they turn on the television and see someone standing at the podium who has said such vile things about Israel," said the source, who would only speak candidly on background. "Just days after the [Anti-Defamation League] boldly declared anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism, the forces of radical left anti-Semitism got a boost from the President of the United States."
MoveOn, the far-left group that Jean-Pierre worked for from April 2016 until August 2020, also pressed Democratic lawmakers to boycott AIPAC’s annual conference, as well as the organization itself. "[Democratic] candidates should be prepared for push back regarding their involvement with AIPAC," a MoveOn spokeswoman told Politico in 2020.
MoveOn also has championed anti-Israel leaders in Congress, including Reps. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.), who were the organization’s first endorsements in the 2020 election cycle.
The group also ran interference for Omar and Tlaib when they were accused of making anti-Semitic statements and stoking hatred of Jews. Democrats, the group said in 2019, "must stand strong in solidarity with Reps. Tlaib, Omar—stand up to Israel right-wing government for doing Trump's racist, political dirty work."
And when far-left activist Linda Sarsour was criticized for anti-Semitism, MoveOn came to her defense, tweeting that she "is a leader in the fight for justice for all of us." MoveOn also defended Angela Davis, the notorious communist activist, as a "civil rights leader" after an award was revoked due to her anti-Semitic past.
Biden praised Jean-Pierre as a "talent" in a statement on the new hire.
"Karine not only brings the experience, talent and integrity needed for this difficult job, but she will continue to lead the way in communicating about the work of the Biden-Harris administration on behalf of the American people," the president said in a statement. "Jill and I have known and respected Karine a long time and she will be a strong voice speaking for me and this administration."
Update May 6, 11:53 a.m.: This piece has been updated to include comment from CNN.
Update May 10, 12:35 p.m.: A previous version of this piece reported that Karine Jean-Pierre and Suzanne Malveaux are married, which has not been confirmed.