Anti-Semitism observatory lands in Saudi Arabia on first official trip

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Deborah Lipstadt, the State Department’s new special envoy to combat anti-Semitism, arrived in Saudi Arabia on Sunday for her first official visit abroad as the Biden administration’s top expert on what Lipstadt calls the oldest hatred in the world.

Lipstadt’s tour of the country comes two weeks before President Biden’s planned trip to the Middle East, which includes stops in Israel and the occupied West Bank.

His goals in Saudi Arabia and his next stop, the United Arab Emirates, are more specific. She wants to fight anti-Jewish sentiment.

In 2020, Israel and several Arab countries signed the Abraham Accords, a set of normalization agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, countries previously at odds diplomatically, politically and military.

The Saudis were not included in the deals, but they have since opened up to Israel and deepened their commercial ties, especially in air defense technology. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman increasingly sees Israel as a strategic partner in the fight against Iranian influence. The Wall Street Journal reported that in March the United States held a secret meeting with Israeli and Saudi military leaders to counter the Iranian air threat.

As more Jews, mostly Israelis, travel in greater numbers to the predominantly Muslim Persian Gulf region, Lipstadt said she wants to meet with government ministers and civil society leaders to raise awareness of the anti-Semitism.

“I’m trying to see if there are ways to normalize the treatment of Jews and Jewish history and culture,” Lipstadt said in a phone interview with Religion News Service ahead of his trip. “Jews have a rich history in this area, and that should be part of the conversation as well.”

She will also travel to the United Arab Emirates and Israel in the coming days.

Judaism is experiencing a revival in the United Arab Emirates, where a few synagogues have opened since the signing of the Abraham Accords. The government has officially recognized the existence of Jews in the United Arab Emirates. There is even a kosher catering service.

A world-renowned expert on anti-Semitism, Lipstadt took a three-year leave from Emory University in March to become special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. The position, created in 2004, has ambassadorial rank and is intended to advance US foreign policy on anti-Semitism abroad.

She said she viewed her new role in many ways as a continuation of her work as a teacher at Emory, in which she taught students about the historical ways in which anti-Semitism arises and spreads.

“Jews don’t present themselves as other victims of prejudice,” Lipstadt said. “They seem to be well located and able to take care of themselves. People wonder, ‘Is this a serious thing?’ And I’m here to say, ‘Yes, this is a very serious problem.’ ”

She also stressed that the fight against anti-Semitism is not only about protecting the lives of Jews.

“It’s rarely isolated as hate,” Lipstadt said. “Anti-Semitism is a threat to democracy and global security. It is a threat to the stability of society.

Lipstadt said anti-Semitic tropes are so entrenched in society that all it takes is a financial crisis or a pandemic for them to resurface. “If you say the Jews are behind it, people say, ‘Maybe there’s something to it,’” she said. “It becomes an easy target or a way to explain something inexplicable.”

Biden nominated Lipstadt as special envoy a year ago, but the nomination languished for months after Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, objected. , saying he was offended by a tweet in which Lipstadt wrote that his comments about the January 6, 2021, uprising amounted to “white supremacy/nationalism.” (Johnson said he would have been concerned if Black Lives Matter protesters flooded the Capitol instead of most White Trump supporters.)

Lipstadt was finally confirmed by the Senate on March 30.

She said the protracted confirmation battle hasn’t made her feel constrained now that she’s taken office.

“Much to my delight, I discovered that there was very little I couldn’t say,” Lipstadt said. “My colleagues in this extensive State Department network have been totally supportive. I walk down the halls of the building and people say, ‘I’m glad you’re here. say what I wanted to say and what I believe passionately.

Shortly after his stint in the Middle East, Lipstadt will travel to Argentina to commemorate the 1994 bombing of the building of the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association, the center of the Jewish community in Buenos Aires. The attack killed 86 people, including the suicide bomber. After that, she travels to Chile to speak with leaders of the Jewish community.

Her new job, she said, is to raise awareness and understanding of the dangers of anti-Semitism.

“I may have taken off my mortarboard and put on the hat that a diplomat wears, but I’m doing the same thing,” Lipstadt said. “I educate.” — Religious News Service

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