Experts on the role of the anti-Semitism envoy – the Forward


As Senate Democrats seek ways to confirm Deborah E. Lipstadt’s appointment as the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, amid Republican objections, experts wonder if the Raising the post to the rank of Ambassador was worth it.

“The important thing about this position is that there is an official representative of the US government who speaks out against anti-Semitism,” said Hannah Rosenthal, who was the envoy during President Obama’s first term. “And, unfortunately, by changing it last year, it became political football.”

The position, which was first established by Congress in 2004 to monitor global anti-Semitism, has been elevated to the rank of ambassador in 2021, which requires confirmation from the Senate. Lipstadt, a prominent Holocaust historian, was appointed by President Joe Biden in August, but her confirmation hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also divided has been locked by Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, on a tweet in which Lipstadt accused the senator of white supremacy for a comment he made after the January 6 riot. The White House resubmitted his appointment last week at the start of a new legislative session.

“In normal historical terms, that wouldn’t be that problem,” a former administration official said of the drawbacks of the current law. “Minority parties do not block nominations at ambassadorial level, except for extraordinary things. But we live in very dysfunctional times.

Rosenthal, a Wisconsin resident who was the first Democrat to hold the post preceded by Republican Gregg Rickman, called the heist “painful.”

“This is all a game for them,” she said, “and anti-Semitism is not a game.”

Johnson’s office has not responded to repeated requests as to why Republicans would rather have no one in this important post than Lipstadt.

The New York Timesreported Sunday that Republicans consider asking Lipstadt to publicly apologize to Johnson. Another option would be to take his nomination to the Senate for a vote, where Democrats have a majority.

The role of the envoy on anti-Semitism

The Office of the Special Envoy, part of the Office of Religion and Global Affairs, was established in 2006 after the bipartisan passage of the 2004 Review of Global Antisemitism Act.

the legislation was led by Congressman Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey, following an increase in deadly anti-Semitic attacks and threats made against Jews all over the world.

While the office is supposed to monitor anti-Semitism in cooperation with overseas embassy staff, the role of the envoy is largely undetermined and has no clear manual, other than traveling the world to meet with officials. foreign governments, attend international conferences and report to the Secretary of State. In addition, the envoys provided input and contributed to the ministry’s annual report on human rights practices and international religious freedom.

The previous four envoys each had their own approach and priority list.

Gregg Rickman, a former GOP congressman who held the post during the administration of George W. Bush, assisted Yemeni Jews seeking refuge in the United States.

Rosenthal, who served from 2009 to 2012, came to work with the experience of being a community relations professional and made headlines for implementing a training program for diplomats to identify and to combat anti-Semitism and to instill anti-Semitism on Saudi officials in their textbooks. She was also criticized for criticizing a statement by former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.

“At no time did I think I was going to stamp out anti-Semitism,” Rosenthal said. “I was hoping that during my tenure as Special Envoy, I would move the needle – and in some cases, I thought I did.”

Ira Forman, who held the post from 2013 to early 2017, used his office to lobby European governments against measures to ban ritual circumcision. He also frequently met with leaders of Jewish communities in countries closely watched by his office and maintained bilateral relations with government officials.

Elan Carr, who was not appointed until 2019 – after initial attempts by the Trump administration to shut down the office – redefined work with a more partisan approach and a focus on anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activities on college campuses.

The Trump administration has also appointed a deputy envoy to expand the office’s work in the Middle East, North Africa and Latin America regions. Ellie Cohanim, who was born in Iran, said she follows Iranian Jewish community closely, has partnered with Gulf countries to fight anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and Islamophobia, and has been committed to get more Latin countries to adopt the working definition of anti-Semitism of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

“The policy of the Trump administration was that ‘anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism’ stalled,” Cohanim said in an interview.

Madam Ambassador

If confirmed, Lipstadt would be the first emissary for anti-Semitism to represent the US government with a more prestigious title.

Former President Donald Trump signed the bill to elevate the post to ambassador a week before stepping down. The measure requires the envoy to be the US government’s principal adviser on issues related to global anti-Semitism.

“The combination of the elevation of the post and the person nominated to be the envoy should give the post more weight than it ever had,” said Ethan Katz, associate professor of history and Jewish studies at the University of California.

Rosenthal argued that the title does not change the weight of the envoy other than turning the process into a political debate in a divided Congress. “The word ‘high’ doesn’t mean anything in this situation,” she said. “People called me ‘ambassador’ all the time when I was there.”

She recalled a conversation she had with Congressman Smith about her elevating position bill in which she told him that “nobody in Germany, nobody in Brazil or Chile cares. title of this person or whether the Senate has confirmed them ‘but for the people in the ring road. “Don’t do anything that can politicize it and make it partisan,” she told the senior Republican official.

Nonetheless, Lipstadt would step into the role with more notoriety and credibility than his predecessors. Lipstadt, who teaches at Emory University in Atlanta, was the protagonist of the 2016 film “Denial,” about her successful defeat in a libel lawsuit brought by a denialist she had criticized. She is the author of numerous books, including “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory”, “The Eichmann Trial” and “Antisemitism: Here and Now”, which won a National Jewish Book Award in 2019. Recently . years, she has sharply criticized Trump for his dogged whistles at white nationalists and neo-Nazi groups, as well as for anti-Semitism on the left. She recently testified in the trial of alternative right-wing organizers of the murderous 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.

Katz noted that Lipstadt and his deputy, Aaron Keyak, are “respected across the broad spectrum of the American Jewish establishment at a time when the American Jewish community is deeply fragmented politically.”

Not the contact on anti-Semitism in the United States

In recent years, the spotlight has been on the steady increase in anti-Semitic incidents and rhetoric in America: the Charlottesville rally, the deadly terrorist attack in Pittsburgh, the TCG bomb threats and the vandalism of Jewish cemeteries. , as well as a spike in violent attacks against Jews in major American cities, has drawn the attention of community and government officials.

But all of the experts interviewed for this article argued that it is in no way for the State Department’s envoy for anti-Semitism to play a leading role in this matter at the national level.

Jewish leaders have pressured the Biden administration to appoint a liaison with the Jewish community focused on domestic terrorism within the homeland security or justice departments.

“The special envoy charged with monitoring and combating anti-Semitism at the State Department has a lot of work to do,” Rosenthal said. “He shouldn’t be focusing on the United States”

But as long as there is no point of contact on the subject, the emissary for anti-Semitism will not be able to stay away from the problem, Katz suggested. “I think the tension between the national role and the overseas role will continue to be an act of tension as long as there is no one who has a specific portfolio of dealing with national incentives and because it is has become such a visible issue in political debates, “he said.

Cohanim urged the administration to maintain the Trump administration’s focus on anti-Israel activity on college campuses and “continue to confront the Iranian regime over its state-sponsored anti-Semitism.”



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