Ira Forman, newly appointed State Department Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat
Anti-Semitism, says he has “a lot to learn.”
Having only been appointed
to his position around a week before speaking with The Jerusalem Post last
Wednesday in Jerusalem at the Foreign Ministry’s Global Forum for Combating
Anti- Semitism, Forman said that he was focused on seeking out “advice from a
lot of folks” in attendance who have been involved in the fight against anti-
“I’ve been on the job one week and I really think it’s really
important [that I am here] to listen and learn,” he said.
Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism was created in 2004 with
the passing of the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act, and Forman – former director
of the National Jewish Democratic Council – is now the third official to head
Forman’s appointment comes on the heels of a State Department report
describing “a continued global increase in anti-Semitism” and the rise of the
far Right in several European nations.
Asked where he would focus his
efforts, Forman said that he was still assessing the current global
“My job right now is to listen and with my staff – we have a
very competent staff back in Washington – really sit and make priorities. No
matter how much we are the superpower in the world,” he said, resources are not
unlimited, “so its very important for us to prioritize.
“I’ll be able to
answer a lot better in coming months,” he said.
One guiding principal for
his work, Forman elaborated, is determining “where can we relieve people the
most effectively?” Forman said that he has been kept busy by his new position,
flying out to visit Auschwitz with several Islamic religious leaders only hours
after being appointed. “Since then I’ve been oversees,” he said.
return to Washington, he told the Post, he intended to take a serious look at
issues of anti-Semitism around the globe, taking into account the needs of
“Congress clearly made [battling anti- Semitism] a
priority when it created this position,” he said. However, while he explained
that “in a general terms I can say we will have serious influence” on foreign
policy, “there will be all kinds of other bilateral and multilateral issues
“That’s going to be part of the whole mix with all of
these other factors. It’s a classic social science environment where it’s not
the natural sciences where you can have a controlled experiment.
almost an infinite number of variables that you are looking at.”
told the Post that a large part of his job “is to give our foreign service
officers help [for] them [to] understand the phenomena” of
“You take a country like Hungary as your example,” he
said. “This is a sizable Jewish community for Europe. That’s one guiding
principle.” However, “for any given country, there will be all kinds of other
bilateral and multilateral issues confronting us,” he said.
Israeli government officials who have accused to the Palestinian Authority of
inciting anti-Semitism in their official media and the relation of his work to
the peace process, Forman replied that he was “going to be very careful to
really compartmentalize” and not to mix in directly with the peace
“Obviously we talk with lots of other people about their
priorities but we’ve got to be careful we don’t mix those missions,” he
Despite much of the world’s focus on anti-Semitism in countries
such as Hungary and France, with their sizable Jewish communities, Forman said
that he was also interested in combating hate in “countries with minimal or
actually no Jewish populations that have problems with
You cannot say that combating anti- Semitism in countries
without a Jewish presence is “irrelevant,” he said, because such attitudes can
“impact the rest of the world.” Forman sees his task as a “crusade,” he said,
apologizing for using such a “loaded term.”
However, he indicated, such
an appellation may be appropriate, given the emotion this “tough issue” stirs up
and that way it is “affecting people’s lives.”
Forman expressed gratitude
to many of the international Jewish leaders who attended the forum organized by
the Israeli Foreign Ministry, saying that he is “going to need some of that
energy from people who are already involved in this” field.
himself something of “an amateur historian when it comes to Jewish history and
anti-Semitism,” Forman said that he intends to use history as a guide to
understanding the present, even if events never repeat themselves
Forman recalled a colleague who once told him that using using
history as a guide to the past is like trying to drive a car with the front
windshield taped over.
“I agreed with him immediately and said that’s
absolutely true, but trying to understand the future without history is like
having that front windshield taped over but also the side windows and the back
windows. With history, at least I have the side windows and the back
“We have a whole historical record of the twentieth century
where the Great Depression helped give rise to these fascists movements in
Europe and for me, I’m interested in what we can learn from that and what we are
seeing in right-wing nationalist xenophobic movements in Europe that are
generating, in some cases, anti-Semitism,” he said.
JTA contributed to