Pressure builds on White House to appoint antisemitism envoy

“As members of Congress who care deeply about antisemitism at home and abroad, we urge you to maintain and prioritize the appointment of the special envoy.”

March 13, 2017 22:15
2 minute read.
Donald Trump

Donald Trump. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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WASHINGTON – The Trump administration is facing increased calls from Democrats, Republicans and Jewish community leaders to appoint a State Department envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, a position the secretary of state is technically required to fill by law.

On Tuesday, 167 members of Congress from both parties urged the president to act, citing a measurable rise in antisemitic threats, attacks and acts of vandalism at home and abroad.

“We view US leadership on combating antisemitism and promoting human rights as pivotal components of American diplomacy and foreign policy,” the bipartisan letter reads.

“The Office of the Special Envoy enables the US to show the world its commitment to these ideals, particularly at a time when antisemitism is dangerously on the rise.”

The letter earned support from some of the nation’s largest Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and B’nai B’rith International. Also supporting the effort are J Street and the Zionist Organization of America – Jewish groups considered within the community but on opposite sides of the political spectrum.

After two months in office, US President Donald Trump is lagging behind his predecessors in appointment major department deputies, aides and envoys. He has yet to appoint a special envoy to the Middle East peace process, an ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom or a White House liaison to the Jewish community, among several other posts that have historically provided the community with channels to interact with the president’s team.

While those positions are filled at the discretion of the president, the position of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat antisemitism is codified in a 2004 law written by Republicans and signed by former president George W. Bush. “The Secretary shall appoint the Special Envoy,” the law reads.

“As members of Congress who care deeply about antisemitism at home and abroad, we urge you to maintain and prioritize the appointment of the special envoy,” the letter reads. “During previous administrations, this office was crucial in documenting human rights abuses against Jewish communities abroad as well as developing and implementing policies designed to combat antisemitism.”

Since the beginning of the year, at least three American Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated, New York State has recorded an unprecedented spike in Nazi-themed vandalism, and over 100 bomb threats have been called or emailed in to Jewish Community Centers nationwide. The president condemned the phenomenon at the top of his first address to a joint session of Congress as an “evil” with no place in American society.

While lawmakers from both parties praised the president for his remarks, several are now calling for an actionable plan. A Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism in the House of Representatives, comprising of four Republicans and four Democrats, sent a letter to the president two weeks ago urging a more “comprehensive federal response,” including adequate funding for the civil rights division of the Justice Department, the creation of an interagency mechanism to detect and respond to new threats and a review of antisemitic activity online.

The State Department has not yet responded to a request for comment.

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