America Needs an Anti-Semitism Monitor at the State Department

The State Department is making a big mistake in putting off a decision on the appointment of a Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat anti-Semitism. In order to continue fighting the rise in global anti-Semitism, it is critical that our government allocate the appropriate resources, and that begins with the key appointment to fill the role of special envoy.

In recent testimony before Congress, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the administration has not yet made a decision about whether to fill the position. Under questioning, Secretary Tillerson’s response was notably vague. While he recognized statutory requirements to do so, he also indicated that officials in the administration “have not made a decision about this particular special envoy” and suggested that they were taking a pause, “until we know this is the best way to deliver.”

We are joining with former Special Envoys Ira Forman and Hannah Rosenthal to urge the Secretary of State to commit to continuing this important office, and have just launched a public petition encouraging Americans to join us in mobilizing support to fill the position as quickly as possible.

We know firsthand from working intimately with every prior envoy who had served in this very important role the tremendously positive and meaningful outcomes that have been accomplished through diplomacy.

Not only is it the law of the land, signed into law by former President George W. Bush, but it has bipartisan congressional support, a rare thing these days. It would send a forceful message to governments and Jewish communities globally that America will continue to lead on matters of human and civil rights as it has for the last seven decades.

Moreover, there is broad public support, both within and outside of the Jewish community, for the position to be filled. 

America has led the way in responding to anti-Semitism in the 21st century: Pressuring the OSCE to organize conferences on anti-Semitism in Europe; working with the international community to promote Holocaust education; and speaking out against violence toward Jews and refused to accept rationalizations that it was all about the Middle East conflict and not Jew-hatred.

The establishment of this special envoy position within the U.S. State Department whose sole mandate was to monitor the state of anti-Semitism around the world and to formulate approaches to counter that phenomenon was remarkable.

This was classic American leadership at work.

To some degree it was modeled on the breakthrough human rights reports first developed by the State Department in the 1960s under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.

These reports were compiled through American embassies around the world which were required to submit findings on how human rights were observed in their particular countries. The report became the most awaited annual human rights document, even taking into account some criticisms of its reportage.

Similarly, with the introduction of the special envoy position, informally at least, it was expected that American embassies would monitor anti-Semitism in the countries they resided in. 

Three factors came together and were catalysts for this new position when it was first created in 2004 via the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act. They remain relevant at a time when there is ambiguity as to whether the Trump Administration will sustain it:

  • First was the fact that America had the deserved reputation as the world's superpower, leading not only by virtue of its military and economic strength but by projecting democratic values.
  • Second, there was the recognition that when Jews were most imperiled, during the Nazi regime of terror, the world and even the United States did not do what had to be done.
  • And third was an understanding that anti-Semitism was not just a history lesson but a current event, that attacks against Jews in Europe and elsewhere were now becoming more frequent and acceptable decades after the Holocaust.

In the ensuing years, the threats to Jews around the world have not diminished and, if anything, they are seen as increasing in certain countries. France, Hungary, and Venezuela are among the many places where Jews have been -- and continue to be -- targeted.

As the three previous envoys have noted, the office has been an important vehicle to ensure conversation on and attention to anti-Semitism.

When specific issues arise, such as in Hungary, when the government was considering erecting a statue of a collaborator with the Nazis, the intervention of the special envoy can be critical.

The interactions between the envoy and Jewish community representatives around the world lend an immeasurable element of moral and psychological support to those communities.

For us, it seems like a no-brainer: Not a single day goes by when we see new manifestations of the world’s oldest hatred around the world.  America’s voice is desperately needed now.