“The United States administration enthusiastically embraced the IHRA working definition and it's very important that's a line of continuity going back across Democratic and Republican administrations,” says Cherrie Daniels, Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues in the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. Daniels is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service and joined the Department of State in 1993.
“I think that the examples that are part of the [IHRA] working definition are extremely important and intrinsic to the value of why it has become the gold standard in the international community,” she told The Jerusalem Post in an interview. She noted that the definition is being adopted by countries and groups “as diverse as football clubs in England or as individual provinces in South America provinces, or in the Middle East by several countries and also by Kosovo and Albania, the majority Muslim countries in Europe.”
Daniels stressed that the working definition is not legally binding. “It's a guide to identify and recognize and stand up together against different forms of antisemitism and all forms.”
“Even before the definition became the IHRA definition, it existed in a different form as far as 2008, when the US State Department began to use a version of it and the EU monitoring center version,” she continued. “But for those who have expressed concerns about freedom of expression, I can say that we stand strongly behind and will continue to protect American citizens’ First Amendment rights of free expression, and we can still call out and identify antisemitism and work together to combat it.
It's a not legally binding definition; it gives us a tool as an international community to recognize and combat antisemitism. If we're all working from the same definition, we will have a better chance of standing together and reversing the tide of what is a resurgence of antisemitism.”Asked whether there are additional countries that she anticipate that would adopt the working definition, Daniels replied: “It has been the policy of the United States since the endorsement of the definition in 2016 to encourage other people to embrace that working definition so that we can all be on the same page recognizing modern and traditional manifestations of antisemitism. We have been encouraged we've seen a number of countries [adopting the resolution] just in the last year. More and more countries are passing resolutions or publicly stating their embrace of the definition. So that trend is continuing in our negotiations with other countries." The special envoy for Holocaust issues was established as a senior foreign service position in 1999. "The focus of the office and the reason that we've been supported under all administrations, Republican and Democratic, since then is that we're working on a goal that we all share in the Congress and the government, of working for a measure of justice for Holocaust victims and their heirs and families, including in the form of restitution or compensation for property that was confiscated during the Holocaust era," said Daniels.She went on to say that additional goal of her office is promoting historically accurate Holocaust remembrance, education and research and the opening of Holocaust era archives.
"The reason that that's important to the US government over all of these years and under every administration is that we have seen the danger of what can happen when hatred goes unchecked and the opportunity through Holocaust education is to create understanding of not just what happened during the Holocaust, how it could have happened, and to use that knowledge and understanding to prevent mass atrocities in the future."
Daniels added that there are trends of increasing Holocaust distortion, which become more common and more global than Holocaust denial. “Because of the opening of archives and the availability of information and the eyewitness testimony of tens and hundreds of thousands of people,” she said. “So, what does that trend mean and what are we doing about it?
Just on January 27, we were able, as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, to roll out new guidelines for policymakers on recognizing and countering Holocaust distortion and the fact that this document contributed by experts from the US delegation and other the German and other delegations is because distortion is harder to detect.”She praised the Netherlands for recently announcing a policy reforming its art restitution procedures to be in line with the 1998 Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, and Luxembourg for reaching a path forward to settle communal and heirless property claims with WJRO and the Luxembourg Jewish Community, calling both “a huge step forward.”
Another area of focus for Daniels is the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act. “This week, Secretary Blinken sent a letter to the conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany and the World Jewish Restitution Organization. He wrote to them, "I will keep high on my agenda resolution of remaining Holocaust era property restitution issues, as well as support for survivors and Jewish communities devastated by the Holocaust." So he couldn't have been more clear, stating that it is the policy of this administration to do exactly that.”
On Thursday, her office will host a Holocaust educational seminar in cooperation with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. “I am excited to host this event,” she said. Hundreds of educators from around the world are expected to participate and discuss “the challenges of teaching the Holocaust during this moment, during the pandemic, in a time of rising, resurgent antisemitism globally.”