Senate needs to confirm Deborah Lipstadt as antisemitism envoy — Now

One would have thought that Dr. Deborah Lipstadt — who is one of the world’s leading scholars of antisemitism, has written numerous acclaimed books on the subject, and was portrayed by an Academy Award-winning actress for winning a landmark lawsuit against a Holocaust denier — would have been a shoo-in to lead the U.S. State Department office tasked with fighting antisemitism at home and abroad.

But six months since President Biden first nominated Professor Lipstadt to be the country’s next special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, the post remains vacant as some Senate Republicans are holding up her nomination. In politics, six months may not seem like a long time. In the fight against antisemitism, however, six months is an eternity.

Just look at the first weeks of 2022. An armed individual entered a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, taking four members hostage during a virtual Shabbat service — reportedly in an attempt to secure the release of convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui. By all indications, this was a targeted attack against Jews.

Beyond that incident, a tech CEO in Salt Lake City sent a letter to that state’s political and business leadership accusing Jews of trying to provoke a genocide through the COVID vaccine. A Hasidic man in Brooklyn was brutally attacked. The main Jewish cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina — home of the largest Jewish community in South America — was vandalized.

Understandably, the Senate has many priorities, and Professor Lipstadt is just one of hundreds of nominees for political appointments whose jobs are stuck in Senate limbo. But given the very pressing issues posed by antisemitism and the expressed concerns of both parties about the issue at this very moment, there’s no reason why Lipstadt should have to wait any longer to be confirmed. In fact, it is unconscionable that we have had to wait even this long. The time to confirm her is now.

Thankfully, there is a bipartisan consensus against antisemitism — and even an active bipartisan caucus in the Senate dedicated to fighting this scourge, a group that we at ADL work with closely. So why is this nomination being held up?

One report suggests that one Senator did not like when Professor Lipstadt called him out months ago for engaging in white supremacist tropes. Others reportedly have faulted her for appearing in an ad that was critical of President Trump’s rhetoric.

This would be a problem if what generated Professor Lipstadt’s response was partisanship. Yet, this is hardly the case; she is guided by principles not politics. For example, Professor Lipstadt also has called out Democratic officeholders when they have used antisemitic tropes as well, such as when Representative Ilhan Omar accused Jews of having dual loyalties.

Someone with the depth of knowledge to understand how and why something is antisemitic and the courage to speak out against them — regardless of the office they hold or the party affiliation they claim — is exactly the type of person we need as the U.S. government’s point person on antisemitism. Too often in recent times, people are quick to use charges of antisemitism as a political cudgel against their opponents and are reluctant to call out their allies and friends. There is a danger in this approach as it minimizes the serious nature of this hatred. 

And now more than ever, we need a straight-shooter like Professor Lipstadt who will battle antisemitism wherever the source.

Let’s be clear: Antisemitism is growing and metastasizing right now on the Senate’s watch, and every day that we do not have an envoy is a lost day in our country’s efforts to tackle this ancient hatred.

The Office of Special Envoy, which was created in 2004 to ensure that the U.S. had a senior diplomat applying pressure on foreign governments against antisemitism, has been up and running now for most of the last 18 years under four presidents. Before the office existed, global platforms such as the 2001 U.N. World Conference on Racism were turned into anti-Israel and antisemitic hate-fests. That same year, an antisemitic conspiracy theory that Jews were responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks spread like wildfire throughout the world, especially in parts of the Muslim world. And the next few years witnessed a surge of antisemitic violence in France and elsewhere in Europe that raised concerns for the continuing viability of certain European Jewish communities.

These manifestations led to the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004, signed into law by President George W. Bush, which mandated the creation of a new envoy in the State Department to monitor, report and raise awareness of Jew hatred. The office was tasked with contributing to the State Department’s annual reports on human rights practices and international religious freedom, as well as directly combating antisemitism.

Since that time there have been many occasions when action by the special envoy’s office — working closely with other State Department offices, the White House, Congress, our democratic allies abroad and nongovernmental organizations such as ADL — helped protect Jewish communities and, at times, spurred governments and leaders to modify problematic policies.

Perhaps most importantly, the Special Envoy’s office successfully urged our allies and other nations to adopt a working definition of antisemitism as put forth by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The U.S. has adopted the IHRA definition, a smart move made by President Trump and affirmed by President Biden. The special envoy can make sure that other countries follow our lead and do the same.

In 2019, the House voted to approve the bipartisan act that upgraded the role of the envoy to ambassador level. Notably, the House passed the bill in a floor vote of 411 to 1. This historic vote was followed by Senate approval, and the bill was signed into law by President Trump in January 2021. That bill also emphasized the urgent necessity of filling this post whenever it remains vacant, a message that Senators impeding a vote on Professor Lipstadt must take heed of today without further reckless delays.

ADL has worked with special envoys in every administration from Bush to Obama to Trump because there is nothing partisan in calling out prejudice, and we are prepared to work closely with President Biden’s nominee once she is confirmed. So, let’s set politics aside and ensure that the important work to combat global antisemitism continues at the highest levels possible, something that leading voices from both parties widely agree is an urgent necessity. The Senate should confirm Professor Lipstadt immediately. As we saw in Colleyville, we cannot afford to wait.

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, is author of “It Could Happen Here: Why America Is Tipping from Hate to the Unthinkable – And How We Can Stop It.

Tags Anti-Zionism Antisemitism Biden nominees Deborah Lipstadt Deborah Lipstadt Donald Trump Holocaust denial Holocaust studies Ilhan Omar Joe Biden Racism Senate Republicans US Senate Working Definition of Antisemitism

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