Congress Showed that Combating Antisemitism is a Priority. Will the Administration?
By Susan Corke and Zahava Moerdler
Antisemitic incidents are increasing at home and abroad. In response, Human Rights First and our partners in the Jewish community are working with members of Congress to ensure that the United States remains a leader in the fight against antisemitism. In the past few weeks, the Hill has both spoken and acted.
On Tuesday, March 6th, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) joined us and the Anti-Defamation League for “Transatlantic Partnership to Combat Antisemitism,” an event bringing together bipartisan support in the name of fighting this deadly scourge. He opened the occasion with powerful words:
“We have seen a rise in extreme behavior here in the U.S.…and around the world, particularly in democratic countries where we would not expect to see this type of activity. There has been an increase in nationalism, an increase in antisemitism, an increase in hate crimes, and an increase in racial violence. And they all go together. When one increases, unfortunately, they all do.”
We came together to call on the Trump Administration to fill the critical diplomatic position of special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism at the State Department—a position required by law, that remains unfilled nearly 15 months into the administration’s tenure. Since the event, Congress renewed support for the crucial role by appropriating funds for the special envoy’s office and for programs combating antisemitism abroad.
Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson committed to maintain the post in August 2017, raising expectations that it would soon be filled. Seven months later, however, Tillerson departed Foggy Bottom with no official appointed. Since then, Congress has done its part, now the administration should prioritize filling this crucial position.
Across Europe, authoritarianism and ethno-nationalist populism—often with antisemitism at its core—is infecting the public debate, giving rise to extreme voices, and sparking an increase in hate crimes. The refugee crisis has played a significant role in mobilizing forces around themes of xenophobia, antisemitism, Islamophobia, and anti-elitism. Populist fearmongering is impacting voters and fueling a frightening rise of hatred on the streets and on the Internet. Italy’s vote on March 4 was a frighteningly powerful endorsement of parties that campaign on hate and exclusion.
Failing to come together in the face of this rising tide of hate would threaten the progress made toward a world based on respect for human rights since the Holocaust. As Elie Wiesel famously said, “what hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander.” An empty seat is a silent one.
In a moment of crisis, the United States must have the resources, the political will, and the collaboration between governments, civil society, and individuals of all races and faiths to counter new and old forms of antisemitism. At our event, former special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism Ira Forman spoke about how civil society can bolster efforts made by past and future U.S. and European envoys. Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Commission’s coordinator on combating antisemitism, discussed working closely with counterparts in the United States. Former acting special representative to Muslim communities Adnan Kifayat, echoed her words, urging members of the private and technology sectors to continue the conversation.
Bringing people together spurs action. Shortly after the event, Congress passed the Fiscal Year 2018 Omnibus appropriations act, which includes language specifically designating funding for the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, including an additional one million dollars for programs to combat antisemitism abroad.
Leading the effort were members of the House Antisemitism Task Force, including Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), who stressed that U.S. leadership in this fight is critical:
“With rising rates of anti-Semitic incidents abroad, it is critical the U.S. continues to lead the fight against anti-Jewish bias. This is why I fought to secure language in the FY18 Omnibus directing the State Department to spend not less than $1 million dollars on programs combating anti-Semitism. I urge the Administration to appoint a Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism to oversee these vital programs.”
The administration needs to follow Congress’ lead by prioritizing the appointment of a special envoy with a credible and powerful voice for tolerance, and by providing him or her with appropriate resources. The spirit of our event—one of transatlantic and interfaith unity, leadership, and cooperation—will need to be nurtured and amplified in the days to come against the forces that seek to divide us.