Congress, Jewish Groups Oppose Trump’s Plan to Axe Antisemitism Envoy
JNS.org – Recent reports have indicated that the Trump administration’s planned budget cuts could lead to the demise of the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.
Pressure to salvage the position and its associated bureau — the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism — is mounting from members of Congress and others familiar with the office’s work. Among their other duties, past envoys have met with representatives of various countries to discuss issues of antisemitism or other Jewish concerns, such as proposed European bans on Jewish ritual circumcision.
The envoy’s office “[is] crucial in documenting human rights abuses against Jewish communities abroad as well as developing and implementing policies designed to combat anti-Semitism,” a bipartisan group of members of Congress wrote in a draft of a letter that will be sent to President Donald Trump as early as March 14, according to Haaretz.
The envoy position was created by the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004, which was sponsored by the late Congressman Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in Congress.
In August 2011, the Washington, DC-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) — which monitors and translates Arab media reports as well as jihadist activity online — received a $200,000 State Department grant to help expand the State Department’s documentation of antisemitism in the Arab and Muslim world.
Research from the MEMRI/Lantos Archives on Anti-Semitism and Holocaust Denial “has been used to get the television channels belonging to Hamas and Hezbollah removed from satellite TV carriers in the US, Europe and Asia, as well as Egyptian and Saudi channels disseminating antisemitic content,” according to Steven Stalinsky, MEMRI’s executive director.
Additionally, the research has led to the arrest and expulsion of antisemitic sheikhs in Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Australia. Most recently, legal proceedings were initiated against an antisemitic sheikh in Montreal, Canada, due to information uncovered by this program.
When Hannah Rosenthal, the US special envoy from 2009-2012, met with Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, Adel al-Jubeir, she gave him a book that debunked The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
And in July 2011, Rosenthal explained how she used MEMRI’s research to confront Arab states on antisemitism.
I’ve had the opportunity and the honor in this great job of mine to meet with [Arab] ministers of education, ministers of culture, of information. … I focused on the Saudi textbooks. And I got the commitments, and I will take [Arab leaders] at their word right now, that the language that MEMRI exposes will be changed.”
The latest person to serve in the position, Ira Forman, often traveled to Europe to deal with antisemitism. He spoke with the Polish government about anti-Jewish hate crimes and a law banning kosher slaughter, and he talked with Morocco’s ambassador at large for Jewish affairs about issues such as the rehabilitation of Jewish cemeteries.
Yet Forman has been called out for ignoring some instances of Palestinian and Muslim antisemitism. In an August 2016 op-ed, attorney Stephen M. Flatow — whose daughter was murdered in a 1995 Palestinian terrorist attack — questioned Forman’s failure to comment on an attempted Palestinian bombing of the Jewish holy site of Rachel’s Tomb.
“[Forman’s] task [according to the State Department website] is to combat ‘discrimination against or hatred toward Jews,’ including ‘personal and property attacks; government policies, including judicial/prosecutorial decisions and educational programs on the issue; and press and mass media reports,’” Flatow wrote. “Well, I would say that throwing a bomb at a synagogue — whether in Brooklyn or Bethlehem — constitutes a ‘personal and property attack’ and is evidence of ‘hatred toward Jews.’… Doesn’t the antisemitism envoy get that?”
Flatow also called attention to the State Department’s annual report on global human rights. The 2015 report mentioned the presence of “media commentary longing for a world without Israel and glorifying terror attacks on Israelis,” but did not identify official Palestinian Authority (PA) media outlets as the source.
Asked about this criticism, MEMRI’s Stalinsky acknowledged that the annual reports by the envoy’s office were not always thorough and could have used more examples of antisemitism. But he maintained that the envoy and the office “are more necessary than ever.”
“Under the Trump administration, there is a real opportunity for the office and position to be revitalized, and to really take off the gloves in challenging antisemitism much more directly,” Stalinsky told JNS.org.
Likewise, Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), told JNS.org that with global antisemitism increasing, it is important to have a special envoy who will “especially deal with Muslim antisemitism in America and Europe.”
“ZOA strongly supports having a special envoy on the condition that it is the right person who will emphasize Muslim antisemitism, which is the driving factor for the increase of antisemitism in Europe, in the US and on college campuses,” he said.