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July 19, 2017 11:32 am

ADL Delivers Petition to State Department Urging Appointment of Antisemitism Special Envoy

avatar by Ben Cohen

ADL delivered a petition to the State Department urging the appointment of a new special envoy to combat antisemitism. Photo: file

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) submitted a petition with “thousands” of signatures to the US State Department on Wednesday in which it urged President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to fill the vacant office of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism “as quickly as possible.”

Created through the Antisemitism Awareness Act signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2004, the special envoy represents US policy on a range of issues related to contemporary antisemitism. During the tenure of Gregg Rickman — who served as special envoy from 2006-09 — the State Department officially adopted a definition of antisemitism that cites the denial of Israel’s right to exist as an example of antisemitic discourse.

In its petition, the ADL pointed out that the special envoy position “has served as an invaluable diplomatic and domestic purpose in fighting anti-Semitism” under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

“We know firsthand that this role is critical to fighting anti-Semitism and it is vital that the United States continue to manifest its leadership in fighting hate around the world,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement. “And we are not alone. Thousands of Americans have signed our petition urging the State Department to act quickly to fill this essential diplomatic post. There’s simply no reason to postpone this decision for even one more day.”

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In a speech before the House Appropriations Committee in June, Tillerson intimated that there may no longer be a need for the special envoy position, saying that “the expertise” required for such positions  “lies within the bureaus, and now we’ve stripped it out of the bureaus.”

Tillerson argued that specialized issues like antisemitism were becoming marginalized as a result. “By having a special person, an envoy out here, one of my experiences is, mission then says, ‘Oh, we’ve got somebody else that does that,’ and then they stop doing it,” he told the committee.

An additional problem is that many key State Department posts remain unfilled six months after Trump’s inauguration — among them positions concerned with North Korea, arms control and human rights. According to the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), about fifty ambassadorial posts are still empty, including the US embassies in such key allies as Germany and India.

In an op-ed co-authored with former special envoys Hannah Rosenthal and Ira Forman, the ADL’s Greenblatt countered Tillerson’s comments, asserting “that the problem of global anti-Semitism is getting renewed awareness and attention around the world precisely because of the existence of this office.”

“The special envoy traveled to the Baltics to protest the inclusion of the Waffen-SS in an independence parade in Latvia,” the three authors wrote. “In 2012, the State Department produced a study of anti-Semitism in Saudi textbooks, and we put pressure on the government to remove the anti-Jewish and anti-Christian themes being taught in Saudi schools.”

The adoption of the antisemitism definition was perhaps the most significant achievement of all, they said, because it singles out “as anti-Semitic the demonization of Israel and creating a double standard for Israel with the expectations of behavior not demanded of other democracies.”

The ADL petition is the latest push by US Jewish organizations to fill the special envoy position. On June 30, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations — which gathers the principal US Jewish groups under one umbrella — wrote to Tillerson warning that the “failure to fill the position would dilute the strong position the Administration has taken against the hateful manifestations toward Jews and Jewish communities that have come under assault.”

“The Special Envoy serves as a monitor, advocate and important moral voice on behalf of the US government — European and other officials will see this as the US backing down from its strong commitment to confront this ages old bias that is becoming an increasing threat around the globe,” the letter to the secretary of state stated.

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