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February 8, 2022 4:33 pm

Antisemitism Envoy Nominee Lipstadt Attacks Branding of Israel as ‘Apartheid’ State During Senate Confirmation Hearing

avatar by Ben Cohen

Prof. Deborah Lipstadt addressing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during her confirmation hearing for the role of US antisemitism envoy. Photo: Reuters/Rod Lamkey

Deborah Lipstadt, US President Joe Biden’s nominee for the post of antisemitism envoy, warned a confirmation hearing on Tuesday that the effort to brand Israel as an apartheid state was part of a larger delegitimization campaign, as wary Republicans took issue with what they depicted as her partisan positions.

Addressing her confirmation hearing seven months after Biden nominated her for the State Department position, Lipstadt told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that antisemitism globally was a growing challenge. “Increasingly, Jews have been singled out for slander, violence and terrorism,” she said. “Today’s rise in antisemitism is staggering.”

Part of the hearing canvassed Lipstadt’s view of the recent Amnesty International report that accused Israel of practicing the same form of racial segregation that prevailed in South Africa for most of the 20th century.

“Branding Israel an apartheid state is more than historically inaccurate,” she said. “I believe it’s part of a larger effort to delegitimize the Jewish state. Such language, I see it spilling over onto campuses where it poisons the atmosphere, particularly for Jewish students.”

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Lipstadt — a professor of Jewish studies at Emory University in Atlanta who famously defeated the British Holocaust denier David Irving in a 2000 libel case at the High Court of Justice in the UK — emphasized that criticism of Israeli government policies should not be classified as antisemitic.

“Criticism of Israeli policy is not antisemitism,” she said. “If you want to hear criticism of Israeli policies, I suggest you sit yourself down in a cafe in Tel Aviv or in Jerusalem, whatever part of the country, depending who is in the government. It’s the national sport in Israel, second only maybe to soccer or maybe more than that.”

Lipstadt cited the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism as a helpful instrument for determining whether a statement or action is antisemitic. The definition considers statements such as “Israel is a racist endeavor” to be antisemitic.

“I think it’s very important to be nuanced there because, you know, it’s sort of Chicken Little ‘The sky is falling,’ ” she told the hearing. “If you call everything antisemitism, when you have a real act of antisemitism, people aren’t paying attention.”

While Democrats fulsomely welcomed Lipstadt in Washington, DC — with committee chair Sen. Robert Menendez telling her, “I’m truly disappointed it took this long to schedule your hearing, and I look forward to your swift confirmation” — Republicans were more circumspect, charging her with adopting an uncompromisingly partisan approach.

It was Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin who took the greatest exception to Lipstadt, as he recalled that she had accused him of “white supremacy” in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021 attempted insurrection on Capitol Hill by supporters of defeated President Donald Trump.

“Why did you go on social media and level these vile and horrible charges against people, including me that you don’t even know?” Johnson asked her. “You have never talked to me, you have never met me. You don’t know what is in my heart. Do you feel bad about that at all?”

In response, Lipstadt apologized to Johnson and stressed that she was an “equal opportunity foe” of antisemitism. “While I may disagree with what you said specifically, and I think that’s a legitimate difference, I certainly did not mean it, and I’m sorry if it was taken, and I’m sorry if I made it, in a way that it could be assumed to be political,” she said. Johnson answered that while he appreciated Lipstadt’s apology, he would not vote for her confirmation nonetheless.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida also raised concerns over Lipstadt’s alleged partisanship, insisting that the envoy’s post — which was elevated to ambassadorial level in Jan. 2021 — required a “non-partisan approach” in order to “to develop and implement the department’s policies to address the ancient and evil poison of antisemitism around the world.”

US Jewish groups have been pressing for Lipstadt’s urgent confirmation, arguing that the US response to global antisemitism will be muted for as long as the post remains unfilled. A date for a vote on Lipstadt’s confirmation has not been set.

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