PHILADELPHIA — The Trump administration’s hesitance to appoint someone to the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism has created a nationwide movement to fill the role, with legislators on both the state and national level, along with national organizations, advocating for an appointment.
Created under the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004, a “special envoy for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism” is empowered by law with the duty of patrolling global anti-Semitic behavior, although not by those on U.S. soil. As with other positions at the State Department, the Trump administration has left this top position empty, and recent events have hinted the office may remain empty for the duration of Trump’s presidency.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testified before a House of Representatives subcommittee on June 14 to discuss vacancies in many State Department roles.
Tillerson pondered the efficacy of the anti-Semitism monitor, telling committee members, “One of the things that we are considering — and we understand why [special envoys] were created and the good intentions behind why they were created — but one of the things we want to understand is by doing that, did we weaken our attention to those issues?”
Additional reports from JTA stated the office was scheduled to have its two remaining workers reassigned after July 1, prompting a strong reaction from elected leaders.
In a letter to Tillerson issued July 6, 116 House members called on him to maintain the anti-Semitism position. The politicians questioned whether Tillerson will comply with their budget, which requires funding for the office and the appointment of a special envoy.
U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-District 13) signed the letter, having participated in the Tillerson hearing as a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
“I strongly disagree with this administration’s approach to foreign policy,” he said. “Combatting anti-Semitism should be a bipartisan priority. The fact that the administration does not prioritize it is deeply concerning.”
He referenced the March vandalism of Philadelphia’s Mount Carmel Cemetery, which occurred in his own district, and noted, “anti-Semitism is at its highest level since the end of World War II.” He then added, “My Jewish constituents are concerned, yes. But most, if not all, of my constituents are concerned by hatred.”
Other Pennsylvania congressmen who signed the letter include Reps. Mike Doyle (D-District 14), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-District 8), Patrick Meehan (R-District 7) and Bob Brady (D-District 1).
In February, House members re-launched the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism. In April, the committee drafted H.R. 1911, which would elevate the role of the anti-Semitism envoy to ambassador, reporting directly to the secretary of state. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced a resolution in June to serve the same purpose.
On the state level, the National Association of Jewish Legislators and more than 60 state senators published a letter urging President Trump to fill the vacancy.
State Sen. Judith Schwank (D-District 11)signed the July 7 letter. She remained optimistic about the power of the note, especially when coupled with demonstrations by other groups.
“I am grateful for the NAJL. We have specific issues in common, and there is power in numbers,” she said. “While I’m not a legislator on the federal level, anti-Semitism impacts all of us in every community. Hate crimes diminish all of us.”
State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-District 17) and state Reps. Dan Frankel (D-District 23) and Michael Schlossberg (D-District 132) also signed the letter.
National groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee, have launched petitions to revive the office.
Nancy Baron-Baer, regional director of the ADL in Philadelphia, observed the importance of the office.
“We worked firsthand with every previous envoy, so we know the positive outcomes [of the position],” she said, noting reports and monitoring of anti-Semitism by foreign embassies as a benefit of the role.
Marcia Bronstein, regional director of AJC for Philadelphia and South Jersey, concurred with Baron-Baer.
“We are concerned about threats to Jewish communities abroad. The envoy makes an important statement to other nations,” Bronstein explained, adding, “If anything, the need [for the position] has increased.”
She added that the post benefits everyone, not only Jews.
“In history, we see that anything anti-Semitic affects other groups as well,” said Bronstein. “All people are threatened when hatred reigns free.” PJC
Rachel Winicov writes for the Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.