With anti-Semitism surging across Europe, and democracy seemingly on a global retreat, it is puzzling and more than a little disturbing that the Trump administration has yet to fill the post of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. There are media reports that an appointment may be forthcoming, but we have to ask the question: What’s taken so long?
The most reassuring explanation is that the 19-month vacancy — and the fact that the agency itself remains unstaffed — reflect the widely reported hollowing out of the State Department, an executive department that President Donald Trump apparently holds in low regard. The most troubling is the possibility that he may be reluctant to offend the white supremacists and other assorted bigots who seem to be energized and emboldened by his presidency.
The post was created by the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004, passed with broad bipartisan support and signed by President George W. Bush. The special envoy “develops and implements policies and projects to support efforts to combat anti-Semitism,” according to the State Department website.
Since its creation, the envoy’s office has worked to remove anti-Semitic content from Arabic-language textbooks in the Middle East, partnered with the Catholic Church in Latin America to counter anti-Semitism, pressed for adoption of a working definition of anti-Semitism in the European Union, and fought Holocaust revisionism around the world. The last envoy, Ira Forman, led opposition to proposed circumcision bans in Europe.
Just as important is the message the very existence of the diplomatic post sends to a world where anti-Semitism remains one of the most intractable forms of bigotry — a message that the U.S. government regards the eradication of this scourge as a priority in our foreign policy. By leaving the post vacant for so long, the administration sent out the opposite message, undercutting American leadership in the fight and endangering vulnerable Jewish communities in places like Ukraine and Poland, among others, where the anti-Semitic surge seems particularly virulent. And the failure to fill the position with another high-level envoy gives aid and comfort to this country’s own dark underground of anti-Semitic haters, which is flourishing in today’s bitter, inflamed political climate.
Former special envoy Forman told us this week he was pleased to learn that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo intends to name a nominee by summer’s end because “it’s increasingly problematic that the U.S. doesn’t have a senior official working on these issues.” Forman said his personal priorities for the post would be “to have a working definition on anti-Semitism more widely adopted on the international level, and to deal with nationalist and increasingly authoritarian governments, including Hungary and Poland, that have had a number of disturbing anti-Semitic incidents.”
We hope reports of an imminent appointment prove accurate, and that the nominee brings to the office the skills and stature necessary to lead this critical fight. It’s about time.