Special to NJJN
As a former law-enforcement professional responsible for heading New Jersey’s first office dedicated to combating hate crime — the Bias Crimes and Community Relations office of the New Jersey attorney general — I had the opportunity to accompany Rep. Chris Smith (R-Dist. 4) when he conferred with elected officials and community leaders about anti-Semitism at a time when others serving in government chose to shy away from the problem.
Smith has been an essential leader in putting the issue at the top of the agenda for his fellow members of Congress and in particular, here in New Jersey, with state and local officials. More recently, in response to the dramatic increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes in the United States, and in his capacity as co-chair of the Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism, Smith took the lead in a letter to the president with specific recommendations on how to address anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic threats in a substantive manner domestically. I can say without hesitation that if not for his actions, both domestically and globally, we would still be trying to convince governments of the need to develop a comprehensive approach to combating hate crimes, extremism, violence, and community conflict.
The question of whether or not the American-Jewish community is targeted by hatred and terror is not up for debate. Jews here and abroad remain targets; tripwires around the world can trigger an attack; and global conflict serves to put the entire Jewish community on alert. Extremist groups in the United States are borrowing, adapting, and enhancing the tactics and strategies adopted in Europe.
Congressman Smith has chaired hearings, at which I have testified, to highlight how anti-Semitic threats to Jewish communities in Europe can directly pose deadly threats to Jewish communities in the U.S. He has also worked fervently, both with law enforcement and the Jewish community, to recognize this reality and has continually taken proactive measures to create partnerships that join the efforts of law enforcement — from local police departments to the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security — with the concerns of the Jewish community.
When hyper-partisanship and dysfunction have torpedoed so much in our nation’s capital, it is truly an achievement that we were able to succeed here. This rare display of bipartisan action did not just happen. In large measure we were able to rely on Smith’s leadership in his own party and instinctive willingness to find allies across the aisle to make this a reality. We have few illusions that the fight against anti-Semitism, whether overseas or here at home, will be easily dispatched. But without the very tangible support that Rep. Smith has provided — in both words and in deeds — it would be much more of a struggle.
Rabbi Andrew Baker
Special to NJJN
There is no member of Congress who has been as consistently forceful and significant in the international fight against anti-Semitism as Rep. Chris Smith. And we can measure his dedication not simply in months or years, but in decades.
Virtually every achievement we have seen in pressing European governments to address this scourge — from the first international conference on anti-Semitism organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) nearly 15 years ago, to commitments on education and Jewish community security, to the use of a definition that clearly explains how anti-Israel animus has become a new substitute for its traditional form — can be traced back to him. The United States is a participating state of the OSCE and so when it has made OSCE commitments to combat anti-Semitism, it has, by definition, committed to combating anti-Semitism here in America. These commitments are measurable and make it easy to ensure the U.S. government is fighting anti-Semitism effectively domestically, or to hold it accountable when it fails to do so.
We have succeeded in leveraging both Republican and Democratic administrations to make anti-Semitism a priority because of Congress and, in particular, because of Smith’s direct involvement. This has included important congressional hearings in Washington to highlight the problems, direct meetings with foreign leaders, substantive legislation that mandates monitoring and reporting, leading a bipartisan task force in the House, and organizing international parliamentarians to raise their voices as well.
We still have not seen details on the specific plans of the Trump administration to combat anti-Semitism. The position of a U.S. Special Envoy — as with so many positions at the State Department — remains vacant. However, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has announced that the post will be filled. This is due in no small measure to the fact that, unlike other special envoys, this one was created by an act of Congress in 2004, via provisions that Congressman Smith wrote. Thus, the role cannot be so easily dismissed. Even now, with proposed legislation that would elevate the rank of this envoy and in private conversations with administration officials, Smith continues to demonstrate his leadership and show that Congress will stand firm in the fight against anti-Semitism even if another branch of government may falter.
The title of Jim Silverman’s Sept. 19 op-ed read “Rep. Smith all talk, no action on anti-Semitism.” But make no mistake. Words do matter and so do actions. Congressman Smith has offered both, and for that I am enormously grateful.