Columns

Anti-Semitism Special Envoy May be Moved to Office with Fewer Resources

[Shutterstock] Gates to heaven or to hell.

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration is considering reassigning the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism in a reshuffling that could impact the office’s financial resources and political support, a source indicated to PJM.

The source, who requested anonymity, said there’s been discussion within the State Department that the White House is going to move the special envoy office from the Secretary’s Bureau to the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, where it was originally formed in 2004. Such a move could mean fewer resources for the office, less political backing from the secretary of State and fewer opportunities to travel to anti-Semitism crisis zones around the world. The White House has signaled that the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor will not be a focus for U.S. foreign policy moving forward, with potential cuts looming for American soft-power programs.

A State Department official would not confirm or deny the report in an email Friday: “We have no personnel or administrative announcements to make at this time.”

The special envoy is charged with advancing foreign policy on combating anti-Semitism while addressing discrimination against or hatred toward Jews around the world.

The Obama administration, in the latter half of the president’s second term, moved the special envoy position into a new office in the Secretary’s Bureau called Religion and Global Affairs, which increased resources for the office and raised its political profile.

There were reports earlier this year that the Trump administration was considering eliminating the congressionally mandated position, which drew severe criticism from Jewish advocates and human rights groups. It also prompted a bipartisan group of 167 House members to write a letter to the president, urging that he fill the position and maintain U.S. opposition to anti-Semitism, especially as there has been an uptick in incidents this year.

Mark Weitzman, director of governmental affairs at the Los Angeles-based Wiesenthal Center, said in an interview Friday that the organization would like to see the special envoy position filled as soon as possible.

“From a lot of people’s perspective, anti-Semitism is really a current issue that demands attention, and the U.S. has always taken a strong leadership position on this,” he said.

According to a Quinnipiac University poll released last month, 70 percent of Americans see anti-Semitism as a “very” or “somewhat serious” issue in the U.S., a 21 percent jump from the previous month.

Weitzman said that Jewish advocates and human rights organizations not only want to see the position filled, but they want the administration to maintain its position, both politically and financially, so that it can be active and engaged on the issue. He said the organization would be very disappointed if the position were only filled to meet a congressional mandate, and added that he has not gotten a sense that the position will be imminently filled.

Assigning a new special envoy could be a lengthy process, as the State Department has not yet filled key undersecretary and deputy secretary positions. The special envoy position under the Obama administration was not filled until fall 2009.

The anti-Semitism special envoy remains one of the few issues that both Republicans and Democrats are supportive of, and Weitzman said it’s important to “continue in that vein.”

In the March letter to Trump, the House lawmakers, led by Reps. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.), said the office is “crucial in documenting human rights abuses against Jewish communities abroad as well as developing and implementing policies designed to combat anti-Semitism.”

“We view U.S. leadership on combating anti-Semitism and promoting human rights as pivotal components of American diplomacy and foreign policy,” the letter reads.

Shortly after the letter to the White House, Ira Forman, who served as the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism from 2013 to 2017, discussed the fate of the position during a Georgetown University event. He said eliminating the office or leaving it unfilled would send the wrong signal to the rest of the world, adding that ultimately he believes the position will be filled, given support from Jewish and human rights groups.

“Our embassies and consulates are the best, single line of defense for a lot of these Jewish communities (who feel threatened),” he said. “Sometimes they are one of the only places that these communities have friends, that they can go to.”