US envoy needed to fight global anti-Semitism

By any measure, anti-Semitism is on the rise globally. Physical assaults, verbal harassment and online vulgarity and threats have reached alarming levels.

Despite this, the United States is still lacking an appointee for a key position to identify, expose and combat this scourge: the State Department special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.

In March 2017 we noted in a Fox News op-ed that the White House had not acted to fill this position. It’s now 2019 and there is still no one in the job, while over this timeframe the situation has become markedly worse for Jews across the world.

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A survey of more than 16,000 Jews in European Union member nations by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights uncovered some truly frightening statistics. Released in December, the survey found nearly 90 percent of respondents say anti-Semitism has increased in the past five years.

Safety concerns are limiting respondents’ ability and desire to take part in Jewish events, with more than a third saying they avoid taking part in Jewish activities or visiting Jewish sites because they feel unsafe.

Fear of being physically attacked for being Jewish was common among 40 percent of respondents. And for more than one in three respondents, abandoning their home country due to safety concerns is a very real consideration.

Last year alone, we can find a horrifying supply of anti-Semitic abuses, and no cohesive American governmental voice to speak against them.

In May, 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll was brutally killed in her Paris apartment – stabbed 11 times – by two men who investigators say targeted her because she was Jewish.

A July report from The Community Security Trust found 100 anti-Semitic incidents are now reported every month in Britain.

Physical attacks are becoming a regular occurrence. For example, in an incident in Sussex in England, students assaulted an 11-year-old boy after a sustained verbal abuse campaign including shouts of: “death to all Jews” and “burn all Jews.”

In Belgium last year, a 24-year-old man was caught on video destroying some 20 mezuzahs (small parchment scrolls inscribed with a Hebrew prayer and placed in a case affixed to doorposts of many Jewish homes). The same man also reportedly damaged the entry doors of some Jewish institutions and knocked the hat from the head of an Orthodox Jewish man.

In Russia, anti-Semitic graffiti – “Jews out of Russia, our land” – was found in the hometown of the Chabad movement.

A survey of more than 16,000 Jews in European Union member nations by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights uncovered some truly frightening statistics. Released in December, the survey found nearly 90 percent of respondents say anti-Semitism has increased in the past five years.

In Hungary, anti-Semitic imagery was used on a magazine cover to link Jews – in this case in the form of the leader of the Jewish Federation of Hungary – to money.

Incidents in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay – among other Latin American countries – include a teacher defending Adolf Hitler and endorsing anti-Semitism; vandalism against a synagogue that included arson and written threats; and an Israeli couple denied a stay at a hostel because of the owner’s anti-Israel views.

Even though the United States is not part of the State Department special envoy’s mandate, our own country is no stranger to anti-Semitism. As a nation, we collectively mourned the shocking massacre of 11 worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in October.

At colleges and universities, there are threats against students for defending Israel, along with calls by student government associations to have their schools undertake academic boycotts of Israel. There have even been professors who refused to offer recommendation letters to students who wanted to study in Israel.

Holocaust distortion and minimization are also on the rise globally. At the same time, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is working to undermine Israel’s legitimate rights as an international business, academic, technological and arts hub.

The absence of a designated representative of the United States government calling out these incidents around the world is a glaring omission. The moral authority that the envoy’s stature has provided in the past has opened minds and created dialogue around the world.

In September, we welcomed the U.S. House of Representatives passage of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Act, which we noted would send “a clear message as anti-Semitism surges globally that the U.S. will not tolerate hatred and bigotry.”

But still, the post is vacant.

A U.S. anti-Semitism envoy would confer urgency on the global acceptance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. A standard definition gives scholars, the media, authorities (in the case in dealing with hate crimes) and the general public the tools to understand anti-Semitism and more effectively combat it.

In May 2016 IHRA adopted this definition: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The definition also includes as anti-Semitism: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

But without a U.S. envoy to promote the definition, advocate for nations to adhere to it and encourage swift punishment for those who violate it, having such a definition loses some of its power.

In 2004, the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act enabled the U.S. government to track global anti-Semitic acts and keep a record of a nation’s responses to acts within its borders.

That same year, at an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe meeting in Berlin, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said anti-Semitism is “not just a fact of history but a current event.”

Unfortunately, that is just as true 15 years later.

The significance of an envoy dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism cannot be understated. It puts the United States on the record as a moral authority and unequivocally tells the world that we will not let it start down a slippery slope of tolerating the intolerable: the acceptance of anti-Semitism.

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Governments still look to the United States for leadership on this issue. When they see the stature the U.S. confers on this topic through the envoy appointment, they will be more likely to follow suit.

Filling this post is a matter of utmost urgency.

Mark B. Levin, is executive vice chairman and CEO of the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry.