US envoy Lipstadt: Antisemitism won’t disappear, but we have the power to address it
In an op-ed published Wednesday for Passover, United States President Joe Biden laid out his administration’s approach to combating anti-Semitism.
“Under my presidency, we continue to condemn all anti-Semitism. It’s hard not to call out hate. Silence is complicity. And we will not be silent,” he wrote on the CNN website.
Biden’s decision to appoint Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt as the first ambassadorial-level special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism; the visits made by Second Man Doug Emhoff — the first Jewish spouse of a US president or vice president — to Poland and Germany to promote Holocaust awareness; holding a White House summit on hate violence; devise an interagency strategy to tackle anti-Semitism to be released later this year; and hosting White House events that reinforce Jewish culture as essential to the American story.
However, anti-Semitic attacks in the United States are as common as ever.
An Anti-Defamation League report released last month found that a record 3,697 incidents were reported in the United States last year. The figure averages 10 incidents per day and represents a 36 percent jump from the all-time high in 2021. The 2022 tally was the highest since the ADL began keeping records in 1979 .
In an interview with The Times of Israel, Lipstadt bemoaned the number of reported incidents targeting Jews and said the administration’s efforts to combat anti-Semitism should not be measured by them.
Instead, she cited her efforts to get governments abroad to take the issue seriously, acknowledging that success in this area will not solve anti-Semitism.
“We have succeeded in making it clear that anti-Semitism is not a niche issue. It’s not just about the Jews… but it’s affecting our foreign policy and certain parts of domestic policy as well,” Lipstadt said.
“My predecessors had it a little bit easier in the sense that they could go to these other countries and say, ‘You have a problem, and we in the United States are very concerned about it and we want you to address it,'” she continued.
“But as Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken said… when Ambassador Lipstadt goes somewhere, she can’t say we’ve solved the problem. She says, ‘We know we have a problem. What can we do together?’”
“Someone recently said to me, ‘You’re doing a great job.’ I said, ‘You know, anti-Semitism has increased tremendously. They said, ‘Yes, but imagine how much worse it would be if you and your team weren’t facing it.'”
Lipsadt’s ability to address domestic anti-Semitism is limited, as her mandate as a State Department ambassador is to address Jew-hatred abroad. She did not go so far as to support the creation of an additional office to focus on combating anti-Semitism within the US. “I think it’s a good thing that every agency is looking and saying how we can tackle this. The reason we want him at the State Department is because he really fell between the cracks.”
Pressed on why increased participation would not necessarily lead to a reduction in attacks, the anti-Semitic envoy responded by quoting a line from the Passover Haggadah.
“The authors of the Passover, one of our oldest texts, recognized hundreds of years ago that ‘in every generation there are people to destroy us,’ and that is why historians speak of anti-Semitism as the oldest hater,” Lipstadt said. . “But the second part of that line is from the Haggadah, and it’s about resilience: “And God saves us from his hands.’ For believers, they say there is a divine saving hand. Others, including believers, say that it is because of people that we have been able to stand up and face them. [threats against Jews].”
Lipstadt said she is often asked if contemporary anti-Semitism is comparable to Europe in the 1930s, adding that the current phenomenon is not as bad. “What is very different is that Europe in the 1930s was being made by governments or individuals with strong support from governments. Today, you have many countries that have special envoys and representatives to fight this hatred,” she said.
Regarding former US president Donald Trump, who was indicted by the Manhattan prosecutor this week as a “hand” candidate for Jewish billionaire George Soros, Lipstadt avoided making direct comments.
“I don’t want to get involved because there is a campaign going on, but I will say that I am disturbed by many people and many countries and individuals who use those kinds of boogeymen. It’s not always the case, but it can certainly have anti-Semitic implications,” she said.
Looking ahead, Lipstadt said she wants to continue her engagement with Muslim-majority countries, following the Abraham Accords normalization agreements brokered by the Trump administration between Israel and several Arab countries.
“Although the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a very serious territorial dispute, that is separate from prejudice. To say that there is a conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and therefore it is okay to hate Jews, I would say that is wrong and a form of prejudice. We are emphasizing that message,” she said.
“Addressing the abuse of social media is definitely on the agenda as well,” Lipstadt said. “I’m quite happy with what we’ve managed to do so far, but it’s only the beginning.”