Five Things to Know This Week: Where Is Trump’s Anti-Semitism Envoy?
1. How long does it take to appoint an anti-Semitism envoy?
Seriously, for a White House struggling to shake off criticism of being too hospitable to extremists and anti-Semites on the margins of its support base, the Trump administration’s reluctance to fill the of anti-Semitism envoy is starting to raise concerns. In an era of increasing anti-Semitic incidents across the world, the vacancy at office of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism at the State Department is striking. As the name implies, the envoy spearheads America’s effort to fight anti-Semitism across the world. It uses information from U.S. embassies and other sources to identify and address anti-Jewish hate, ranging from rising of neo-Nazi movements to laws restricting kosher slaughter practices. The position, established by Congress in 2004, has not been filled since Trump, soon to celebrate two years as president, has taken office.
Members of Congress are well aware of the fact that something isn’t right. Last week, an overwhelming bipartisan majority of 411 House members passed a bill demanding that Trump fill the position. Only one congressman, Republican Justin Amash from Michigan, voted against the bill. The legislation, which passed the House in the previous Congress but never got through the Senate, sets a 90 day deadline for the president to appoint a new anti-Semitism envoy. It also elevates the position to the level of ambassador and ensures that the envoy is the senior adviser on anti-Semitism and does not have to share his time with other State Department duties.
But why is there still no envoy? Much of it has to do with the different style of management Trump and his senior advisers brought with them to the administration. Trump, as opposed to his predecessors, is not a big believer in “czars” or in special envoys and has limited the use of designated appointees to focus on one specific issue. (He has also so far refused to appoint a full time White House liaison to the Jewish community). Furthermore, Trump’s first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, arrived at the State Department directly from Exxon-Mobil bent on implementing a lean-and-mean corporate style of management. He sought to downsize the department’s personnel and one early victim of this effort was the position of special envoy on anti-Semitism. When members of Congress and Jewish groups expressed their dismay over the move, Tillerson backed down, although he never got around to filling the position. His successor, Mike Pompeo, agreed to change course, but nine months into his tenure, nothing yet has changed. Sources in the Jewish community have said that there was some movement on the issue in recent months and that the process of finding and vetting a new envoy is under way.
The position was last filled by Ira Forman. New Jersey Republican Chris Smith, who was behind the initial 2004 legislation, is also the author of the new bill demanding the position is filled and elevated. In his floor speech presenting the bill, Smith stressed the growing threat of anti-Semitism in many forms around the world, including as it relates to delegitimizing Israel, and called on the Senate to take on the legislation promptly. “Hopefully this time the Senate will act with urgency that reflects the persistence, prevalence, and peril of anti-Semitism,” Smith said.
But that will take a while, at best.
The Senate is now in a deadlock as Democrats refuse to discuss any new legislation that is not related to ending the government shutdown. Once that issue is resolved, a legislative process could start, though it will eventually be up to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to decide whether to bring a Senate version of the bill, which is likely to enjoy bipartisan support, to a vote.
2. Joe Lieberman knows what’s best for the Democratic Party
There is a generational battle going on in the Democratic Party, and for some reason, Joe Lieberman chose to be its face. The 76-year-old former senator took on Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 29, when he opined on Fox Business that “with all respect, I certainly hope she’s not the future and I don’t believe she is.” AOC shot back with a quick tweet reading: “New party, who dis?” Lieberman went back to Fox News, calling her response “silly” and explaining that proposals set forth by Ocasio-Cortez, including raising the top income tax bracket to 70%, “just takes us back to the big-spending, big-taxing Democratic Party, and the Democratic Party is not going to succeed that way.”
Does Joe have a point? On the one hand, his decision to break off in 2006 after being booted in the Democratic primary proved to be smart when he went on to win his senate seat as a moderate independent. On the other, is the person who left his own party and later on endorsed a Republican presidential candidate really in the position to preach to Democrats about their future?
3. How are the new Democratic presidential hopefuls doing with the Jewish community?
Another week, another batch of Democrats throwing their hats into the already-crowded 2020 presidential race. This latest harvest includes former HUD secretary Julian Castro and Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. Castro, who also served as mayor of San Antonio, Texas, has been on record supporting Israel and praising its entrepreneurial spirit. But as an Obama administration official, he backed the Iranian nuclear deal, which was rejected by Israel and had split the American Jewish establishment.
Gabbard, on the other hand, has chosen an independent path on foreign policy, one that has raised many eyebrows in Washington. She’s not only a harsh critic of Israeli policies, but has also chosen to embrace Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, who is widely seen as responsible for the massacre of Syrian citizens during the ongoing civil war. Gabbard took Assad’s side when he denied using chemical weapons against his own people, even though all international organizations and monitoring groups agreed that Assad’s forces used Sarin gas to kill men, women and children.
4. Can Jared get Trump off the wall?
Jared Kushner, presidential son-in-law and senior adviser, is playing a key role in the (mostly nonexistent) negotiations aimed at ending the government shutdown. According to The Wall Street Journal, Kushner has positioned himself as the voice of reason within the Trump White House and has successfully—at least for now—convinced Trump not to declare a national emergency in order to build the border wall. At the same time, Kushner still supports the idea of building a border wall and has backed his father-in-law’s push to keep the government shut until the wall is funded.
5. Ivanka to the World Bank?
The respected Financial Times reported last week that first daughter Ivanka Trump’s name has been floated as a possible nominee the next World Bank president. The position has become vacant after the surprise departure of Jim Yong Kim and according to the report, Trump is considering his daughter for the job. The idea was met with criticism and ridicule and has not received any official confirmation. Ivanka Trump, who ran a struggling fashion business before joining her father’s White House, has no previous experience in international development. The thought of choosing Ivanka for the job does, however, fit in with previous reports about Trump trying to place his daughter in a senior leadership position—she’s been mentioned as a possible replacement for Nikki Haley as ambassador to the UN position of World Bank president requires approval of the organization’s board.