What Should the Anti-Semitism Czar Do?
1. Redefining the role of anti-Semitism czar
It’s been almost a year since Elan Carr was sworn in as the State Department’s Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism. The former Major in the U.S. Army, who later ran two unsuccessful political races as a Republican in the heavily Democratic Los Angeles area, entered a position left vacant since Donald Trump came to office.
For two years, America did not have a point person dealing with global anti-Semitism, and much has changed in that time: In Eastern Europe, attempts to blur historical facts regarding the Holocaust have increased, especially in Poland, while Hungary experienced a government-backed anti-Semitic smear campaign against George Soros. Anti-Semitic incidents in Western Europe remain on the rise, and in the UK, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party was widely denounced for failing to deal with anti-Semitism in its leadership and ranks. But the biggest shift in anti-Semitic trends did not happen in distant countries overseas. It occurred in the U.S., where white nationalist anti-Semitism reared its head, leading murderous attacks on synagogues, hateful Nazi marches and countless incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism. In addition, attacks on Jews in the New York area, many of them by African Americans, also saw an alarming surge.
Carr, perhaps reading this new map of global anti-Semitism, seems to have redefined the role of special envoy, focusing more on domestic expressions of Jew-hatred, rather than on anti-Semitism in foreign countries.
Unlike many of his predecessors who conducted their business within the confines of the diplomatic world, Carr performs his duties publically, speaks frequently at public events and synagogues, and even walked up to the stage when called on by President Donald Trump during his address at the Israeli-American Council conference late last year. His message extends beyond the original mission of the special envoy’s office, which was established by Congress in 2004 in order to monitor and combat “acts of anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic incitement that occur in foreign countries.”
For Carr, anti-Semitism in foreign countries is only part of his portfolio. He has instead focused much of his public work on issues relating to domestic anti-Semitism. He spoke out against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to boycott and divest from Israel and which is active primarily within the U.S., denounced anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist sentiments on college campuses and championed Trump’s recent executive order making it easier for students to seek the Department of Education’s civil rights protections under Title VI when these rights are infringed upon because of their religious affiliation. Carr also made headlines after he called for posting armed guards at every synagogue and Jewish institution, echoing Trump’s pro-gun belief that there should be more “good people with guns” ready to counter armed attackers.
2. Why it matters
Elan Carr’s new approach to the office of special envoy on anti-Semitism has its supporters and detractors. Carr’s supporters say that he has become Trump’s and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s chief spokesperson on anti-Semitism. This is a uniquely important role in an administration that has chosen not to appoint a White House liaison to the Jewish community and that has come under attack for its muffled response to white nationalism, which has served as the ideological basis for many of the recent anti-Semitic attacks in America. Carr’s open approach, his high visibility in the Jewish community and his access to Pompeo and Trump can help assuage concerns within the Jewish community, facing an unprecedented surge in anti-Semitism.
On the other hand, some argue this is simply not his job.
Countering domestic anti-Semitism is a mission shared by many agencies and departments, including Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the Department of Education.
The State Department and its special envoy on anti-Semitism are tasked with using American clout to influence foreign countries to combat anti-Semitism abroad. That’s exactly what his predecessors did. They reported annually on the state of anti-Semitism across the world, took to task countries that either instituted biased policies or turned a blind eye to anti-Semitism and helped foreign nations find ways to ensure the safety of their Jewish communities. American Jews, on the other hand, have the help of efficient institutions that have proven their ability to educate against anti-Semitism, investigate incidents and prosecute the perpetrators.
3. Legislating the war on anti-Semitism
With lawmakers back at work, expect more action on legislative efforts to counter anti-Semitism.
One bill to watch is the Never Again Education Act, which enjoys bipartisan support and calls for allocating federal funding for educational programs on the Holocaust in schools.
Also, look for increases in federal funding for security grants given primarily to Jewish institutions through the Department of Homeland Security program. Lawmakers are now asking to quadruple the funding for these grants.
4. Legislating aid to Israel
Elsewhere in Congress, Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Senator Chris Coons have cosponsored a bill that will ensure U.S. military aid to Israel at a level of $3.3 billion a year. There’s nothing new here–the bill simply codifies the Memorandum of Understanding reached by the Obama administration, which provides this increased level of aid to Israel for a decade.
What is interesting is the backstory. A similar provision was presented last year as part of a package of Middle East legislation that included an anti-BDS bill. Many Democrats, who saw the anti-BDS measure as too broad and as an infringement of free speech, refused to support the legislative package. Now, a year later, both sides have reached the conclusion that military aid to Israel is more important than bickering over BDS, and they have now presented it as a stand-alone bill, no strings attached.
5. Bernie is getting under Trump’s skin
Maybe it’s because of his recent surge in Democratic polls, or maybe due to his tough stance on the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. Either way, Bernie Sanders is getting more attention from the Trump campaign. Trump and the Republicans have ratcheted up attacks on Bernie, shifting their focus from Biden, who had been the main target until now, to the Vermont progressive. Trump, in a campaign rally last week, highlighted Sanders’ criticism of the Soleimani attack. His campaign devoted a statement to Sanders, titled: “Dangerous: Bernie Sanders can’t be trusted to defend American Lives.”
For Sanders, this may be some good news. Being targeted by Trump means being viewed as a viable–and potentially dangerous–rival. It also moves the debate to a field where Sanders holds an advantage. After all, he’s not the only one calling for reducing American military involvement in the Middle East. So is Trump.
Top photo: Elan Carr