Tillerson Urged to Appoint Anti-Semitism Envoy

Jewish American leaders expressed concern over comments made by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday about leaving empty the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism at the State Department.

Testifying before the House Appropriations Committee’s foreign operations subcommittee on Wednesday, Tillerson suggested that the State Department may be better off without the post of a special envoy in order to fight global anti-Semitism. “One of the questions I’ve asked is, if we’re really going to affect these special areas, don’t we have to affect it through the delivery on mission at every level at every country? And by having a special envoy, one of my experiences is, mission then says, ‘Oh, we’ve got somebody else that does,’ and then they stop doing it,” he said, according to JTA’s Ron Kampeas.

The Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism has ceased operations since April 28.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), urged Tillerson and President Trump to reconsider their position “and make clear that the State Department will not wane in its efforts to stem anti-Jewish hatred overseas.”

“In order to continue fighting the rise in global anti-Semitism, it is critical that our government allocate the appropriate resources and that begins with the key appointment to fill the Special Envoy role at the State Department,” Greenblatt said in a statement to Jewish Insider. “We know first-hand from working intimately with every prior envoy who had served in this very important role the tremendously positive and impactful outcomes that have been accomplished through diplomacy by these envoys.”

Greenblatt’s predecessor, former ADL National Director Abe Foxman called Tillerson’s argument a “lame excuse.”

“Not renewing this position will send a message that this president and his administration care less – or not at all – about fighting anti-Semitism,” Foxman, now Director of Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, told Jewish Insider.

The Special Envoy was established by the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004. The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) produces annual reports on human rights practices and international religious freedom with input on anti-Semitism provided by the Office of the Special Envoy. The office was headed by Gregg Rickman under President George W. Bush, and by Hannah Rosenthal and Ira Forman under President Barack Obama. The position has been vacant since Trump took office on January 20.

At the hearing, Tillerson told lawmakers he would seek to eliminate the position. “Those that are mandated by statute, we will be back to talk with you about those as to whether we think it’s good to have it structured that way or whether we really think we can be effective on those issues in a different way,” the Secretary of State said, according to JTA.

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