Deborah Lipstadt to be named State Dept antisemitism envoy
The Holocaust historian will take the role amid a recent rise in antisemitic incidents in the U.S.
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After months of deliberation and calls from congressional and Jewish community leaders, the White House will name Emory University professor and historian Deborah Lipstadt to be the administration’s special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism tomorrow, a source familiar with the matter confirmed to Jewish Insider.
Lipstadt is a noted Holocaust historian whose most recent book, Antisemitism: Here and Now, won a 2019 National Jewish Book Award. She has served as a consultant to and a fellow at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and is widely known for successfully defeating a lawsuit in which she was accused of libel for referring to writer David Irving as a Holocaust denier.
Lipstadt declined to comment when asked about her appointment to the position.
The Holocaust historian’s selection received enthusiastic praise from a range of figures in the Jewish community.
“She has been a model of a passionate, committed academic, who is not afraid to be a practical activist as well. And I think that makes her uniquely suited for the position,” Mark Weitzman, who serves as director of government affairs at the Simon Wiesenthal Center and has known Lipstadt for decades, told JI on Thursday. Weitzman had also been under consideration for the role. “She has a history of engaged scholarship. She has a history of being willing to speak out and fight antisemitism when she sees it. And I think she’s got to be a really strong and vigorous advocate for an administration that has committed itself to fighting antisemitism.”
Rep. Brad Schneider (D-MI), who helped lead the push last year to upgrade the antisemitism envoy position to ambassador level, said he first met Lipstadt on a trip to Poland and Israel in 1990.
“For decades, she has served as both academic and activist, inspiring policymakers to confront the harsh realities of antisemitism in our world and fight for justice. I can’t imagine a better, more qualified person to lead the United States’ efforts to combat antisemitism,” Schneider said. “Amid recent rising antisemitism both in the United States and around the globe, Deborah Lipstadt will lead with a vigorous moral clarity. I wish her the best in her service.”
Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) called the choice “inspired.”
“Dr. Lipstadt is a widely respected scholar who literally wrote the book on confronting antisemitism and Holocaust denial,” Gottheimer told JI. “I look forward to working together with the Special Envoy, Secretary Blinken, and members of both parties in Congress to combat antisemitism in all its forms.”
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt called Lipstadt “an inspired selection” and a “woman of courage” who has worked with ADL for years.
“Prof. Lipstadt’s academic credentials are second to none in the field of understanding antisemitism. More than that, she has been an indefatigable and intrepid combatant against the scourge of Holocaust denial in all its forms,” added Jewish Federations of North America President and CEO Eric Fingerhut. “We can think of no better candidate for the position.”
Former ADL national director Abe Foxman, another contender for the post, told JI that Lipstadt is “an excellent choice” and “a consummate experienced professional — passionate in her love of the Jewish people and a fierce fighter in the fight against antisemitism.”
Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress, told JI that Lipstadt is an “excellent choice” and the “perfect combination of both a scholar and activist on the Holocaust.”
Earlier this week, a swastika was found etched into an elevator at the State Department. Earlier this year, then-President Donald Trump signed a bill elevating the antisemitism envoy position to the rank of ambassador, meaning Lipstadt will have to be confirmed by the Senate.
The Biden administration has been promising for nearly two months that the appointment would be announced “very very soon,” as pressure has mounted from Capitol Hill and Jewish groups amid a spate of antisemitic incidents both domestically and internationally.
Domestically, antisemitic incidents rose 75% during the two weeks of violent conflict between Israel and Hamas in May, according to Anti-Defamation League data. Several high-profile antisemitic attacks and vandalism incidents occurred in Europe and elsewhere during the same period.
President Joe Biden released a statement on May 28 saying the uptick in antisemitic attacks are “despicable, unconscionable, un-American, and they must stop,” but the statement stopped short of detailing any specific steps the administration would take.
Last week, the top White House office for religious engagement announced that the administration planned to name an antisemitism envoy soon. Melissa Rogers, the executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, made the announcement at a gathering hosted by the Jewish Federations of North America, but gave no indication as to who the administration might name.
Other individuals considered for the post included National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry CEO Mark Levin, Biden campaign Jewish outreach director Aaron Keyak, former envoy Ira Forman, former National Council of Jewish Women CEO Nancy Kaufman and University of California at Berkeley professor Ethan Katz.
This post was updated at 8:30 a.m. on July 30, 2021.