Hilary Eldridge for Jewish Insider
The American diplomat whose latest mission is tackling global antisemitism
As one of several non-Jewish diplomats on the State Department team fighting global antisemitism, Ludovic Hood views his task as an American imperative
Ludovic Hood is one of the lucky ones at the State Department: He has an office with a window. Tokens of his 16 years as a Foreign Service officer cover the walls — two Superior Honor awards and one Meritorious Honor award. (Like many things in the sprawling bureaucracy of the State Department, the two awards may sound exactly the same but are, in fact, different.) A family photo, in a “#1 Dad” frame, is displayed prominently.
A small bookshelf behind his desk clues visitors into Hood’s latest assignment as a senior advisor in the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism. There is a selection of titles from his recent self-directed crash course in antisemitism, among them his new boss’ 2019 book, Antisemitism: Here and Now. He’d been reading it while the book’s author, Deborah Lipstadt, was enmeshed in Capitol Hill chaos across town. Her confirmation to be the Biden administration’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism was delayed for months after Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee committee took issue with some of her past tweets.
Hood’s career has taken him around the world, with stops in Paris, Bahrain and Qatar. But his first year-plus in this role was spent in Foggy Bottom, hunched over books, diving deep on the history of the world’s oldest hatred, “whether it’s the centuries-long misery that most Jewish communities in Eastern Europe suffered through, culminating in the Holocaust,” Hood told Jewish Insider in a recent interview, “or what Sephardic communities dealt with, notably in the 20th century, when over a million of them [were] kicked out of half a dozen or so Arab countries with no talk of return.”
Tall and slender, dressed in a fitted suit with an Hermès tie decorated in cartoon dogs and cats, Hood, 48, looks more like a Wall Street trader — perhaps a result of an early but short-lived career in finance — than a mid-level bureaucrat.
Exceptionally easy to talk to, Hood is a diplomat’s diplomat, skilled at easily making connections and building sources among locals and expats alike, say those who have worked with him. During his first overseas assignment in Kuwait, as a junior officer, he “had a Rolodex that was probably second only to mine, as the ambassador. That’s very unusual,” said Deborah K. Jones, who was the U.S. ambassador in Kuwait from 2008-2011.
Like Hood’s overseas postings, his latest role has opened his eyes to new issues and diverse perspectives: Unlike Lipstadt, the noted Holocaust historian who was confirmed by the Senate last week as the special envoy, Hood is not Jewish. Many of the officers now working in the antisemitism office are not. Deputy special envoy Aaron Keyak told JI that this diversity is a crucial aspect of what makes American diplomacy unique.
“I don’t think it’s surprising that there’s a wide range of folks on our team from various backgrounds, various religions, some who’ve dealt with these issues for years and decades, others who have a more diverse range of issues that they’ve worked in government on,” said Keyak, a political appointee who led Jewish outreach for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign in 2020. “It’s not about being one religion or another, or having one particular set of experiences or background. It’s about serving your government.”
That translates to people of diverse religious backgrounds working to fight antisemitism and to advocate for religious freedom worldwide. It’s also straight people working alongside members of the LGBTQ community to advance gay rights, and men standing by their female colleagues in the fight for gender equality.
But what does an antisemitism-fighting diplomat actually do? While Lipstadt’s nomination moved slowly through the Senate, Hood saw his team grow from a skeletal one-and-a-half full-time employees — a result of the transition from the Trump to the Biden administration, when former Special Envoy Elan Carr and his team left the office — to roughly 10 staffers.
Last year, the majority of religiously motivated hate crimes in the U.S. were directed at Jews, according to data from the FBI. But the purview of the antisemitism office is global, not domestic. That means talking to foreign diplomats and officials to help them understand the problem of antisemitism and how it manifests differently in each country. It’s also building relationships with Jewish leaders from across the wide spectrum of the Jewish community in the U.S. and globally, to hear their concerns and build partnerships.
Hood’s career, and his position in the antisemitism office, provide a window into a policy team that is roundly praised by the U.S. Jewish community but whose work — the day-to-day of how combating antisemitism fits into American diplomacy — is not widely understood.
“We are building on a lot of what the [U.S. government] has been doing year-in, year-out, almost regardless of administration,” Hood explained. “We’ve always had this focus on religious freedom and human rights that very few other superpowers or powers have in human history.”
After eight months of delays, the speed of Lipstadt’s final confirmation last week surprised many observers: She was voted out of committee one day and then approved unanimously by the Senate the following night.
The January hostage crisis at a Colleyville, Texas, synagogue, coupled with Republican senators’ response to Lipstadt’s tweets, had sparked outrage and advocacy campaigns from all corners of the U.S. Jewish community. For months, Jewish leaders urged senators to give Lipstadt a vote, arguing that her confirmation was essential for Washington’s fight against antisemitism.
“She’s going to bring a certain expertise and way of communicating on these issues unlike anyone else,” said Keyak. “She also brings a certain gravitas and standing to the office and I think will catapult our work to an even higher level when dealing with these important issues internationally.”
While Lipstadt’s nomination stalled, her now-colleagues have been laying the foundation for the work she will oversee. The career diplomats on the team have been “executing on the priorities of the government that American voters have elected,” said Keyak. Hood, who has served under four presidents since joining the Foreign Service in 2006, understands that directive.
His interest in diplomacy dates back to a short-lived event many Americans have probably never heard of: the 1982 Falklands War, a brief and violent colonial dispute between the United Kingdom and Argentina over two small islands in the South Atlantic.
Born and raised in the U.K., he came to the United States as a teenager to attend boarding school. “I was 9 or 10 years old in England, and I was unduly or preposterously intrigued by the seemingly quixotic endeavor to take back these islands on the other side of the world,” Hood recalled. He ended up staying and becoming a citizen, ultimately so taken with the country that he joined the Foreign Service as an Arabic language specialist.
A decade and a half later, he continues to put those language skills to use. Behind his desk, an old map of “Persia and Arabia” hangs next to his books, alerting visitors to Hood’s portfolio on the antisemitism beat.
He is focused on working with Arab countries on education around antisemitism, Judaism and the Holocaust. In a region that has been transformed by the Abraham Accords, the Middle East is now surprisingly fertile territory for the type of work happening in the antisemitism office. In January, Egypt hosted its first-ever official International Holocaust Remembrance Day event, and a similar commemoration took place in Abu Dhabi. The result is an optimism that is newly present in many conversations about antisemitism in the Middle East, an ironic inversion as the problem has only grown more entrenched in Europe.
“I certainly get the feeling that this administration at the highest levels has been quite clear, too, that openings have been generated or presented by the Abraham Accords that allow for discussions about issues my office cares about in ways that were unthinkable up until a couple years ago,” said Hood.
Hood has a particularly personal understanding of those changes. More than a decade ago, he was a political officer serving in Bahrain during the Arab Spring. He and his family had to leave the country quickly due to antisemitic threats directed at him and his wife following a diplomatic controversy.
He was working on human rights issues, a thorny matter in Bahrain at the time. U.S. policy in the country has historically had to “balance the realities of a very important strategic ally” — a major American military base is located in Manama, the Bahraini capital — “with a domestic political situation, partly relating to the country’s demographics, that has, in sort of spikes over the decades, resulted in some concerns from the human rights community, and occasionally from the U.S. government itself,” explained Hood.
Following uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, widespread anti-government protests broke out in Bahrain in early 2011. “I was the one specifically tasked with outreach to not only some of the human rights defenders themselves, but also to the main Shi’a opposition party,” recalled Hood. He left the U.S. Embassy one day to bring the protesters doughnuts, an ill-fated gesture of support that led to his untimely departure from the country.
Soon after, Hood began to face a campaign of vitriolic harassment from state-sanctioned newspapers and a website that appeared to be affiliated with the Bahraini government. The website, called Bahrain Forums, accused the U.S. Embassy of fostering the protests — specifically, “a person of Jewish origin named Ludovic Hood,” The Washington Post reported at the time. The Bahrain Forums post called for “honest people to avenge” Hood’s role in the protests, and mentioned his “Jewish wife, Alisa Newman,” with photos from their wedding ceremony.
The situation prompted him, his wife and their two young daughters to quickly leave the country. “It wasn’t a normal departure. I had to have a lot of extra security,” Hood told JI. He wrote a message to friends explaining the sudden departure and why he could not say many goodbyes: “Given recent developments affecting the Embassy, it was prudent for me to keep a low profile during my final weeks in Bahrain.”
The website that promoted the most problematic and antisemitic content was believed to be affiliated with the Bahraini royal family, McClatchy reported at the time. That Hood now counts Bahrain’s ambassador to Washington as a friend demonstrates how much has changed in the Middle East in the past decade.
Hood met Ambassador Abdulla Bin Rashid Al Khalifa when he was serving as a detail on former Vice President Mike Pence’s national security council — State Department lingo for when a Foreign Service officer leaves Foggy Bottom to work elsewhere in Washington, usually in the White House or on Capitol Hill. Hood advised Pence on Middle East policy from 2019 to 2021, and stayed for a few months on Vice President Kamala Harris’ team early last year.
“Religious freedom was one of the issues in which the former vice president gave priority to, so we naturally worked with Ludo on this issue. He continues to play a role with this administration and the office of antisemitism,” Al Khalifa told JI. “That particular office, we have always had a very good relationship for many years.” Al Khalifa said he “didn’t work with Ludo when he was in Bahrain” and was unfamiliar with the details of Hood’s departure from the country.
Before the Abraham Accords, “you could have a very vague talk about interfaith dialogue, but you almost couldn’t bring Jews into the mix,” said Hood, referring to how antisemitism was previously discussed with Washington’s allies in the Persian Gulf. “There’s a shift, arguably a paradigm shift underway, and that means that we can be talking to these governments about combating antisemitism in a way that simply was in no way viable a couple years ago.”
Hood is no Pollyanna; his experience in Bahrain made sure of that. There remains a great deal of work in translating the government-level excitement about the Abraham Accords to the citizen level in Bahrain and the other countries that now have ties with Israel. And he covers all the countries in the region, not just the ones that normalized relations with Israel.
“There was a huge flap in Kuwait City late last year when our ambassador tweeted Hanukkah greetings. It was like a mini national scandal,” Hood pointed out. Kuwait, which has a large Palestinian population, is particularly hostile to Israel, and Hood predicted the Gulf nation would be the last to forge a relationship with Israel. There are Jewish expats in the country, he said, “but they keep it to themselves the way my wife and daughters did.”
Hood, who was raised in the Church of England, is not especially religious. But his family follows a lot of Jewish traditions, “which I love, and I wish we did more of it.”
When living abroad, Hood’s wife always gathered the other Jews scattered around each Arab capital for holiday meals. When they lived in Qatar, from 2016 to 2019, the couple arranged a Passover Seder in the desert for around 50 people.
“I think having served in the Middle East and on Middle East issues, and with a Jewish wife and daughters who have lived with me in three conservative Muslim majority countries, has all contributed to how I think about these issues,” noted Hood.
As a diplomat, Hood has a reputation as an effective communicator and clear-eyed policy practitioner. After 16 years in the Foreign Service, his patience for following the process, however slow-moving it is, has diminished. He is adept at navigating that process and sometimes pushing its boundaries.
“Ludo is not the typical Foreign Service officer,” Keyak noted.
The number of “special envoys” in Foggy Bottom has proliferated in recent years, leading to confusion among some rank-and-file State Department staffers about where their issue fits within the department’s organizational structure. Each team at State must work to elevate its issue and make sure that U.S. diplomats around the world have an understanding of why the issue matters and how it fits within Washington’s broader foreign policy.
“Working with [Hood], he has a great understanding of how to navigate the system, the way things work at the State Department, the way things work at our embassies and foreign embassies,” added Keyak. “He knows the right moments to push and pull himself and the right moments for me to weigh in, or the right moments for me to gain support from someone higher up to push our priorities.”
That’s what got Hood the job working for Pence, according to a former colleague. “We were definitely looking for people that were not just a mere paper-pusher, for lack of a better term, someone who can analytically approach problems… action-oriented people, right, that actually have ideas,” said Steve Pinkos, who served as Pence’s deputy national security advisor. “I think that that’s why [Hood] succeeded in the NSC environment, because it’s very action-oriented.”
A public servant with strong convictions, Hood is used to keeping those opinions to himself. But last month, a couple of weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, Hood took the unusual step of penning a Wall Street Journal op-ed urging NATO to send troops to Western Ukraine — an escalatory step that Washington and NATO have so far avoided.
“The more that I have served Uncle Sam, the more I’ve come up with my own views about which facets of foreign policy ultimately matter on the ground, and to the people in those countries, and above all to the U.S. national interest,” said Hood. One area that has consistently frustrated him is Washington’s response to Bashar al-Assad’s brutal response to protests in Syria.
“Vis-a-vis Syria, I felt very, very strongly about a certain U.S. responsibility to be more involved, and I think quite a few of us did,” he explained. “But ultimately, we serve the government. We have sworn an oath. We do our best to present the positions of the current administration.”
This sadness about the fate of Syria, and the underwhelming global response to it, color Hood’s views on Israel, too, and the world’s obsession with it.
“I just could never understand why there weren’t protests in any European capitals about what Russia and Iran and the Assad regime were doing in Idlib or other parts of Syria for months, whereas any flare-up in the so-called Holy Land would lead to large-scale protests,” said Hood, rolling his eyes.
Doing this job, and now following antisemitic trends closely — he regularly checks the depressing, never-ending stream of antisemitic hate on Twitter and other social networks — “has forced me to think, why is there such disproportionate focus on Israel by the human rights community, by a lot of mainstream political parties in Europe and a growing number of activist student bodies,” Hood said. “It’s really hard not to reach a conclusion that antisemitism in various forms underpins that.”
This isn’t just Hood’s view. It’s a position that has been echoed by Secretary of State Tony Blinken and other high-level Biden administration officials. After the U.S. rejoined the United Nations Human Rights Council last year, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said that the U.S. “will oppose the Council’s disproportionate attention on Israel, which includes the Council’s only standing agenda item targeting a single country.”
One priority for the antisemitism office, in coordination with State’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs, is the U.N.’s Commission of Inquiry into Israel’s human rights violations. The commission, formed in the wake of last May’s fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, is expected to release its first report this summer.
“It’s the only commission of inquiry in the council’s history that is open-ended, never-ending [and] so well-funded. This and the last administration are very opposed to it, every facet of it almost,” said Hood. “We’ve now had both Amnesty and Human Rights Watch use the word ‘apartheid’ [in reference to Israel]. I can’t speculate what the commission may find, but it wouldn’t be surprising if they have similar conclusions, and obviously the U.S. government would not agree with that.”
At times, the priorities of the antisemitism office closely track with those of major Jewish organizations like the American Jewish Committee or The Jewish Federations of North America, both of which urged supporters to advocate for Lipstadt’s confirmation. But at the end of the day, this office has something no nonprofit ever will — the imprimatur of the entirety of the U.S. government, a striking contrast from past eras when State’s own diplomats were sometimes believed to harbor antisemitic attitudes themselves.
Most famously, in World War II, the State Department took an aggressive stance on immigration and Jewish refugees fleeing Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. Assistant Secretary of State Samuel Breckinridge Long led the charge against admitting any significant number of refugees, and he lied to Congress about the number of refugees Washington had admitted. James Baker, who served as Secretary of State under President George H.W. Bush, himself clashed with pro-Israel activists in the U.S. Jewish community.
Problems remain — a swastika was etched into a State Department elevator last year, and Jewish staffers have protested the continued employment of a Foreign Service officer who writes an antisemitic blog — but they no longer come from the top. At the top is a government that has put the global fight against antisemitism at the forefront of its diplomacy.
“When we are talking to a foreign government, we’re talking about the priorities of the government of the United States,” noted Keyak. Those conversations might reference the Jewish community in their country feeling unsafe, or antisemitic language from government officials or restrictions on ritual slaughter, “just to name a few,” added Keyak.
“That’s the U.S. government speaking with an ally or a partner, bilaterally, emphasizing to them that it’s the priority of the United States,” explained Keyak, “that this antisemitism is addressed, or that this antisemitism is prevented, or that their Jewish community shouldn’t feel unsafe.”