letter writing

More than 80 lawmakers call for additional boost in antisemitism envoy funding

The letter also highlights issues that hampered the office’s work during the transition period between presidential administrations

John Lamparski/Getty Images

U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt listens as U.S. second gentleman Doug Emhoff speaks during an Economic and Social Council session about “Globalizing Efforts to Combat Antisemitism” at the United Nations World Headquarters on February 9, 2023, in New York City.

A bipartisan group of 83 House members is urging House Appropriations Committee leaders to boost funding for the State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism to $2 million for 2024, as well as new measures to ensure that the office’s work continues through future administrations.

A letter being sent today from the legislators pushes for an additional $500,000 over the 2023 funding level for the office of the special envoy, headed by Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt. It’s a larger increase than proposed by the Biden administration in its own budget request; the White House asked for $1.7 million. The letter also highlights concerns that delays in confirming future special envoys could delay the office’s work.

“The Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism plays a critical role in encouraging and advising foreign governments to take measures to ensure the safety and security of their respective Jewish communities, including developing national action plans and appointing national coordinators,” the letter reads. “While we applaud these efforts, we know there are many more countries that deserve attention and that could benefit by an official visit focused on combating antisemitism. We also understand that the Special Envoy has had to decline invitations for engagement due to lack of resources.”

The letter argues that further resources would allow for “further specialization… to address the serious and ongoing challenges that exist around the globe.”

The letter also urges Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), the leaders of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, to request that the secretary of state brief Congress on “the State Department’s plan to ensure continuity of staff within the Special Envoy’s Office between Administrations and before a new Special Envoy is confirmed.”

The language reflects the eight-month delay in confirming Lipstadt, which left the already-small office further short-staffed; Lipstadt was not confirmed until more than a year into the Biden presidency. During the transition period between the Trump and Biden administrations — as the Trump-appointed envoy and other political appointees departed — the envoy’s office at one point had fewer than two full-time employees. Career State Department staff also serve on limited-time postings within the office.

The letter was led by co-chairs and members of the House Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism, Reps. Grace Meng (D-NY), Kathy Manning (D-NC), Chris Smith (R-NJ), Susan Wild (D-PA), Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL), David Kustoff (R-TN), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Don Bacon (R-NE).

Several of the same lawmakers had urged Secretary of State Tony Blinken earlier this year to request $2 million in funding for the program; the administration ultimately fell short of that request.

Manning, at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing yesterday on the State Department budget, highlighted statistics showing rising antisemitism globally and at home, and said, “we understand from [Lipstadt] that her office is hampered by a lack of resources, they are having to use contract people rather than being able to hire their own staff.”

Blinken pledged to examine the necessary funding level to “make sure that the resources are there for her to do her job as effectively as she can.”

The initiatives outlined in the letter are being supported by the American Jewish Committee, Jewish Federations of North America and Anti Defamation League.

Adam Teitelbaum, the associate vice president of public affairs for JFNA, told JI, “With levels of antisemitism soaring around the globe, we must ensure that this critical office is always fully able to maintain its impact — especially during periods of political transition when political staff positions are vacated.”

Teitelbaum added that, given the linkages between foreign and domestic antisemitism, JFNA feels the issue has a “direct impact” on communities within the U.S.

“We want to make sure the State Department recognizes the need for adequate staffing to ensure the Special Envoy’s office has sufficient resources at a time when there’s been a dramatic uptick in antisemitism across the globe,” the AJC said in a statement, adding that the proposal regarding transitions would “help ensure the important work of this office continues seamlessly should there be a change in administrations or during any interval when a new envoy needs to be confirmed.”

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