Amb. Lipstadt: Muslim advocacy group CAIR has ‘no place in fight against antisemitism’

In interview with JI, Lipstadt talks about her role fighting anti-Jewish hate abroad — and increasingly at home

Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, 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. Emhoff has become a leader in the Biden administration's efforts to combat antisemitism, setting forth meetings with prominent Jewish figures, national appearances and European trips to a number of significant Jewish sites. (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)

When the White House released its long-awaited national strategy to combat antisemitism last spring, Jewish leaders were puzzled by the inclusion of the Council of American-Islamic Relations as one of the organizations primed to take up the fight.

The State Department’s antisemitism envoy, Deborah Lipstadt, urged patience at the time, despite the Muslim civil rights group’s long record of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish statements. But on Wednesday, in an interview with Jewish Insider on the sidelines of the Anti-Defamation League’s Never is Now summit in Manhattan, Lipstadt said “they’ve failed… [and] have no place in the fight against antisemitism.”

Lipstadt’s comments come in the wake of a series of statements by CAIR leaders praising Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks — including from its executive director, Nihad Awad, who said in November that he was “happy to see” the attack, which he characterized as “self-defense.” 

“We gave CAIR a chance and they have proven that they have no place in the fight against antisemitism — if anything we have to fight those kinds of attitudes,” Lipstadt told JI. 

When the White House released its National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism last May, it faced criticism for including a fact sheet that said CAIR would educate religious communities about keeping houses of worship safe from hate, given the organization’s history of antisemitic statements. Following the comments celebrating Oct. 7, the White House distanced itself from CAIR in December. 

“One of the things that disturbs me is we see people make anti-Israel statements that have in them antisemitism,” Lipstadt continued. “That’s not always the case but [some are] clearly, overtly.” 

Lipstadt’s remit is global, but with antisemitism dramatically rising in the U.S. in the wake of Israel’s war with Hamas, her focus has shifted to include domestic hate towards Jews. She emphasized that the two are not mutually exclusive. 

She said she balances both by “talking about [domestic antisemitism] in the context of international antisemitism.”

“My main focus is international antisemitism. But when I go abroad, I was in Germany in November, one of the things I heard so much about is how antisemitism crosses the ocean both ways, what we see in America comes to Europe and what we see in Europe comes to America,” Lipstadt continued. “So whenever I see that kind of overlap I put it in a larger context.” 

In terms of domestic antisemitism, Lipstadt said she is “encouraged during these dark days, the degree to which so many organizations see the problem and take it seriously.” 

“Everybody is trying to find a way to address this, there is no magic bullet,” the ambassador continued. 

Lipstadt pointed to Robert Kraft’s Foundation to Combat Antisemitism, which hosted a meeting of the commissioners of all the major sports leagues, at which Lipstadt spoke. “I told them that they’ve gotta figure out a way to make antisemitism uncool — it’s cool now for kids to attack other kids in class,” she recalled. “It’s gotta be made uncool like we did with smoking.” 

Asked about the Kraft Foundation’s decision to spend $7 million on a 30-second Super Bowl ad last month, Lipstadt responded, “That’s for Bob Kraft to decide. He’s done some very positive things and great ads. It reminded us of a moment in time.” The commercial – part of the foundation’s “Stand Up to Jewish Hate” campaign, which seeks to raise awareness around rising antisemitism in the U.S. — featured Clarence B. Jones, a prominent lawyer and civil rights activist who helped Martin Luther King Jr. draft his “I Have a Dream” speech. 

Coming into office in 2022, one of Lipstadt’s stated goals was “to get people to take [antisemitism] seriously.” She said the mission has been accomplished, but added, “I’m not taking credit for that part because the situation has become so much more obvious.” 

“But the message I’m trying to transmit, not just to Jews or Americans, but when I go abroad… is that we have to stop thinking about antisemitism as solely a threat to Jews,” Lipstadt continued. “It is that, and that alone would make it worth fighting, but it’s more. It’s a threat to democracy and national security.” 

While the State Department was notoriously antisemitic during the Holocaust years, Lipstadt said “it’s different now, for sure.”  

“I haven’t seen antisemitism in the State Department. If anything, I have built really good relations.” 

Lipstadt addressed the summit’s some 4,000 attendees during the Wednesday morning opening session. She expressed gratitude that a report this week from the U.N. envoy on sexual violence in conflict found evidence of the sexual violence Hamas committed on Oct. 7, but called the report’s slow pace “concerning.” 

“What happened to ‘believe women’ from MeToo?” Lipstadt asked. “It’s hypocritical and antisemitic.” 

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