If we were living in a vacuum, the Jewish community wouldn’t be “entitled” to a State Department office with an envoy assigned to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. But there are at least three reasons why the office — which the Trump administration has left unstaffed since July 1 — should be filled.
First, the envoy position was created by Congress in 2004 and delegated responsibility to monitor and document anti-Semitism around the world, as well as to work with foreign governments to fight it. Republican President George W. Bush and Democratic President Barack Obama both saw the position of envoy as important enough to fill it. But the position has been vacant since envoy Ira Forman left with the outgoing Obama administration. This week, the remaining two staffers in the office left for new assignments.
Leaving the office empty — after two previous administrations staffed it — sends the wrong message and could lead some to conclude that the United States does not think fighting anti-Semitism is important. While such an approach will provide comfort to Jew haters around the world, that isn’t the greatest concern. Rather, we fear that the vacancy supports the argument of both friend and foe that the United States is withdrawing from its long-held world leadership role. That shouldn’t happen.
Second, anti-Semitism is festering in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. Report after report confirms the growing problem. In the face of these confirmed facts, there is a growing need for an American official delegated responsibility to address the issue of anti-Semitism in meetings with foreign officials. Without the envoy, that agenda item risks being ignored.
Third, the State Department has established offices to support other groups. There is the special envoy for the human rights of LGBTI persons, the special representative to Muslim communities, the ambassador at large for global women’s issues, the ambassador at large for international religious freedom and the special advisor for international disabilities rights. As such, it isn’t special pleading to call for an anti-Semitism envoy to be named.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to miss the point when he tried to explain to a House subcommittee why it might be better if there were no envoy devoted to addressing the scourge of anti-Semitism. We think he is wrong. And it is particularly offensive to eliminate the anti-Semitism envoy while leaving all of the other interest group representatives in place.
All of that said, we see no element of anti-Semitism behind the Trump administration allowing the office to go vacant; and there is absolutely no evidence that President Trump is out to get Jews. Still, the decision reflects a troubling level of insensitivity and sends a worrisome message that the president may not care.
Our president, who has previously expressed concern about anti-Semitism and a commitment to wipe it out, should at the very least appoint an envoy to fight it.