President Donald Trump reportedly is considering cutting a number of special envoy positions, including one dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism, as part of a forthcoming budget proposal.From looking at the (now archived) State Department pages from the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, it doesn't show too many accomplishments. But that is a little deceptive.
Trump will propose increasing defense spending by $54 billion and make cuts to federal agencies to accommodate the 10 percent defense increase in the new budget plan, Bloomberg reported Monday, citing unnamed administration officials.
As part of these cuts, Trump is considering whether to nix some special envoy positions, including ones dealing with anti-Semitism, climate change and Muslim communities, according to Bloomberg.
For one thing, there is a definition of antisemitism on the site that essentially uses Natan Sharansky's "3-D" test for when criticism of Israel crosses the line into antisemitism. That is significant.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center summarized other accomplishments of the office last year:
President George W. Bush appointed Gregg Rickman, who served from 2006-2009. He was succeeded in the Obama administration by Hannah Rosenthal (2009-2012) and then by the current special envoy, Ira Forman. Both Rickman and Rosenthal made noteworthy contributions to making combating anti-Semitism a part of official U.S. foreign policy. Rickman set the tone by vigorously engaging with more than 25 countries during his term, while Rosenthal built on Rickman’s accomplishments by establishing a mandatory course on anti-Semitism at the Foreign Service Institute as well as personally confronting the anti-Semitic mayor of Malmo, Sweden.Ira Forman also worked to raise the issue of European nations considering outlawing circumcision, although he curiously made a distinction between that ban and the bans on ritual slaughter for kosher meat:
We at the Simon Wiesenthal Center have worked closely with the special envoys from the beginning, but especially with Ira Forman, the current special envoy. Forman has taken the office to new levels of engagement. Under his watch, the State Department convened a high-level meeting on anti-Semitism with Secretary of State Kerry that Rabbi Marvin Hier, the dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, described as “the first time that the State Department had elevated the battle against anti-Semitism to such a high level within the department’s leadership.” Forman, working closely with our office and other Jewish activists, was also instrumental in pushing the Hungarian government to abandon plans to erect a statue to honor a notorious Nazi collaborator who helped pave the way for the persecution and murder of over 450,000 Hungarian Jews.
Working alongside his colleague, Nicholas Dean, special envoy on Holocaust issues, Forman played a pivotal role in diplomatic efforts that led to the recent adoption by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance of a Working Definition of Anti-Semitism. This is the first-ever formal international definition of anti-Semitism, and a potentially crucial tool for forcing governments and international agencies to confront and take action against it. There are numerous other efforts and initiatives related to anti-Semitism that Forman continues to be directly involved with in the waning days of the Obama administration.
Forman has raised the issue in meetings with ambassadors to Washington from Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. He says he plans to raise it with envoys from other Northern European countries, where pressures to ban circumcision are most acute.It seems strange that Forman would essentially surrender on the issue of kosher meat, which is prompted by antisemitism just as much as the bans on circumcision are - with both of them pretending to be about "human rights" or "animal rights."
He also has asked the relevant desks at the State Department to have U.S. diplomats raise the issue in their meetings in their host countries.
Forman, who is Jewish, contrasted efforts to prohibit circumcision with bans on ritual animal slaughter — in place in some countries for decades — which at least have workarounds, for instance by importing frozen kosher meat.
“Circumcision, if you ban it, you have three choices: You do it underground illegally, you take a little 8-day-old baby across state lines — and if you have contiguous states [with bans], doing that becomes harder and harder — or three, you emigrate,” he said.
The Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism also publishes annual reports on antisemitism in the world, and reports on more specific topics like antisemitism on college campuses.
As part of the State Department, the antisemitism office is oriented towards fighting hate in foreign countries. It doesn't do anything about domestic antisemitism, although the definition of antisemitism is very useful when other departments need to use it, such as this act introduced in the Senate last year to use that definition to fight campus antisemitism.
I can't tell how effective this office has been in pressuring European nations on the issue. As far as I can tell, the office did nothing about Arab or Muslim antisemitism.
So while the office has some accomplishments, I would have hoped for a more muscular policy against antisemitism, and I also would have hoped that it would have had the opportunity to accomplish more under the Trump administration.
Human rights is not a priority in this administration, than this office seems to be a victim of that mindset.
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