I stand before you today as the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism.
I also stand before you in the role I occupied before entering government service – as a historian.
And it is in both those capacities that I say: This is a historic moment in the modern fight against what’s known as the world’s oldest hatred.
For the first time, the United States Government is not only acknowledging that antisemitism is a serious problem in this country but laying out a clear plan to counter it. The collaboration among so many agencies and partners to reach this goal and develop these solutions is, simply put, breathtaking.
But this moment is historic for another reason. Just consider where we are: we gather in what was once the home of the State and War Departments. We come together to release a plan for combatting Jew hatred in a place where, just over eight decades ago, a form of Jew hatred took shape as official policy: as State Department officials erected so-called “paper walls” around this country to prevent Jews from entering our borders.
We assemble with memories of a dark time when White House staff counseled the president to stand firm against letting Jews in. When members of Congress sought to halt any liberalization of immigration laws even after Kristallnacht. When an intense bipartisan effort to allow the entry of Jewish children whose parents were in concentration camps was met with rejection and inhumanity…even though, a year later, when London was being bombed, Congress rushed to make room for British children to enter.
You do not need my historical expertise to recognize the difference between these two sets of children.
That was then. Today is so very different.
This plan – unveiled in this location, with input from dedicated leaders across this Administration and beyond – reflects an unprecedented determination to fight antisemitism. It will shape and drive our effort at home. It will stand as an example and model for partners around the world, some already with national strategies of their own, many of them ready to draw on how we brought so many agencies and organizations together to propose solutions, adopt ideas, and work together to improve the lived lives of Jewish Americans.
This could not be more essential. Because this scourge threatens not just the safety of Jews, but the strength of our democracy. For here, again, history is instructive: telling us that, where antisemitism persists, democracy suffers. Where Jews are at risk, so, too, are the rights of everyone. Yet where communities and nations step forward to combat antisemitism, they tend to emerge more secure, more free, and more fair for all.
In my tradition, the first words a Jew is supposed to utter upon waking in the morning are “thank you.” Throughout the day they are supposed to observe “hakarat hatov,” recognizing and giving thanks for all that is good.
And so, today I, too, express thanks.
On behalf of all of us who worked on this plan, we are so grateful to the thousands of Americans who shared your views and insights and deepest concerns.
On behalf of my team at the State Department, I am so grateful that the anniversary of my first year in office is marked by the issuance of this plan. When I entered office, I said that one of my objectives was to persuade people to take antisemitism seriously. This plan constitutes taking antisemitism seriously at the highest level of our nation.
On behalf of the millions of Americans whose lives will be impacted by this immense effort, we give thanks to the many people – some of whom are in this room—who worked assiduously on this plan. I shall commit the cardinal sin of singling out just one, in part because her tenure in this current office is about to end and in greater measure because today simply would not have happened without her – her leadership, her resolve, and her vision. Ambassador Rice, Susan, you have many jewels in your crown of service to this nation. This, your latest, may well shine with the brightest among them.
And now the real work commences giving life to the words on these pages. The Federal government has comprehensively laid out in great detail what it must do. We know Congress is committed to this effort as well. But government cannot do this alone. We must have the broadest support of the American people, all the American people – not just on behalf of their Jewish neighbors and fellow citizens, but for the welfare of this nation and for the sake of democracies worldwide.
With this plan, we give life to the Rabbinic teaching,
“לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה”
“You are not obligated to finish the task, but you are not free to turn away from it.”
Today the United States government has shown that it did not, and will not, turn away from addressing something very ugly and deadly serious in our midst. Now we, all of us, are obligated to do the same.
For if not now, when? And if not us, who?
Thank you very much.