MODERATOR: Good afternoon from the State Department’s Brussels media hub. I would like to welcome everyone joining us for today’s Virtual press briefing. We were very honored to be joined by Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism at the U.S. Department of State. Quick reminder that today’s session is on the record. And with that, let’s get started. Ambassador Lipstadt, over to you for opening remarks, ma’am.
AMBASSADOR LIPSTADT: Thank you very much. Thank you all for joining us. I’ll be very brief in my opening remarks because everything I have to say has really been said repeatedly. But we are now witnessing the biggest surge in antisemitism that we’ve seen worldwide in many decades, some say since the 1940s. In addition to October seven being the deadliest day for Jewish people since the Holocaust and raising all sorts of painful memories, what it is precipitated is a stunning, and I use that I don’t use that term positively wave of not just support for Hamas, but a tidal wave of antisemitic rhetoric and incidents. I’m not going to go through all the statistics because many of you come from the countries where these things have happened. But just by example. Holocaust memorials defaced in Greece, Denmark, Canada and the United States. Molotov cocktails thrown at synagogues, including in Berlin and Montreal. Jewish stars dabbed on buildings housing Jews in France and Germany. Jews harassed, chants at a protest: gas the Jews, kill the Jews. Posters showing a Jewish star in a garbage can; you know, clean up society, free society. Now, I want to make something very clear. My government does not object, in fact it welcomes peaceful protests in cities in the United States and other parts of the world. We are great believers in that. Even when the what the protesters might be protesting is something that runs counter to our policy. However, when you see people chanting or hear people chanting, kill the Jews or calling for a violent intifada, for saying gas the Jews, for when they harass Jewish protesters or Jews standing on people who identify maybe in support of Israel fashion. That’s not support for the rights of the Palestinian people. That’s antisemitism, pure and simple. So, too, when you express support for the terrorism that was engaged in October seven, we believe that this kind of mindset only incites more hatred, more death, more violence.
I’ve been in Europe now. I think, in three or four different capitals since October seventh, Rome, Paris, Germany. And then, of course, in Germany: Berlin, Munich, etc., etc.. And I’ve heard. And this country, what’s going on in the college campuses, of course, is particularly disturbing. Again, not the peaceful protest, not the criticism of Israeli policy, because criticism of Israeli policy is not antisemitism. I don’t think many sane people would claim that. But I do feel it necessary to to make that statement clear and unequivocally. But bottom line, when you target Jewish communities with hate, intimidation, that’s not taking a position on the Middle East conflict. That’s anti-Semitism. Finally, what have I been doing? I said mentioned. I’ve traveled. I have been on the phone with leaders of various countries, with government leaders, with Jewish community leaders, with internal Department of Interior or actually home secretaries, whatever they’re called, in the particular countries you’re representing.
We’ve been working closely with the European Commission’s coordinator for combating antisemitism, Katharina von Schnurbein, my counterparts in Germany and Italy, etc., to create a worldwide strategy or strategy for how to address this, because we don’t see this as separate nations, but we see something globally happening here. When I travel, I want to be educated by the various government officials and others, NGOs about what’s going on in that country, and also to relay the message very strongly and very clearly that the United States government sees this outbreak of antisemitism, this surge, in fact, I’ve been taken to calling it the tsunami of antisemitism as not just a threat to Jews. And that alone would be worth make it worth fighting, because if you have a vulnerable population in your midst, whomever they may be, the government, its responsibility is to protect them. But we see it as something far more than just that. And the same justice. It’s something great in and of itself. But we see it as something larger, with great implications for democratic values, democratic governments, humanity, national stability, even national security. It is something unlike I’ve been working on in this field in different capacities for many decades. I’ve never seen anything like that. On that, I’m going to stop and I’m happy to take questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much for that, Ambassador. We’ll go to some of the pre submitted questions first from Yuliana Metodieva from Marginalia in Bulgaria: can the liberal media influence rising antisemitism and anti-Israel propaganda? If so, how?
AMBASSADOR LIPSTADT: I think the media, liberal or otherwise. But the media has a responsibility to tell what’s going on, to check its sources. To be rightfully skeptical sometimes, but to call something out for what it is. I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon. First I noticed it in this country. But since then, over the past year and a half that I’ve been in office, of course, more than that, I’ve noticed it in other countries as well. Is that when decrying antisemitism, a event or an incident that is clearly and unequivocally anti-Semitic, what journalists will often do, and not just journalists, politicians as well, is they’ll decry antisemitism and all sorts of other forms of prejudice. No form of prejudice is acceptable. No form of prejudice should be tolerated. But in my country, we’ve had a number, we’ve had a series of racist incidents over the past couple of many decades, but very prominent ones over the past couple of years are ones that have gotten a lot of media attention.
And it would would have been wrong at that time to decry, you know, we had the incident of the murder of George Floyd, to decry racism and homophobia, misogyny, antisemitism. It was it was racism. And that’s what it should have been called. Then you put it in a larger context. And I sometimes find that the so-called liberal media doesn’t do that. It’s only willing to put it to talk about anti-Semitism within a larger context. People who fight prejudice have taught me and shown me that when you’re fighting a form of prejudice, call it out for what it is, then maybe put it in a larger context. But if it’s homophobia, call it out as homophobia. If it’s hatred of Muslims, call it that as hatred of Muslims, of it’s hatred of Jew, call it out as Jew hatred, then you might larger context. So I think that something that media could do.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. Next question from Adam Lucente from Al-Monitor in the U.S.: What is the administration’s view on foreign students at U.S. universities who have allegedly voiced support for Hamas at pro-Palestine rallies and calls from Republicans to deport such students?
AMBASSADOR LIPSTADT: The United States firmly believes, this administration firmly believes in the free and peaceful protests, freedom of expression, even if it’s freedom of expression that runs counter to the particular policy of the government. At the same time, we recognize that that doesn’t give you permission to break laws, to break laws, laws of universities or break laws of the particular locale, whether it be local or state or federal laws. So it doesn’t matter whether it’s foreign students or students of our citizens, of the United States. If you break the law, you break the law. If you voice a view that that other people find on comfortable, even deplorable that your right to freedom of expression.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. We’ll go the lines that are open just to our journalists, feel free to raise your hand if you have any questions. We do have a couple of more submitted questions, though, from Alexander Faludy, who’s a freelancer in Hungary. Does the ambassador have any specific concerns about the forthcoming 80th anniversary of the Holocaust in Hungary, given the controversial precedent set by its predecessor in 2014?
AMBASSADOR LIPSTADT: Yeah. First of all, I think all countries, including my own country, the United States, need to face up to the bad as well as the good in their history. I’m speaking to you from Washington, D.C., from the State Department. I’m -I don’t know- half a mile from two museums, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Museum of African American History, both of which address quite specifically and quite directly failures in American history. One of the main exhibits right now at the Holocaust Museum is Americans and the Holocaust. And it shows the anti-Semitism, the bigotry that existed here in America in the thirties and the forties. The African-American History Museum is replete with examples of American failures and dark marks on America’s record. So we are believers, and I as a historian, certainly I didn’t give that up when I entered the diplomatic corps, are a believer that that you do better when you acknowledge wrongs, you are stronger when you acknowledge your wrongs. I was just in in Rome. I was just in the Vatican where they opened the archives more fully than ever before on Pius the 12th’s role during the Holocaust. And I had a chance to meet it back with Pope Francis. And I told him, I complimented him, he was the one who okayed that opening of the archives. And I complimented him on it, because I said it was clear to you that things that would not redound to the reputation of the Vatican would emerge. And he said, truth is truth. And I think, you’re always stronger when you face that. Now to speak directly to some of the issues of Holocaust commemoration.
What I as a historian and this this government finds disturbing is when the Holocaust commemoration becomes a vehicle for the rehabilitation of people who played roles in committing the crimes of the Holocaust. This can happen as countries develop their their historical narratives. We’ve seen it in Lithuania. We’ve seen it in Ukraine. We’ve seen it in a number of different countries, not just just to mention those two. And we’ve seen it in Hungary, where there’s an attempt to rehabilitate, to rewrite the history of what happened. Now often that the people who are being celebrated are being celebrated as national heroes because they fought against the Soviet tyranny both before and particularly after the war, but they also collaborated with the Nazis and that they may have been against Soviet tyranny, but they’re their crimes, as with their collaborations, are quite striking. Some countries have named sports stadiums after Nazi collaborators or downplayed the role of local collaborators. I don’t think that’s healthy. I don’t think that’s healthy for a future generations. I don’t think it’s healthy vis a vis the history and especially now with the rise of antisemitism. These people were many of them were overt and sometimes exuberant antisemites. And that is not a healthy thing.
So we are we are concerned about that. And we would urge all countries, Hungary included, to be willing to address their history. Honestly, you never go wrong when you’re addressing your history honestly and not trying to whitewash it or cover up.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. We have a couple more questions that have come in. Marta Moreira from Portuguese news agency asks: We see many people confusing those protesting against Israel’s brutal response with Hamas supporters. We see this very often from Republican politicians, for example. Isn’t this dangerous?
AMBASSADOR LIPSTADT: Look, I think what’s what’s dangerous is, of course, to speak generally, to paint with a broad brush, to put everyone in the same pot, so to speak. But what we’ve what I have found striking is that many of those who have criticized Israel’s response have often failed to criticize what provoked that response. President Biden has been very, very clear on this. We saw Isis like behavior. We saw war crimes, taking of civilians, the hostage taking of babies, nine month old babies hostage, killing of parents in front of children or vice versa. So I think here you have to really contextualize things and look at what has happened, being feeling that the Palestinian people have been gotten a very raw deal from the world situation, from other nations, from Israel, from their own leadership, from organizations within, the Hamas, etc.. If you’re using Palestinians as human shields, that’s that’s a war crime. That doesn’t justify another side committing war crimes. And no one would justify that. And my country has not justified that. But I think what we’ve often seen is a failure, again, to look at these things in the full context of what’s going on.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. We have one more question again from Bulgaria, this time from Momchil Indjov of from Club Z Media. Momchil asks: how can you explain the rise of antisemitism in countries where it is not a common phenomenon, including in Bulgaria, which was the only which was the only ally of Nazi Germany during World War two to save its Jewish population from deportation?
AMBASSADOR LIPSTADT: And not to get into the history of Bulgaria. But it’s not uncommon to see antisemitism in countries where there is where there are few, few, if any Jews. Putting on my historians hat for a moment, antisemitism is often, and rightfully so, called the longest or the oldest hatred. It’s the longest continuous, long tradition of hatred that we’ve ever, ever seen in in world history and in many religions, ideologies, cultural streams, it is baked in to their ideology, us presenting themselves: we are not like Jews. Turning Jews into the the enemy against which they have come to respond, often in countries where there were no Jews. So it’s not a new phenomenon. It’s a very sad phenomenon. But because antisemitism exists independent of Jews, you will often see it in countries where there are no Jews, but that those countries also know and those who those who are spreading antisemitism within those countries, that sometimes it’s not the country, but people in the government, but sometimes it’s the people within it, know that it resonates. Let me give you a somewhat maybe absurd example. If I had a financial, my business went financially collapsed. And I said to people, it’s the result of all those blond haired, blue eyed people who refused to do business with me. People would think I’m a little bit crazy. Or if I said it’s the result of the left handed people who refuse… They’d say, You’re nuts. But if I say, oh, a couple of Jews got after me, it resonates with people, even with people who don’t consider themselves antisemitic. Because you’re talking about this hatred, which is so old and so deeply baked into society in this country, you could see a similar phenomenon if someone said, I was walking home from work from the Metro and a group of teenagers jumped me and mugged me and took my wallet, etc. Many people’s default way of thinking would assume that that group of teenagers was a black, was a group of black teenagers because the racism is so deeply baked into so many aspects of this country. So, you know, irrespective of who it was, etc.. So the default, when you’re talking about certain aspects of antisemitism, you don’t need Jews. The legacy of antisemitism, the history of antisemitism, the way it is a fundamental part of so many religions, cultures, etc. doesn’t doesn’t depend on the presence of Jews.
MODERATOR: Thank you. One last question, in kind of a general question from Marco Giannangeli from Sunday Express in the U.K.. I think I think Marco’s asking, are there any details that you can provide when it comes to antisemitism or countering antisemitism in the U.K.?
AMBASSADOR LIPSTADT: Not specifically in the U.K. What we have seen is for years now, it’s not new. In the U.K. we’ve seen active antisemitism on the campuses. Some of which now is spread to other countries. And we’ve seen we’ve seen, you know, the U.K. has been a very, very potent source of antisemitism over many, many decades. And I think the maybe to mention here that when I talk, one of the things I want to stress and I didn’t really get a chance to mention in my opening remarks and maybe to close with this is the ubiquity of antisemitism, free flowing nature of antisemitism, coming from right, far right, coming from far left, coming from every place on the political spectrum. Coming from Muslims, coming from Christians, atheists, even coming from Jews. Unlike most other prejudices, which tend to come from one place in the political spectrum, certainly ethnic, religious prejudices, antisemitism cuts across all all boundaries. In fact, someone described it recently as the magnetic horseshoe. And the two ends of the horseshoe, which sort of attract one another and can be brought together, are often antisemitism and we see that quite clearly. So I don’t want anybody to interpret my remarks as focusing on one one political spectrum, another political spectrum, one ethnic group, another ethnic group, one ideology or cultural stream or another. It it is ubiquitous. And right now we’re seeing it in, again, not just as a threat to Jews, but as an expression of extremism, of radical extremism that I think governments would be very well to to pay careful attention to, not just if there are Jews in their midst, but also as a threat to democracy, to stability, to national security.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador. That seems like a good way to close our conversation as we’re almost out of time. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR LIPSTADT: Let me let me add one thing that I don’t, you know, thinking back on the last question on the U.K., I don’t want to say that the U.K. has been the source of antisemitism. It’s far from being alone. But when we talk about the campus, I think some of the campuses in the U.K. were among the earliest sites, locations for some of the recent expressions of antisemitism. Sadly, maybe to close on this note, sadly, I think there is no country,certainly in Europe, North America, even in South America. But there are very few countries on the European continent, certainly, which can say they are free of antisemitism. It has been expressed, at the same time, And again, to emphasize this, because this is what I’ve been doing in my travels -I know you want to close, I’ll rush- is that what I’ve been impressed by, if one can be impressed by anything related to this phenomenon, is the seriousness with which governments the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, so many… And those are just the places I’ve visited. But I’ve talked to diplomats and to government officials in other countries. It is being taken serious and I think these countries are taking it seriously because they get the message. They understand this is not just the threat to Jews. We’re not just taking care, we’re not just taking this seriously because it’s a threat to a small population, Belgium, etc., but because this is a threat to stability, this is a threat to our national security. So I just wanted to clarify that.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much, Ambassador. Thanks for those final thoughts. We appreciate it. And thank you very much for taking the time today to talk.
AMBASSADOR LIPSTADT: Would say my pleasure. It’s hardly a pleasure to talk about this. I have the dubious distinction of working in the growth industry. I would like it to be more boring. I’m willing to look for a downturn in my industry.
MODERATOR:Thank you, ma’am.
AMBASSADOR LIPSTADT: Thank you.
# # #