Thank you to the Jewish Federations of North America for providing me this opportunity to speak with you and discuss the Biden-Harris Administration’s unwavering commitment to combating global antisemitism.

I serve as the Deputy Special Envoy in the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism at the U.S. Department of State. As you know, last July, President Biden nominated well-respected academic and world-renowned expert, Professor Deborah Lipstadt, to lead the office. Because this position now carries the rank of ambassador, it requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate. In her confirmation hearing last month, Professor Lipstadt made clear that she would be an “equal opportunity foe” of antisemitism, with the singular and steadfast goal to “make a difference.” A Senate-confirmed Special Envoy shows our commitment and demonstrates the U.S. government will use all its power and talent to combat this ancient hatred that today constitutes a growing and ever-evolving threat. In the meantime, I, along with my colleagues, am working to ensure no momentum is lost in this critical fight.

First, I would like to say something about the situation in Ukraine. I know many of you have been closely following Putin’s brutal assault on the people of Ukraine. Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion now may include destruction to religious and cultural sites in Ukraine. We are appalled by reports that a Russian missile has struck near the hallowed Holocaust memorial site of Babyn Yar. As President Biden said last night in his State of the Union address, “We, the United States of America, stand with the Ukrainian people.”

I want to underscore an important point: Putin’s claim that Ukraine is a hotbed of Nazism is a blatant fabrication and yet another of the false pretexts for his war of choice. This is not the first time the Kremlin has cynically accused its neighbors of neo-Nazism and fascism as cover for its own provocations and human rights abuses. We condemn Putin’s continued exploitation of the history and suffering of the Holocaust and World War II for his coldblooded ends.

Not only is Putin’s accusation against Ukraine and its government a lie, but his disinformation detracts from serious, critically-important worldwide efforts to combat antisemitism, Holocaust distortion, and other dangerous forms of racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism. As President Biden said, “This was never about genuine security concerns on their part. It was always about … Putin’s desire for empire by any means … by bullying Russia’s neighbors through coercion and corruption, by changing borders by force and ultimately by choosing a war without a cause.”

To invoke the lie of the denazification of Ukraine, a country with a Jewish president, is baseless and cruelly deranged.

Looking beyond this immediate crisis, we have witnessed an alarming rise in antisemitism around the world for close to two decades now. You all know the insecurity felt by Jewish communities as a result of the violent attacks, desecration of cemeteries and synagogues, and all too frequent harassment of Jews both online and offline. Unfortunately, the United States has not been an exception, as was made clear once again with the violent attack this past January on Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas.

We will continue to fight for a day when attending synagogue to pray does not, in fact, require an act of courage. And we unequivocally condemn all attacks targeting Jews, Jewish places of worship, community centers, and cemeteries, as well as antisemitic rhetoric in the United States and abroad. As President Biden said, “Let me be clear to anyone who intends to spread hate — we will stand against antisemitism and against the rise of extremism in this country.”

Antisemitism is an existential threat that has always eventually led to the spilling of Jewish blood. We do not live in an ahistorical time in which antisemites will somehow choose to buck the trend, seen generation after generation, of violent Jew haters seeking a Jewish genocide.

These are the stakes, and this is what we’re fighting against.

Manifestations of antisemitism are often also the first indicators of a growing sickness in a society that, if left unchecked, can give space for other intolerances such as anti-Muslim hatred, discrimination against persons with disabilities and LGBTQI+ persons, xenophobia, and other forms of racism, misogyny, and discrimination. We must work to stand united against this threat.

The growth of antisemitism and other hatreds undermines the strength of democratic institutions and promotes societies that are less equitable, just, inclusive, and peaceful. The rise in hatred against Jews – a terrible and deadly evil unto itself – is a fundamental challenge to the promotion of democratic principles, human rights, and good governance. The lesson of history is simple: a society that tolerates or enables antisemitism is one that cannot preserve a healthy democracy that fosters respect for the human dignity and fundamental freedoms of all.

Antisemitism is the canary in the coal mine – we must heed its unmistakable cry.

In the face of this grave threat, we all must stand united to defeat it. As Americans, we have many strongly held differences of opinion. There are many lines of division – religious, generational, financial, and political – but it’s essential that we stand united in the fight against hate. We are too often divided by the color of our skin, whom we love, how we identify, and the way that we pray or don’t pray. When it comes to combating antisemitism, we can’t allow our divisions to further calcify and impede concerted action.

As the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, zecher tzaddik livracha, said, when speaking about how he saw Jewish peoplehood: “We may not agree on anything, but … I don’t need you to agree with me, I just need you to care about me.” All of us, regardless of faith, can embrace that lesson in our common ability to care for one another.

When Jews are physically assaulted walking down the street in Brooklyn just for being Jewish or there’s antisemitic violence in Paris, this is not just a problem for Jews: it is a global problem that cries out to our common humanity and the need for united action.

Understanding this reality, the Biden-Harris Administration has ensured that the U.S. government’s response to this crisis, and the response of our partners around the world, is both cooperative and comprehensive. As President Biden said last December, “We have to stand against the resurgence of this tide of antisemitism and other forms of intolerance and hate here at home and around the world.”

To that end, President Biden and Secretary Blinken have worked to bring the global community together to fight the scourge of antisemitism.

Our work at the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, in close coordination with partners in the U.S. government, multilateral institutions, and more broadly with academics, organizations, and civil society actors with similar goals, is focused on the following:

  • Condemning antisemitism in all its forms, including incidents of violence, and mobilizing the international community to do the same
  • Working with our partners to ensure physical security for their Jewish communities
  • Widening the coalition of countries and groups allocating resources for the prosecution of hate crimes
  • Urging more countries to appoint national coordinators to combat antisemitism and bring focus and resources to the cause
  • Educating the public, especially youth, including countering Holocaust denial and distortion
  • Condemning antisemitic speech, including online, while respecting freedom of expression
  • And encouraging countries around the world to embrace and apply the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism, inclusive of its examples.

As a matter of religious freedom, we are also engaged in raising awareness about the threat posed to the viability of Jewish communities by contemplated or adopted bans in some countries on non-medical circumcision and religious slaughter.

At Sweden’s Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism last October, Secretary Blinken emphasized the United States’s firm commitment to promoting Holocaust remembrance and countering rising global antisemitism.

At the Summit for Democracy, hosted virtually by President Biden last December, leaders from government, civil society, and the private sector came together to set a shared agenda for democratic renewal. We see the fight against antisemitism, and other forms of intolerance, as a critical aspect of the Year of Action leading up to a second Summit likely to be held early next year.

More recently, on January 20, the United States teamed up with Israel, Germany, and more than 100 other countries to sponsor a resolution in the United Nations General Assembly to combat Holocaust denial. The resolution, which was passed by consensus, emphasized the importance of remembering and learning from the Holocaust so that humanity does not again descend to such evil and so that we can more effectively work to prevent or respond to mass atrocities in our own day.

In the Middle East, the Biden-Harris Administration has warmly welcomed the Abraham Accords and views these normalization agreements with Israel as creating invaluable openings to help promote religious tolerance and understanding and to overcome ignorance and hatred. My office is in discussions with the Bahrainis, the Emiratis and other governments in the Arab world to help advance interfaith dialogue. We are involved in a new, trilateral working group announced by Secretary Blinken late last year, working with the Israeli and Emirati governments, as well as religious figures and civil society to promote religious co-existence.

We are moved and inspired by recent changes in the Middle East region. The State Department is actively working to help countries in the region advance these normalization initiatives and we very much hope other countries will follow the lead of the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco in extending the hand of peace to Israel.

In addition to fostering international cooperation, the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to ensuring that the international community recognizes the many manifestations of antisemitism. That is why the Biden-Harris Administration enthusiastically embraces the IHRA legally non-binding Working Definition of Antisemitism. With more than 35 countries and hundreds of other entities having endorsed and put IHRA to use, it helps identify and underscore the unique challenges experienced by Jewish communities worldwide.

However, when we speak about what antisemitism is, it is important that we also speak about what is not explicitly an expression of this hatred.

Obviously, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. And simply expressing support for Palestinians is clearly not, on its own, antisemitic. Recklessly blurring the line or falsely weaponizing the charge of antisemitism harms the overall fight and downplays the real physical and societal danger of antisemites.

At the same time, the outrageous and egregiously disproportionate time spent on Israel in the UN, and the persistent attempts to single out and delegitimize the State of Israel, are all highly problematic and damaging to the cause of peace.

Regardless of policy disagreements, discrimination against Jews just for being Jewish is antisemitism. Political disagreements are no excuse for the specific targeting of Jews.

This fight is not a new one – for, as you know, antisemitism is commonly referred to as the “world’s oldest hatred” – nor is it an easy one. Times of crisis, such as those faced by the Jewish community and the people of Ukraine, are a stark reminder of our collective capacity for courage and resilience. They should serve as a call for unity, against true antisemitism and any disinformation that threatens to distort this painful past. Meanwhile, the United States remains steadfast in its ongoing commitment to counter rising antisemitism around the world. We will not cease in our efforts to turn the tide of hate. Thank you, and I look forward to your questions and to our continued dialogue.

U.S. Department of State

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