Thank you, Senator Cardin, Representative Cohen, and the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe for convening us today. Thank you for your leadership on combating antisemitism, racism, and intolerance and so many other important human rights issues, including through your championing them in OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. The OSCE has done pioneering work on combating antisemitism, beginning with the historic 2004 Berlin Conference to the adoption of the 2014 Basel Declaration, through the tireless efforts of Rabbi Baker and his fellow Tolerance Representatives, as well as via the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights “Words Into Action” program. I also want to express my appreciation to the Bipartisan Task Forces for Combating Antisemitism in both the Senate and the House of Representatives for their support.
As a historian, I look for trends. But it doesn’t take a historian to notice the growing trend we are here to address; a trend we are all witnessing – a rise in antisemitism worldwide. We are seeing classic, age-old antisemitic tropes online and elsewhere with increasing frequency – including rhetoric from government leaders and public figures implying outsized Jewish control of national, regional, and even global matters. We also see increased physical manifestations of antisemitism across the world: marchers carrying Nazi symbols in parades, people painting swastikas on synagogues or near Jewish sites, and violent physical attacks on Jews in the streets of major cities. While we see many of the same old tropes, the spread of antisemitism is changing and manifesting in new and unpredictable ways.
In the seven months that I have been privileged to serve as the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, I have already visited ten countries to convey the message that the U.S. Government takes antisemitism seriously and urges governments in other countries to do the same. I cannot simply go to these countries and say “you have a serious problem with antisemitism…” Now I must say: “We have a serious problem.” Though my remit is overseas, domestic and foreign antisemitism are intimately linked and, therefore, we must build coalitions across nations to fight this scourge.
Over the past two months, I traveled to Belgium, the United Kingdom, France, South Africa, and Morocco. The conversations I had there further impressed upon me the strength of meaningful partnerships and coalitions. My travels abroad have also reinforced the importance of multilateral efforts at the OSCE, UN, and in other international bodies, in addressing global challenges such as combating Jew-hatred and advancing tolerance. None of us can effectively address these issues alone. The United States is committed to working with governments, civil society, faith communities, and the private sector to fight antisemitism wherever it rears its ugly head.
You know the threat of global antisemitism well. Today, rather than enumerate the many areas of concern that you and I share about the global rise in antisemitism, I would like to share some of my goals for my time in office and what it is I actually do there.
From my first day in office, I publicly declared that one of my first objectives is to help people understand what antisemitism is. This may indeed sound strange. Don’t people know what it is? How can there be confusion on this matter? But I am convinced there is a great deal of confusion, even among Jews, about the nature of antisemitism.
When is something just a clumsy decision – even one with which we might disagree – and when is it antisemitism?
When is something ignorance and when is it motivated by antisemitism?
If it’s antisemitic, does it make a difference what drives it?
What is antisemitism? From a structural perspective antisemitism is, first and foremost, a prejudice like all other prejudices. It operates in the same fashion. There is a specific stereotype about the group in question. If one Jew does something wrong, the antisemite will declare: “Ah, that’s how Jews are.” Conversely, if she does something good, they will reluctantly concede: “Oh she’s one of the good ones.” This is the modus operandi adopted by racists, sexists, Islamophobes, and so many other prejudiced people.
Yet, antisemitism also is different from other prejudices. It has its own unique characteristics. First and foremost, it is a conspiracy theory. It conceives of Jews as engaged in a giant and powerful conspiracy to harm all other groups, particularly those supposedly less powerful than they. Since, according to the antisemitic stereotype of the Jew, the Jew is all powerful, this includes just about anyone.
Antisemitism is ubiquitous. Free flowing. Coming from all directions. From Christians, Muslims, atheists, and even . . . Jews. It emanates from every place on the political spectrum.
Antisemites punch up as well as down. Virtually all other prejudices see the hated person or group as “lesser than” the majority (e.g., if they move into our neighborhood, there goes the neighborhood; if their kids go to our kids’ school, there goes the school; the club was really good until they let women in). So too, the antisemite sees the Jew as lesser than – the Jew is dirty, the Jew spreads disease (Covid-19), the Jew is disgusting.
However, the antisemites also see the Jews as more powerful, richer, better connected than they. So, antisemites punch up as well as down. What, then, are the implications of this? Why is this significant? When you are hostile to someone who is lesser than you, you loathe them. But when you perceive the person you hate as more powerful than you, you both loathe and fear them. And someone you fear, someone whom you perceive as having the power to harm you, must be stopped.
Among the reasons I am so intent on helping people understand the nature of antisemitism and helping them understand why it is a prejudice like others, but with unique characteristics, is that too often, when there are fights against an entire array of hatreds, antisemitism doesn’t “make the cut.”
I have, over the years, heard from bewildered Jewish university students, colleagues on various campuses, employees at some of our most prestigious organizations and companies that when their entity – a government institution, a university, a corporation – addresses group hatred, it includes a panoply of hatreds – racism, sexism, anti-Muslim hatred, and so forth – but antisemitism is missing. We see this in both domestic and foreign arenas.
Why, they ask, is antisemitism missing?
Do we Jews not count?
Is animus against Jews not important?
And is the fact that it is omitted itself an act of antisemitism?
Sometimes the omission may be an innocent oversight. There is a failure on the part of many people, among them well-meaning people, to recognize that antisemitism is, as I noted, a prejudice akin to all these other prejudices. Part of the reason for this is that in the eyes of many people, it is hard to conceive of Jews as victims. Jews are resilient – maybe it’s because Jews have experienced so many terrible travails and that surviving and recovering is built into the Jewish communal “DNA” – so Jews don’t seem to present as victims in need of support and protection.
That’s the innocent explanation. There is also, I must admit, a less innocuous explanation. Sometimes that omission is a result of antisemitism itself – both conscious and unconscious. Some of those who vigorously fight the fight against other prejudices have determined that Jews are incapable of being victims because they are – supposedly – wealthy and powerful. Moreover, such fighters of other prejudices believe that they, as committed liberals who detest prejudice with all their being, are themselves incapable of being prejudiced. (I call this the Miss Piggy syndrome. “Moi? Showing prejudice? Impossible.” And no, I don’t want to see a headline coming out of here saying that I just called Miss Piggy an antisemite. She may not be kosher, but she is not antisemitic!) Not only are Jews deemed collectively incapable of being victims, but Jews are also seen collectively as perpetrators. When Jews are victimized, these people will say, you are claiming victimhood to camouflage your own misdeeds or those of Israel.
This brings me to my second objective: Help people – Jews and non-Jews – understand the interconnectedness of antisemitism with other forms of hate. Antisemitism cannot be fought in a silo. I came into office committed to addressing this issue and have found like-minded colleagues in the State Department, whose portfolios are concerned, for example, with issues of racism and religious freedom, to partner with as we craft approaches to combat hate from an interconnectedness perspective. We have seen the positive effects of such broad-based coalitions. Let me cite the example of Pittsburgh, after the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting, where the whole city – all ethnic and religious groups – responded because, as one member of another minority community noted of the local Jewish community, “you were there for us when we needed you.”
Some people – particularly those who are the objects of prejudice – think that there is only a “limited bandwidth” among the public for concern about prejudice. Hence, if one is speaking about antisemitism it takes the attention away from, say, racism or vice versa. It is as if the two are in competition, one with another. I disagree. Trying to fight one without the other is a Sisyphean task, asking to rolling a stone up the hill.
This is particularly so when we are fighting antisemitism that emanates from extremist groups, such as those we saw in action in Charlottesville in 2017. White supremacists marched through the town and university campus, holding torches and chanting, “Jews will not replace us,” and other Nazi slogans while displaying Nazi and racist signs and symbols. It was a stunning example of how antisemitism and racism, hatred of Black Americans and hatred of Jews, are inexorably intertwined. The accusations by the Unite the Right extremists that Jews are behind an attempt to destroy white America have been adopted and adapted by racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists in America, Europe, and elsewhere.
If we get people to recognize and understand how antisemitism is connected to other hatreds, my third objective might be fulfilled, which is to get people to take antisemitism seriously and not see it as a niche issue. As a historian, I can say with a great degree of confidence that Jews are the canary in the coal mine. Because antisemitism is both ubiquitous and it is the “oldest hatred,” it is one an authoritarian regime will begin with … but not end with. As I often counsel my colleagues: It may begin with the Jews. It never ends with them.
Let me add a cautionary note here. It is crucial for us to understand when to call something antisemitism and when not to. Something can be unfair. It can be something with which we strongly disagree. But it might not be antisemitism. We must avoid what might become Chicken Little syndrome, calling something antisemitism when it is not. If we do that, we run the risk of not being heard when we call out something that truly is antisemitism.
Now let me turn to an objective I have that is positive and affirming. It may seem strange to speak of something positive in relation to an office that monitors and combats antisemitism. But I am intent on affirming and strengthening the Abraham Accords, as well as other positive developments in the Arab world, and I do so with the enthusiastic support of the Biden-Harris Administration. President Biden has spoken publicly and, to me personally, about his deep-seated abhorrence of antisemitism. Secretary Blinken, to whom I report, has also expressed how much he supports my efforts in that regard.
While the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is outside my official remit, I focus on the Abraham Accords and other opportunities in the Middle East and North Africa because the normalization of the relationships embedded in these accords has a direct impact on Muslim/Jewish relations and that, in turn, has a direct impact on antisemitism.
My first trip was to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is not a signatory to the Abraham Accords, but has recently voiced strong interest in making progress on the issue of antisemitism. We met with high-ranking Saudi government officials, ministers, and deputy ministers. I also met with journalists, young people, and those involved in NGOs. However, these individuals may feel about the perennial geo-political crises in the Middle East, many among them recognized that the Israeli-Palestinian issue must be separated from animus and hatred towards Jews. While the Biden-Harris Administration continues to engage in frank human rights discussions with Saudi Arabia, I am pleased that we have found positive progress in partnering to address decades of Jew-hatred and we will continue partnering against antisemitism going forward.
I have also been to the UAE and my deputy has been twice. Last month, I spent several days in the Kingdom of Morocco, where I had meetings with ministers, a top advisor to the King, and perhaps most rewarding, two opportunities to exchange views with students at universities in Rabat and Casablanca. Morocco, unfortunately, does not attract the attention our Gulf partners receive, but I can tell you there are many positive things afoot with respect to the country’s Jewish community and its willingness to host many, many Jewish tourists. I hope to visit other countries in the region, including Egypt, Bahrain, and Turkey. I know that some of these countries also have distinct shortcomings in the realm of human rights. We cannot and do not ignore those shortcomings, but it is my mantra that I will go anywhere and talk to anyone if they are truly committed to fighting antisemitism, particularly in their own midst.
I do so for a variety of reasons:
First of all, my engagement may well lessen attacks on Jews. But my objective does not stop there.
If we can change attitudes towards Jews in some of these Gulf countries and get them to stop “othering” Jews, at some point they might stop othering other groups as well.
Finally, given that some of these countries were once the most active purveyors of Islamist antisemitism that reached the European and American continents, if we can help curtail that (and this activity is already dropping significantly), it may well lead to fewer attacks on Jews in Europe and the Americas and, in turn, less animus towards Muslims.
My work combating antisemitism is global in scope and, as I shared during my Senate confirmation hearing, I am intent on being an equal opportunity fighter against all forms of antisemitism, irrespective of where it originates. I would not pick and choose among those I would condemn and those to whom I would give a pass. And so that has been the case.
What I did not realize when I first took up this job was that I would also have the opportunity to be an equal opportunity defender of Jews – of all types, varieties, observances, political inclinations – who are attacked as Jews.
For example, I was in office but a few days when Lufthansa prevented all 128 Haredi passengers from continuing to their connecting flight because some Haredi individuals did not follow Lufthansa’s regulations about wearing masks and congregating in the aisles of the plane. The 128 Haredi passengers were not traveling as a group, nothing really bound them together except that they all dressed somewhat alike. I immediately met with the CEO of Lufthansa, who came to Washington to make it clear that his company took this incident very seriously and acknowledged it should have never happened. I had frank and open discussions with his team, and even if this was not a conscious act of antisemitism, it had the markings of unconscious antisemitism.
In September, Lufthansa adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, including all its examples. Lufthansa will appoint a high-ranking executive to ensure that all employees are trained to recognize when their colleagues are engaging in antisemitism, whether consciously or unconsciously so.
As I mentioned, I am an equal opportunity fighter against all forms of antisemitism. In July, I was in Israel when seven families who observed Conservative and Reform practices were celebrating their children’s Bnai Mitzvah at the southern end of the Western Wall/ Kotel. The families were attacked by a group of Haredi hooligans. Many could not complete their ceremonies. These Haredi thugs harassed those present and deliberately desecrated their prayer books. The police – who are present at the Kotel in force – were nowhere to be found.
I immediately met with the leader of the denomination of Conservative Judaism in Israel and expressed my outrage. After consulting with our ambassador in Israel, Tom Nides, I issued a statement noting that “had this happened in any other country we would have no compunctions about calling it out as antisemitism.”
Prime Minister Lapid, asking about this event and my comments, expressed his full support for the government-authorized site to be used for egalitarian prayer. My deputy was in Israel in October and visited with the Rabbi in charge of the Kotel, who agreed that all people – irrespective of their particular approach to the peaceful practice of their faith – must be able to worship in security.
With regard to the right to freely practice one’s faith, in October, I was present in Brussels for a high-level Ministerial meeting regarding the efforts of some European countries to pass laws banning religious slaughter with no exemption for religious minorities. While we are not treating this as an issue of antisemitism – the motivation for these laws is more often related to promoting animal welfare – any time conditions are created that make it difficult if not impossible for Jews to live in a community, particularly in Europe with its history of devastation of Jews, could ultimately be perceived as an act of antisemitism. It certainly is an issue of religious freedom, something enshrined in many European countries’ constitutions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and international law.
Let me turn to my final objective, which I think is critical to building wide-ranging support overseas for calling out and combating antisemitism. We have worked and continue to work to ensure that the condemnation of antisemitism, as well as that of Holocaust distortion and denial – another form of antisemitism – is incorporated into the broader fabric of American foreign policy, working closely with the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues. We also continue to work closely with the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom and his office, as ensuring freedom of religion or belief inherently includes protecting the rights of Jewish communities and combating antisemitism. This cooperative effort has been made possible, in great measure, by the support I have received from colleagues throughout the State Department, our missions overseas, and by the top leadership of the Department and the Biden-Harris Administration.
We responded swiftly to a broad array of situations, including:
*Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas’s comments distorting the Holocaust – in Berlin no less – by dismissively responding to a reporter’s questions about the Munich Olympic massacre with a comment about 50 Holocausts.
*Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban using language about immigrants that evoked Nazi era racial policies.
*Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khameni claiming that the “recent riots and unrest in Iran were schemes designed by the US, the usurping, fake Zionist regime and their mercenaries”
*Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi suggesting to CBS’s 60 Minutes that we have not researched the Holocaust enough to definitively know that it happened.
But what does it mean to “respond”? What does it mean to call something out? I might have called out these events with equal vigor before I came into government. Now I do so in the name of the United States government. Granted, I am now part of a large complex interdependent bureaucracy. I do not say that derogatorily or critically. American foreign policy is a multi-faceted, complicated, and intricate entity. It is critical that America – or, for that matter, any country – speak with one voice. Other countries or entities must know where another country stands and what it stands for. Singular diplomats, no matter how highly placed in the State Department, cannot – and should not – be making policy for themselves.
But the collaborative process is not simply to avoid confusing the public and other countries or to avoid sending out mixed signals as to what the United States’ policies are. The collaborative process means that the Department has woven the concerns of my office into wider efforts and that I, in turn, incorporate Department policies into my efforts to combat antisemitism. And that gives what I say and do added strength and reach. It’s not just me. It’s not just my office. It’s the policy of the United States Government.
I am blessed to have colleagues throughout the State Department who have reached out to my office for guidance. They have been eager to work with me and I with them. I have been doubly blessed by having a President, Vice President, Secretary of State, and a Second Gentleman who enthusiastically support what I am doing, who believe in my mission, who recognize that the time to act is now, and who recognize that the fight against antisemitism must be a bedrock of American foreign policy, irrespective of where antisemitism comes from and who expresses it.
I am so very grateful to have this opportunity to make the world safer, not just for Jews, but for democracy and democratic values. I am humbled to do this in the name of our President and the United States government. And I am even more grateful to have you by my side in this important fight. Thank you.