We applaud President Joe Biden’s announcement last week naming Deborah Lipstadt as the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism. The selection of Lipstadt is widely recognized as a good one — even if many are concerned that it took the administration far too long to make the appointment for this increasingly important and sensitive position.
Lipstadt’s qualifications are impressive. She is a renowned Holocaust scholar, and a professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University. For decades, she has been a go-to expert on issues relating to the Holocaust and has established herself more broadly as a credible and thoughtful voice on antisemitism.
Until now, Lipstadt may be most famous for being portrayed by actress Rachel Weisz in the 2016 movie entitled “Denial,” a film that recounted the story of Lipstadt’s 1996 defense in an English court against a libel charge for calling Holocaust denier David Irving a Holocaust denier. Lipstadt won that case and went on to write “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier.” More recently, she wrote the influential book “Antisemitism: Here and Now,” which was published in January 2019.
As a position within the State Department, the special envoy’s responsibility is to address antisemitism abroad, not within the U.S. Nonetheless, the special envoy has no domestic equivalent and so is the leading voice within the U.S. government on the issue of antisemitism.
Lipstadt’s reputation and expertise make her a solid choice for the special envoy position. She has the gravitas and the experience to elevate the office and is a trusted and thoughtful voice. She has the courage necessary to call out antisemitism, and will doubtless bring those strengths to her work of tracking and reporting on antisemitism abroad and lobbying governments to address the issue.
Nonetheless, we remain troubled by the administration’s delay in making the special envoy appointment. The continuing rise in antisemitism, in the U.S. and abroad, needs to be addressed with the full support and prestige of our government. The delay in the special envoy appointment raises questions about the intensity of the administration’s concerns about antisemitism, and with that, sensitivity to the concerns of our community.
Going forward, the administration has a clarifying opportunity. The important position of White House Jewish liaison remains unfilled. The Jewish liaison acts as a point person between the Jewish community and the White House — serving as the administration’s voice to our community and the person charged with gathering consensus on issues that affect
The Biden administration has promised to name a liaison but has not yet done so. We urge the prompt selection of someone with similar experience, knowledge and reach that Lipstadt brings to her position, rather than a more junior, entry-level staff person, as has been rumored. The selection of an experienced and respected liaison will elevate the dialogue between the White House and our community, and will send a clear message that the Biden administration takes the Jewish community seriously. pjc