WASHINGTON (JTA) — Two Republicans joined the Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in approving Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt to be the State Department’s next antisemitism monitor on Tuesday, paving the way for her likely confirmation by the full Senate.
Marco Rubio of Florida and Mitt Romney of Utah joined the Democratic majority in a vote, a committee spokesman confirmed to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. The vote was 13-9 overall.
Lipstadt’s nomination has been held up by Republicans for months in part because she described a view advanced by Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin as “white supremacy” in a tweet last year.
Johnson, who has tried hard to convince his Republican colleagues to vote against Lipstadt, said she was guilty of “malicious poison” for her March 2021 tweet, a Jewish Insider reporter inside the hearing room reported. Johnson had successfully pressured the ranking Republican on the committee, James Risch of Idaho, to use his prerogative to delay the vote for months.
Risch relented in February, allowing her hearing to take place, and Johnson unloaded on Lipstadt at the hearing. Lipstadt did not apologize but said she could have been clearer in her tweet that she was not calling Johnson a white supremacist, instead aiming to describe a statement he made as white supremacy. Johnson continued to attempt to rally Republicans so that Lipstadt would advance only on a narrow Democratic vote.
Johnson had told a talk show host in March 2021 that the Jan. 6 rioters, who sought to stop Congress from affirming Joe Biden’s presidential election, did not pose a threat and “loved their country”; he would have been concerned, he said, if Black Lives Matters protesters had been in the Capitol.
“This is white supremacy/nationalism,” Lipstadt tweeted then, attaching an account of Johnson’s remarks. “Pure and simple.”
Nonpartisan Jewish organizations, noting the recent spike in antisemitism, have pressed for Lipstadt’s confirmation. Some of the groups pressing for her confirmation, like the Orthodox Union and Christians United for Israel, have close ties with Republican lawmakers.
“Lipstadt’s nomination comes at a critical time as antisemitic attacks are on the rise in the U.S. and abroad,” the Jewish Federations of North America, which had rallied close to a hundred groups to support her nomination, said in a statement. “Only with the proper resources and tools can we fight antisemitism, and this is an important step in these efforts. We urge the Senate to approve this nomination without delay.”
Lipstadt is perhaps best known for defeating Holocaust denier David Irving after he sued her in a British court for defamation for calling him a Holocaust denier. Her 2005 book, “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier,” was made into a 2016 movie with Rachel Weisz starring as Lipstadt.
Lipstadt, 74, has been for years a go-to expert for the media and for legislators on Holocaust issues, particularly on how the genocide’s meaning should be understood in the 21st century, and whether it had any cognates among anti-democratic forces in the current day. She twice endorsed Barack Obama for president but has been on call for her expertise across the political spectrum. PJC