newsAntisemitism

Lipstadt: No bias in State Department responses to Abbas, Israeli ministers

The U.S. antisemitism envoy told JNS about her recent conversations with the CIA on Jew-hatred abroad.

Deborah Lipstadt, U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, at the AJC GLobal Forum in Tel Aviv on June 12, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Deborah Lipstadt, U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, at the AJC GLobal Forum in Tel Aviv on June 12, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.

Nearly every notable U.S. State Department official is on pilgrimage to New York this week for the U.N. General Assembly’s annual general debate.

Barbara Leaf, the Biden administration’s top diplomat for the Middle East, and Dan Shapiro, senior adviser for regional integration and former U.S. ambassador to Israel, have been spotted in the Big Apple, as has Amos Hochstein, the Israeli-American U.S. energy envoy, who brokered an Israeli-Lebanese maritime border agreement.

Deborah Lipstadt, U.S. special envoy for monitoring and combating antisemitism, was also in town, and JNS caught up with her Tuesday night at an event sponsored by the American Jewish Committee.

The diplomat and historian told JNS that the U.S. State Department has been working with the United Nations on the latter’s much-anticipated plan for combating antisemitism. The American Jewish community panned a first draft of that plan for its lack of substantive action, leading to the postponement of a U.N.-led meeting on the topic.

Lipstadt told JNS that the State Department has been consulting with the United Nations on the draft plan—the first time she has acknowledged the department’s involvement in this U.N. work.

“They’ve asked our opinions on things. They’ve asked us to look at certain language,” she said. “I don’t know what the final draft will be, but it’s been a very constructive process.

“The people in charge at the U.N. are very anxious to put together something that I think will pass muster,” Lipstadt said. “Just because we haven’t been public about it, doesn’t mean we aren’t involved.”

Netanyahu and Musk

In California earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, toured a Tesla plant and Netanyahu met with Elon Musk, who leads Tesla and SpaceX, and who owns the social-media platform X (formerly Twitter). Netanyahu and Musk held a live conversation on X and then participated in a panel discussion, largely about artificial intelligence.

Netanyahu mentioned antisemitic comments on social media during his discussion with Musk, who has often been criticized for not doing enough to curb online antisemitism. The Israeli prime minister noted the importance of free speech but asked Musk to do more, particularly when it comes to “armies of bots” that amplify hatred on the platform.

Lipstadt told JNS that she’s not sure that Netanyahu’s message took hold.

“You’d have to ask Elon Musk that, but I think that there’s a real obligation on the part of the social-media platforms to at the very least live up to the standards they’ve set themselves,” she said. “Most of them have said they do not condone hate speech. They don’t want hatred, including antisemitism. I would hope that they would live up to those obligations.”

Abbas, double standards

Lipstadt was among the global antisemitism envoys who denounced Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s latest anti-Jewish and Holocaust-denying screeds.

Deborah Lipstadt
U.S. antisemitism envoy Deborah Lipstadt at the 2023 TIME 100 Gala at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York Coty on April 26, 2023. Credit: Lev Radin/Shutterstock.

JNS noted differences between the Biden administration’s high-level, public condemnations of statements from Israeli officials that it deems hostile to Arabs, which often come from the secretarial or even presidential level, and its lack of similar response to hatred from Abbas, of which Lipstadt’s was the lone condemnation.

Lipstadt denied that the State Department operates with a double standard.

She told JNS that she reports directly to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “That’s the chain, and my statement came with the backing of the Near East office and the office of Palestinian affairs,” she said. “It wasn’t just me speaking. We had gone through a clearance process, and it took us a couple of hours to get it.”

Lipstadt claimed that she wasn’t just speaking for herself. “They all agreed with us, and the White House supported our making that statement,” she said. “It wasn’t just me out there by myself at all.”

Still, the State Department has placed boycotts on certain Israeli ministers for their rhetoric, while it continues to present Abbas as a moderate partner for peace.

“I’m not sure he’s seen as a moderate,” Lipstadt said. “I think his statements were decidedly antisemitic. There’s no question about it. He was even criticized strongly by close to 150 or 200 Palestinian academics, many of them based here but who still feel very strongly in terms of the Middle East and Palestinian issues.”

Briefing the CIA on antisemitism

Her efforts to fulfill her mission of combating antisemitism beyond U.S. borders has brought Lipstadt into recent dialogue with CIA employees, she told JNS.

The intelligence agency has invited the antisemitism envoy to speak with its staff to better inform them about antisemitism and what form anti-Jewish hatred takes in various other countries.

She told the CIA staff members that “if you see antisemitism brewing in some place, know that unrest is not far behind,” Lipstadt told JNS. “It’s not just a danger to Jews, but it’s a danger to world stability, and certainly, to democracy.

“It was very powerful to hear how seriously they took it and how seriously they were concerned about it,” she added. “And how much they wanted to understand what it is.”

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