(July 30, 2021 / JNS) After months of pressure from Jewish communal organizations to appoint someone to the position, the Biden administration on Friday nominated Deborah Lipstadt to serve as the U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.
Lipstadt, 74, is the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University and the author of numerous books on the subject. Her 2019 book Anti-Semitism Here and Now is considered a primer on anti-Semitism, according to the American Jewish Committee, and won the National Jewish Book Award that year.
“The Biden administration has chosen wisely in appointing Deborah Lipstadt to fill this ambassadorial post, so vital to U.S. leadership in fighting anti-Semitism,” AJC CEO David Harris said in a news release. “Professor Lipstadt is one of this country’s—indeed the world’s—foremost experts on modern anti-Semitism, its constant morphing and multiple sources, and the current challenges to confronting it.”
The position was created by Congress in 2004. Most recently, it was filled by Elan Carr during the Trump administration. It was upgraded to the rank of ambassador in the final months of the administration and will require Senate confirmation.
The goal is for the work to raise consciousness both in the United States and internationally about the menace of anti-Semitism, as well as urge governments and institutions to take action to protect vulnerable Jewish communities.
Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) said in a news release, “I first met Deborah Lipstadt in 1990 when she was the resident scholar on a trip to Poland and Israel. For decades, she has served as both academic and activist, inspiring policymakers to confront the harsh realities of anti-Semitism in our world and fight for justice. I can’t imagine a better, more qualified person to lead the United States’ efforts to combat anti-Semitism. Amid recent rising anti-Semitism around the globe, Deborah Lipstadt will lead with a vigorous moral clarity.”
Lipstadt was the target of a libel suit from British Holocaust denier David Irving over how he was described in her 1993 book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.
The lawsuit lasted for five years until the London courts ruled in favor of Lipstadt in April 2000. Her ordeal made her the protagonist of the 2016 film “Denial,” where she was played by British actress Rachel Weisz.
Lipstadt’s nomination was hailed by numerous Jewish organizations, which over the past months had been lobbying the White House to appoint a candidate as violent acts of anti-Semitism have seen exponential growth in the United States and the world, especially in the aftermath of Israel’s conflict with Hamas in May.
This week, a swastika was discovered etched in a wood panel of an elevator inside the State Department, not far from where Lipstadt’s office will be.
Jewish Democratic Council of America CEO Halie Soifer welcomed the news on Friday.
“With anti-Semitism on the rise in the United States and around the world, Dr. Lipstadt is absolutely the right person at the right time for this critical role,” Soifer said in a news release. “Dr. Lipstadt is one of the leading global authorities on anti-Semitism given her meticulous scholarship, deep personal commitment to the truth and profound understanding of the dangers of extremism.”
“We extend our sincere congratulations to Deborah Lipstadt upon her expected nomination to this critical State Department post that comes at a time we are witnessing a terrible surge in attacks and threats committed against the global Jewish community,” Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy at the Orthodox Union, said in a release. “These range from assaults on individuals to legal assaults on fundamental Jewish rites including kashrut and brit milah. While it’s unfortunate we need to have such a position at the State Department, Professor Lipstadt is certainly the best person to fill this job.”
B’nai B’rith President Charles Kaufman and CEO Daniel Mariaschin also applauded the nomination in a joint news release, where they called her eminently qualified for the post.
“She has devoted her professional life to studying, teaching and writing about the world’s oldest hatred and to countering it on a global scale,” they wrote. “B’nai B’rith looks forward to working with Lipstadt as anti-Semitism has spiked exponentially in the United States and around the world, manifesting itself in many forms and variants, oftentimes fueled by social media.
“It is vitally important that the U.S. government, through the person of the special envoy, continue to assume a leadership position in the battle against this alarmingly growing challenge. Lipstadt’s appointment is a most reassuring indication that this will indeed be effectuated.”
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