(September 13, 2018 / JNS) The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill by a vote of 393-2 that would elevate the State Department official who deals with the issue of anti-Semitism from envoy to ambassador.
Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) were the only “nay” votes, while 33 representatives did not vote.
The Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Act, sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and co-sponsored by 86 other lawmakers, upgrades the status of the special envoy to combat anti-Semitism—a position the State Department has left vacant for 20 months—to an ambassadorship requiring Senate confirmation.
Were the bill to become law, the president would be required to fill the position within 90 days. The special envoy position is currently vacant and has been so since the start of the Trump administration.
“There is, first, a persistent anti-Semitism that has historically manifested itself throughout European history, from pogroms in Russia, through the Dreyfus affair to Nazism in the 1930s and up until its modern-day iterations,” Rep. Smith said in his address to the House floor. “This has been joined, however, by two other streams of hate—one emanating from the world of militant Islam, and one which is sometimes fomented by countries such as Iran. Strains of this ‘new anti-Semitism’ can be heard in the demands of the BDS movement, which always singles out Israel, and never other countries whose record on human rights is far, far worse.
“By passing H.R. 1911 today, Congress is speaking with a loud clear bipartisan voice on the importance of this position and the message it sends to the world,” said Smith.
The legislation was broadly welcomed and praised by major American Jewish groups.
“We welcome the House of Representatives’ overwhelming vote today to approve the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Act of 2018,” ADL CEO and national director Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement. “Advancing this bill has been a top priority for ADL, as has urging the administration to select a qualified individual to fill the State Department post of U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism without delay.”
“We welcome the passage of this important act, especially at this time of increasing antisemitism at home and abroad,” Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, told JNS. “Congressman Smith and his colleagues are to be congratulated for their tireless efforts to secure passage and strengthen the role and status of the special envoy’s office and mandate. It could not be more timely.”
“Mobilizing governments and civil society and assuring there are adequate tools to combat European anti-Semitism are priority objectives, for which the U.S. special envoy is an essential partner. At a time when anti-Semitism shows no sign of abating, it is fitting and logical that this position be given prominence at the State Department,” said Jason Isaacson, AJC associate executive director for policy.
However, while the Zionist Organization of America supports the Act’s new provisions upgrading the status of the special envoy position, the group expressed reservations concerning the broad mandate of the position.
“The envoy’s qualifications should focus solely on persons involved in combatting antisemitism,” the ZOA said in a statement. “The Act should delete the alternative qualification of an amorphous general background in “religious freedom” – because Islamist, far-left and far-right attacks on Jews often occur under the guise of ‘religious freedom.’”
Nevertheless, Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center told JNS that it is important that the position have access to the full weight of the U.S. government’s resources.
“With the surging mainstream anti-Semitism across Europe and from Islamist Jew-haters, online and in Mosques, it is critical that the appointee have ambassadorial status, proper budget and direct access to U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo,” he said. “We need the U.S. to continue to throw its full weight against the resurgence of history’s oldest hate.”
“We are deeply disappointed that the process to appoint a top-tier person has taken this long,” added Cooper. “I am aware of a number of excellent candidates who were being considered for the job. It is simply past due to make that appointment. Hopefully, today’s vote will unclog the process.”
A similar bill was introduced last year in the Senate and is pending before the Committee on Foreign Relations.