Rights group’s failure to condemn Oct. 7 ‘shocks’ State Dept.

The chaotic scenes of terror support on college campuses have left foreign officials wondering if the U.S. is “on the verge of becoming a failed state," says antisemitism envoy Deborah Lipstadt.

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.

The U.S. State Department’s point woman on antisemitism said on Friday that the “turmoil” on American college campuses has caused foreign officials to wonder if the United States is “on the verge of becoming a failed state.”

Deborah Lipstadt, the department’s special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, told the Jewish community in a virtual briefing that since Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre in Israel and amid the resulting pro-Hamas protests in the United States, she has been asked on her travels abroad, “Is your country OK? What can we do for you?” The situation in America has “sent a shudder through many countries,” she added. 

She took university presidents to task for their general failure to protect Jewish students and call out antisemitic rhetoric and incitement to violence on their campuses. Leadership, she said, was not saying, “Well, it depends on context, and what happened.”

The words were a thinly veiled dig at the performances of the presidents of Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute for Technology and the University of Pennsylvania at a congressional hearing in December, during which they attempted to dance around questions of whether calls for the genocide of Jews were in violation of their universities’ codes of conduct.

Lipstadt also took those to task who, when speaking out against antisemitism, lump it in with other forms of hate that aren’t nearly as prevalent, and often have little to nothing to do with the topic at hand.

“We’re all against hate in general, but call it out for what it is,” said Lipstadt. “If it’s homophobia, you call it out. If it’s racism, you call it out. Misogyny, you call it out. If it’s antisemitism, you call it out for what it is, and you don’t also say, ‘Well, yes, but.’”

She said she was “shocked” by early complaints regarding Israel’s response to the massacre, even before it had launched its counteroffensive in Gaza.

“It was truly, truly disturbing,” said Lipstadt, noting that evidence of Hamas’s rape and sexual mutilation was met with silence, cynicism or was “celebrated.”

Lipstadt seemed especially troubled by the silence of “women’s groups, progressive groups, groups that fight sexual violence, human rights groups,” who were among the first to condemn perpetrators like the Islamic State and Boko Haram.

She said the only difference between the brutal terror attacks by those groups and Hamas on Oct. 7 is “the perception that these victims were all Jews.”

Aaron Keyak, Lipstadt’s deputy and a former Democratic operative, was also present on the call. He, along with Lipstadt, called out the political weaponization of antisemitism. “You’re, in fact, most impactful when you call out antisemitism among people with whom you agree on everything else,” he said.

“Those who weaponize the charge of antisemitism for partisan or political gain are undermining the overall fight against antisemitism, which puts Jews at greater risk all over the world,” he added.

Lipstadt also briefed attendees on a State Department online antisemitism symposium held last Thursday. The event brought together executives of the major online platforms including Google, TikTok, Microsoft, Meta and X, along with high-ranking Biden administration officials and key NGOs such as the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, World Jewish Congress, Center for Countering Digital Hate, CyberWell and Decoding Antisemitism. 

“It was a message that we take this seriously,” said Lipstadt, who explained that she had secured the participation of the major platforms by assuring them the session was not meant to “beat up” on them.

“We know there’s a problem. They know there’s a problem,” she said. “And what was clear to the platforms in their participation was that the United States government takes online antisemitism as a national security threat. It silences Jews, it makes Jews not want to publicize their Jewish identity. It’s used to spread antisemitic animus, antisemitic threats.” 

The eight-hour meeting involved deep discussions “in a constructive fashion” between antisemitism researchers and platform executives, she said. “We hope this will not be a one-off. We want this to have legs. We want this to move further,” she added.

“We didn’t solve the problem, but if we began this conversation, that’s the kind of thing that I want my office to be doing,” she said. “We can’t put out all the fires, but here is a very important source of conflagration, and here’s something we’re trying to move forward.”

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