The State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism has remained vacant since July 1 and the office remains without staff. The position, established by the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004, is responsible for, “U.S. foreign policy on anti-Semitism” and, “develops and implements policies and projects to support efforts to combat anti-Semitism.” The Special Envoy is key for the US to remain a partner in staying on abreast of and combating global anti-Semitism. It is much like the EU commission’s appointed Coordinators, each focused on their respective communities.
Despite the importance of this position, rumors have long suggested that the envoy position might be eliminated altogether. While a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, Mark Toner, says that the Trump administration will appoint someone to fill the position of Special Envoy, current circumstances seem to challenge this notion.
The vacancy is especially extraordinary given recent efforts to enhance the role of the Special Envoy. A bipartisan bill , spearheaded by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), was introduced in the Senate, in June 2017, as a companion bill to one introduced earlier this year in the House. The bill, entitled a “Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Act,” would elevate the existing position to ambassador-level and ban the use of “double hatting” or giving the position to someone who already has another assignment.
The sponsors of this bill believe it is important to not only maintain, but also bolster this position. Sen. Gillibrand highlighted that “at a time of growing anti-Semitism across the globe and here at home, it is vital that we prioritize the fight against the scourge,” adding that “it would ensure that we have someone in that role who can raise the profile of this issue within the [State] Department and in all of our diplomatic affairs.” These views were echoed by Sen. Rubio when he said that “The United States must remain committed to combatting anti-Semitism in all its forms, wherever it appears.”
Former envoys, Hannah Rosenthal and Ira Forman, know firsthand how essential this envoy is. They emphasized that anti-Semitism has not subsided and that leaving the position vacant would be “a huge step backward.” Rosenthal has also noted how important the job was in defining what anti-Semitism is because, for people going to foreign posts, “[if] they don’t know what antisemitism is they don’t know what to report.”
The US State Department, home to this Special Envoy, uses a definition of anti-Semitism that is very similar to that of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The European Parliament adopted the IHRA definition just last month. However, the US has yet to provide a government-wide definition for anti-Semitism to be used for domestic purposes. Indeed, Ira Forman, who formerly held the role as Special Envoy, pointed out that it is vital to “define anti-Semitism clearly to more effectively combat it,” while speaking at a conference in Europe in March 2016. Thus, the bill also joins other recent legislative efforts to bolster the fight against anti-Semitism such as the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act and the Combating European Anti-Semitism Act.