NEW YORK - Bipartisan legislation that would upgrade the status of the State Department’s envoy to combat anti-Semitism was introduced in the Senate last week.
It mirrors a bill introduced earlier this year in the House of Representatives focusing on raising the position’s status to that of an official ambassador and requiring that they report directly to the secretary of state. The move comes against the backdrop of the post having remained empty since President Donald Trump assumed office in January.
Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY) sited increasing levels of anti-Semitism “at home and abroad” as an impetus for the move.
“The United States must remain committed to combating anti-Semitism in all its forms, wherever it appears,” said Senator Rubio.
Senator Gillibrand stated that the proposed changes “would ensure that we have someone in that role who can raise the profile of this issue within the Department and in all of our diplomatic efforts.”
The office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism was created in 2004, charged with the purpose of studying threats to Jews abroad and of making a voice that can confront officials in other countries on the matter in the name of the U.S. government.
Mark Weitzman, director of government affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, suggested the initial idea of the status change that eventually became the House bill sponsored by Representatives Chris Smith (NJ-R) and Elliot Engel (D-NY).
“As anti-Semitism is rising in the world, more countries are creating these types of positions … America was, I believe, the first to do it, but it’s important that we maintain our leadership,” Mr. Weitzman told Hamodia. “Upgrading the position would show that the government takes this issue seriously, that Congress is taking an active interest, and that they are looking to use the best recourses available.”
In addition to granting the position ambassador status, with the ambassador reporting to the secretary of state, the bill also would prohibit the envoy from “being doubled-hated,” that is, filling another role in government at the same time. It does not assign any additional funding, but Mr. Weitzman said he “hoped the higher status would come with higher funding and greater access to officials both in America and abroad.
“Diplomats are trained to look at signals like titles; upgrading it shows the government behind him is taking it seriously,” he said.
In the past, envoys have used the position to confront foreign leaders over anti-Semitism in their countries. Hannah Rosenthal, who occupied the post from 2009 till 2012, met with Swedish officials over a string of aggressive and violent anti-Semitic incidents in Malmo, a town with a large population of Muslim immigrants. Ira Forman, who served as envoy from 1996 until 2009, confronted mayors of several Hungarian cities over the construction of monuments and other honors to Nazi-collaborators.
Several politicians and Jewish organizations have criticized the Trump administration for leaving the office vacant since taking office. The State Department has said that it is committed to filling the position, but has not given a timetable.
“I don’t think it’s vacant as a political choice,” said Mr. Weitzman. “Especially given the controversy the administration has been involved with connected to anti-Semitism, I think they understand this would be a way to send a strong message, and the delay is more due to bureaucratic issues.”