Bipartisan legislation that would upgrade the status of the State Department’s envoy to combat anti-Semitism overwhelmingly passed in a vote in the House of Representatives Thursday afternoon.
The legislation calls for raising the position’s status to that of an official ambassador and requiring that they report directly to the secretary of state. The bill was initially introduced as criticism began to mount against the Trump administration for failing to fill the post, which remains vacant. An amendment would require an appointee to be named within 90 days of the bill’s becoming law.
“Today we are witnessing a chilling revival of anti-Semitic sentiment in many corners of the world,” said the bill’s author, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) on the House floor preceding the vote. “In light of this, there is an urgent need for a comprehensive United States government approach to combating anti-Semitism, led by a strong, senior official.”
Rep. Smith serves as a co-chair of the Bipartisan Congressional Task Force against Anti-Semitism and introduced legislation in 2004 that created the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism as well as the envoy position.
“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 Rep. Smith.
As months went by without the administration naming an appointee, speculation circled that then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson planned to eliminate the post amid plans for a department-wide reorganization that would do away with several such special designees. In a House committee hearing in May, Secretary Mike Pompeo committed to fill the post, but no action has been announced on the matter.
In addition to granting the position ambassador status, which would report directly to the secretary of state, the bill, introduced more than a year ago, 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.
The house bill was co-sponsored by other leaders of the Anti-Semitism Task Force, Reps. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Kay Granger (R-Tex.), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), and Marc Veasey (D-Tex.).
The office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism is charged with studying threats to Jews abroad and with voicing concerns to foreign leaders on the state and safety of Jews in their countries.
Hannah Rosenthal, who occupied the post during President Obama’s first term, 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 was appointed by President Bush, confronted mayors of several Hungarian cities over the construction of monuments and other honors to Nazi-collaborators.
In June 2017, Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Kirstin Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced a companion bill in the Senate, which has yet to be scheduled for a vote.