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American Opinion: Don’t play politics with antisemitism

American Opinion: Filling one position won’t eliminate a millennia-old problem. Leaving the post empty for partisan reasons, however, would be indefensible.

Deborah Lipstadt attends a press conference.
Deborah Lipstadt attends a press conference for "Denial" during the 11th Rome Film Festival at Auditorium Parco Della Musica on Oct. 17, 2016 in Rome, Italy.
Ernesto S. Ruscio/Getty Images/TNS
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The recent hostage crisis at Congregation Beth Israel in suburban Fort Worth, Texas, is a reminder that antisemitism is a growing and global scourge, one that has forced synagogues across the U.S. and Europe to post armed guards and bar their doors. The idea that members of Congress would block any efforts to combat it is shameful.

Yet that’s arguably what Senate Republicans are doing. Among the hundreds of administration nominees awaiting a confirmation vote is Deborah Lipstadt, a renowned Holocaust scholar and President Joe Biden’s pick to helm the State Department’s office for combating antisemitism. Republicans on the foreign-relations committee appear piqued by a tweet Lipstadt wrote in March, criticizing Republican Senator Ron Johnson for saying he would’ve been more afraid of the Jan. 6 rioters if they had been Black Lives Matter supporters. According to the New York Times, Republicans are considering demanding a public apology before advancing Lipstadt’s nomination.

The position of antisemitism envoy, established under President George W. Bush, has stood empty for a year now; Lipstadt’s nomination has languished for nearly half that time. Meanwhile, antisemitic incidents in the U.S. stand near record highs by some measures. At home and abroad, the Covid-19 pandemic has fueled a host of new anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, while the May 2021 fighting in Gaza led to a spate of ugly incidents in the U.S. and Europe.

The U.S. has a critical role to play in combating this menace globally. Envoys have the power to name and shame, to highlight abuses, and to offer a degree of protection to vulnerable Jewish communities. Among other accomplishments, they have pushed several nations to adopt a working definition of antisemitism and successfully advocated for changes in biased Saudi textbooks. Their work has helped inspire similar efforts by other governments, especially in Europe.

No one doubts Lipstadt’s qualifications for the role. An author of six books on antisemitism and the Holocaust — not to mention the subject of a 2016 feature film about her legal victory against a British Holocaust denier — she would bring to the position a gravitas and public profile unmatched by previous envoys. More than 20 Jewish organizations have enthusiastically backed her candidacy. If her tweets have been forthright, she’s been admirably evenhanded in her criticism of politicians on the left as well as the right.

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The special envoy’s role has traditionally been nonpartisan — Lipstadt only requires Senate confirmation because the position has been newly elevated to the level of ambassador — and it’s important that it remain so. Former President Donald Trump provoked controversy by leaving the post unfilled for two years and then appointing an envoy accused of focusing more on anti-Israel activism on U.S. campuses than antisemitism abroad. Allowing domestic political considerations to color this issue any further will only make it harder to rally the kind of full-throated consensus the battle against antisemitism deserves.

Republicans have delayed long enough. They should allow Lipstadt’s nomination to move to a vote. If she’s confirmed, the White House should give her the staff and resources she needs to be effective. Most important, Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken should reaffirm that they view the struggle against antisemitism as a top U.S. priority — not just for this envoy, but for the entire State Department.

Filling one position won’t eliminate a millennia-old problem. Leaving the post empty for partisan reasons, however, would be indefensible.

This American Opinion editorial is the opinion of the editorial board of Bloomberg Opinion.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P. Visit bloomberg.com/opinion. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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