As of July 1, the U.S. State Department is unofficially abandoning its anti-Semitism office. According to multiple reports, the position of special envoy for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism within the Office of Religion and Global Affairs has been vacant since the inauguration, and the Department will be reassigning the special envoy's two remaining support staff at the start of the coming month.
This position hasn't been around long — there are only two people who have held the post of special envoy — but one of them spoke with reporters this week to emphasize the importance of the work done by this small sliver of the State Department. According to the webpage for the special envoy's office, he or she helps the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor create the State Department's annual reports on Human Rights Practices and International Religious Freedom, and briefs State Department officials on anti-Semitism throughout the world so it can be properly reported during missions.
“These are things that don’t happen unless someone is responsible in the State Department for making sure it happens,” former special envoy Hannah Rosenthal said on a call with reporters Monday.
"One of the first things I noted when I got to the State Department is that if people aren't being rounded up and sent to their death, many in the department, Congress and many places, felt that there isn’t antisemitism," Rosenthal continued. “So it became very important for me to make sure we defined what antisemitism is and we have training for the people who are about to go out to various foreign posts. If they don't know what antisemitism is they don't know what to report."
Seems like the perfect timing for this amid the biggest spike in anti-Semitism in decades. https://t.co/gS2xs4qDn5— Amy Siskind (@Amy_Siskind) June 26, 2017
However, Rosenthal's views seem to directly oppose those of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who spoke out strongly against the role that envoys play in foreign policy. “By having a special person, an envoy out here, one of my experiences is, mission then says, ‘Oh, we’ve got somebody else that does that,’ and then they stop doing it,” Tillerson said earlier this month during testimony to the foreign operations subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.
The State Department said in a statement that it is still fully committed to fighting anti-Semitism, just through other programs. “We want to ensure the Department is addressing anti-Semitism in the most effective and efficient method possible and will continue to endeavor to do so,” the statement said. The department's statement didn't shed any further light on the future of the two reassigned staffers or the office itself.
The bureaucratic lapse calls into question the administration's previously stated commitment to honoring diverse religious traditions, which by many accounts hasn't gone very well. Donald Trump became the first president in decades to skip the White House's annual Passover Seder and Ramadan dinner, and during the campaign, he was heavily criticized for spreading apparent anti-Semitic images. CNN also reported that Tillerson personally rejected the Office of Religion and Global Affairs' request to host a reception celebrating Eid.
HuffPost: State Dept. office responsible for monitoring, combatting anti-Semitism will soon have no active staffers. https://t.co/CcLOr9Due0— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) June 27, 2017
Ultimately, Tillerson may be forced to restaff the special envoy's office due to a legal hangup. The position was created by the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004, so it may legally be obligated to exist and be funded by the government. Like many other battles within the presidential administration, it may take a court case to decide the outcome, but the government doesn't have too far to look for anti-Semitism either. Vandalism and bomb threats targeting Jewish communities in the U.S. have spiked in recent months, demonstrating that anti-Semitism is definitely still a force that needs education and resistance.