Bipartisan Support Behind Campaign Urging Trump Not to Cut anti-Semitism Envoy

'We view U.S. leadership on combating anti-Semitism and promoting human rights as pivotal components of American diplomacy and foreign policy,' says a draft of the letter, obtained by Haaretz.

A women comforts a friend at the vandalized Jewish Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia, February 26, 2017.
DOMINICK REUTER/AFP

A bipartisan group of members of Congress prepared a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump urging him not to cancel or weaken a position within the State Department devoted to combating anti-Semitism. The letter has been circulating on Capitol Hill for more than a week and could be sent out as early as Tuesday.  

The letter was initiated by members of the House of Representatives’ bipartisan task force against anti-Semitism following reports in the media that the Trump administration was considering not to appoint a State Department "Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism." Such a post has existed in the State Department since 2004, but according to the reports, could be effectively dropped under the new administration, which is looking at deep cuts in the State Department budget. 

In recent months, the U.S. has been hit by several waves of bomb threats targeting Jewish community centers across the country. In addition, Jewish cemeteries in Philadelphia and St. Louis were vandalized.

A draft of the bipartisan letter, obtained by Haaretz, states that: 

“[A]s Members of Congress who care deeply about anti-Semitism at home and abroad, we urge you to maintain and prioritize the appointment of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism at the U.S. State Department's Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.  During previous Administrations, this office was crucial in documenting human rights abuses against Jewish communities abroad as well as developing and implementing policies designed to combat anti-Semitism."

The draft of the letter continues: 

"[S]ince its creation, the Special Envoy has reported on troubling incidents impacting Jews worldwide in its annual State Department Human Rights Report, helping to identify concerning attacks, trends, and events impacting Jews worldwide.  For instance, the 2015 Human Rights Report detailed the horrific kosher supermarket attack in France, the xenophobic and anti-Semitic Jobbik party in Hungary, and the desecration of Jewish sites-such as cemeteries and memorials-in places like Argentina, Greece, Egypt, and Ukraine. The tracking of international incidents of anti-Semitism is crucial in providing Members of Congress a comprehensive understanding of the problem's scope."

Finally, the members – according to the draft – would declare that: 

"[W]e view U.S. leadership on combating anti-Semitism and promoting human rights as pivotal components of American diplomacy and foreign policy. The Office of the Special Envoy enables the U.S. to show the world its commitment to these ideals, particularly at a time when anti-Semitism is dangerously on the rise. As Members of Congress devoted to the protection of vulnerable minorities, we urge you to support resources for this crucial office and prioritize this presidential appointment. Such actions will help  ensure that the U.S. continues to play an indispensable leadership role in promoting global tolerance, pluralism, and human rights."

The original draft sent to members of the House for consideration last week was signed by six members of the bipartisan task force on anti-Semitism: Reps. Ted Deutch (D-FL), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Nita Lowey (D-NY),Marc Veasey (D-TX), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Christopher Smith (R-NJ). Two other Republican members of the taskforce – Reps. Kay Granger (R-TX) and Peter Roskam (R-IL) – were not signed on the email urging House members to join, but a spokesperson for Rep. Roskam told Haaretz that he would support the letter. 

One Democratic staffer involved in the process told Haaretz that the number of Republicans who will support the letter "will be a test" to the party's ability to speak out on the issue of anti-Semitism, even when that means being at possible odds with the Trump administration. When Democrats tried in late January to pass a resolution in the House reaffirming the Jewish aspect of the Holocaust, the staffer added, Republicans blocked it since it was seen as a rebuke to Trump's Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that omitted any reference to Jews.