NEW YORK — U.S. President Donald Trump is “beyond great” on fighting anti-Semitism, the White House’s special envoy on the matter, Elan Carr, told Haaretz during an event at the Park East Synagogue on Tuesday.
“When a president is good on an issue, you should support him on that issue,” the special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism told Haaretz. “I don’t care what party you’re in, I don’t care how you are going to vote. [You can say], ‘Thank you, Mr. President, you have our support on this issue.’ You can disagree with him on other things, but on this issue he is just beyond great and Secretary [Mike] Pompeo is a champion of this cause.”
Carr, an Iraq War veteran-turned-district attorney who built his career prosecuting violent gang members and child molesters in Los Angeles, was appointed anti-Semitism czar by Secretary of State Pompeo in February. The position, mandated by law since 2004, had been vacant for two years after Trump’s election victory.
That lacuna had been widely criticized by Jewish groups and members of Congress; in July 2017, the Anti-Defamation League even collected signatures on a petition to the State Department about the matter.
Carr insists, though, that the delay was not a sign of neglect by the Trump administration. “The truth is that under Secretary [Rex] Tillerson, there was a restructuring of the State Department that delayed things,” he said. “Then he left and Secretary Pompeo, the moment he came in [April 2018] made this a focus.”
Carr described his position as being in charge of leading America’s fight against anti-Semitism. “That means I’m the lead on U.S. policy and programs to confront it,” he said. “I’m America’s chief diplomat on this issue and I advise the secretary of state on matters relating to anti-Semitism.”
Anti-Semitism has reached new peaks around the world in recent years. In the United States, the ADL has recorded worrisome numbers of incidents and an escalation in violent attacks against members of the Jewish community.
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According to the organization’s most recent annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents — published three days after the deadly shooting at the Chabad of Poway Orthodox synagogue in California last April — violent attacks against the Jewish community in the United States doubled last year. In October 2018, the country also saw the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in its history after a white supremacist murdered 11 worshippers in a mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue.
According to the American Jewish Committee’s 2019 survey of U.S. Jews on anti-Semitism (carried out between September 11 and October 6), 73 percent of American Jews disapprove of the way Trump is handling the threat of anti-Semitism in the United States. In addition, a Jewish Electorate Institute poll in May showed that close to 60 percent of American Jewish voters believe Trump is “at least partially responsible” for the targeted attacks on synagogues (including Pittsburgh and Poway). Thirty-eight percent of Jewish voters also expressed concern that Trump is “encouraging ultra-right extremists committing violent attacks.”
Despite that, Carr said that American Jews “should trust” Trump and Pompeo on the issue. “I can only do this job with people at the top who are as committed to this fight as President Trump and my boss Secretary Pompeo,” he told Haaretz. “We have not had American leaders this focused and this determined to not only fight anti-Semitism but to protect the Jewish people and support the State of Israel,” he added.
Carr cited Trump’s last State of the Union Address, a section of which he dedicated to condemning anti-Semitism, and his statement after the Pittsburgh attack, when he said that “those seeking [the Jewish people’s] destruction, we will seek their destruction,” as examples of the president’s strong stance on the matter. “I’m actually incredibly proudly to be serving in an administration that is this committed to this issue,’ Carr said.
As the chief U.S. diplomat on anti-Semitism, Carr’s job is focused not only on the United States but involves initiating conversations about the problem around the world. Since his appointment he has visited countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany and Romania, and has made several visits to Israel — including for the inauguration of Ramat Trump in the Golan Heights and an Israeli government-organized conference in Jerusalem against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
Carr said that some of the work his team of seven staffers does is “reactive” and involves denouncing manifestations of hatred against Jews in public statements, or through diplomatic engagement with the country where incidents have happened. “And if it’s the sort of incident that merits a U.S. policy response and not just a statement, we work with others,” he said. “It’s not my decision unilaterally, but we work with others to craft that U.S. response.”
On a proactive level, Carr said he is “very focused on being strategic and understanding where the pressure points are that can lead to more fundamental change.” Some of this means engaging with foreign authorities on best practices or, for example, discussing solutions for online hate speech with high-tech companies.
However, in order to “win the war, not just win battles” on anti-Semitism, Carr said he believes “you have to confront the thing itself, the phenomenon itself,” and not just its manifestations. “The thing itself is a worldview, it’s an idea and, ultimately I would say, a sickness, and you have to confront [the thing] itself, in addition to putting out the fires.” He added that “the only way to do it is through education.”
One of Carr’s goals is to push philo-Semitism curricula in schools worldwide. “Generally, when you raise the issue of education, the first thing anyone says is Holocaust,” he said. “Where is the education about Jewish contributions to the country? Can you tell the story of the United States, or of England or of France or of Germany, without talking about the Jewish history?”
The special envoy intends to travel to Arab Gulf states to discuss some of their school teachings about Jewish people, which he labeled “a disgrace.”
First of all, he said, “it’s child abuse to inculcate hatred in children. Second, when you do that, it is so difficult to undo the damage — you are ruining a generation. At the end of the day, you have to stop the indoctrination of kids. If kids aren’t raised to hate Jews, they won’t naturally hate Jews.
“The chief beneficiary of anti-Semitism in the Middle East today is Iran,” Carr added. “Why would any Arab country do a favor for the mullahs of Iran [and] spread this venom that really is a tool of political control for them?”
In the Jewish Electorate Institute poll in May, 73 percent of American Jews said they felt less secure compared to two years earlier. Carr insisted that providing a sense of security for Jews is also a priority for his office. “The bottom line is, you can’t have quality of life if you can’t leave your home and feel safe, and put your kids on a school bus and know that they’re safe,” he said. “Physical safety is the first and most important job any sovereign [state] has that is owed to a population — so we’ve got to promise physical security to our Jewish populations around the world.”
Carr’s own family history encompasses both Ashkenazi and Mizrahi roots. His grandfather was imprisoned in Iraq in 1948 for being a Jewish community leader, while his parents fled persecution in Iraq before he was born. That history of being driven out of Iraq, allied to his experiences with anti-Semitism as a college student in the United States, make the envoy position “very personal” for him.
“It’s a privilege to do it — I thank God for the opportunity to serve my country in such a worthy cause,” he said. “This fight is a fight not only for the future survival of the Jewish people, it’s a fight for the better world that we want our children to inherit. It’s a fight to uplift humanity and to improve the human condition.”