U.S. Jewish Groups Laud Tillerson for Keeping Office for Fighting anti-Semitism

A former State Department official calls the move a positive step, but the staffing and budgeting will be smaller

File photo: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks during a briefing at the Department of State, in Washington, DC, August 22, 2017.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP

WASHINGTON — U.S. Jewish organizations applauded the Trump administration on Tuesday for not scrapping a State Department office devoted to battling anti-Semitism.

The decision to keep the Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combatting Anti-Semitism was announced to Congress on Monday in an 11-page letter by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

In the letter, Tillerson presented his plan for the State Department’s dozens of special envoys. While many of these offices will be canceled or reorganized, the anti-Semitism office is one of a few that will remain active. It will be affiliated with the department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

A former State Department official told Haaretz that Tillerson’s plan is a “positive step,” but added that the plan would allot a smaller staff and budget to the office compared than before. The former official expressed the hope that Congress would find a way to increase the special envoy’s budget and ensure that the staff is sufficient to fulfill the complicated task of monitoring and combating anti-Semitism in dozens of countries around the world.

Tillerson’s plan for the anti-Semitism envoy includes a budget of $130,000 and two positions within the department — one for the envoy and one for an administrative official.

“A very big question is whether the budget in Tillerson’s letter also includes travel expenses within it,” the former official said, adding that under past administrations, the envoy’s office had a larger staff made possible by getting State Department professionals to work “part-time” on anti-Semitism while also carrying out other responsibilities within the department.

A senior official in a prominent Jewish organization added on condition of anonymity that “this is likely a win, and it’s the best deal we’re going to get.”

For months Jewish groups have been lobbying the administration not to cancel the special envoy’s office, ever since it became public that Tillerson was considering keeping the office unstaffed.

On Tuesday, the Anti-Defamation League, which led a campaign against canceling the office, commended Tillerson.

“At a time when there is a growing prominence to anti-Jewish movements and actions, the special envoy to combat anti-Semitism continues to be essential and it is important that the State Department has recognized this vital work,” the organization’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, said in a statement.

The president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, was also supportive. Lauder is considered close to President Donald Trump and has reportedly been advising him on how to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

“America’s Jewish community is undoubtedly among the safest in the world, but the demonstrations of blatant anti-Semitism, bigotry and racism that we have seen of late make the importance of such an envoy ever clear,” Lauder said in a statement.

“When Jews are targeted for being Jewish, it is a problem not just for the Jewish community, but for America as a whole. It is imperative that all U.S. citizens work together to fight all forms of hatred when they rear their ugly heads.”