Anti-Semitism Envoy Position to Be Filled, Tillerson Tells Senate

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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaking at the State Dept. on Aug. 22. 2017.Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

The U.S. State Department will hire a special envoy for the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, but will do away with or combine dozens of other diplomatic positions. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the announcement in a letter sent Monday to Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The special envoy post on anti-Semitism, which was mandated in the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004, has remained unfilled since President Donald Trump’s inauguration in late January, as have many other such posts. The special anti-Semitism envoy monitors acts of anti-Semitism abroad, documents the cases in State Department reports and consults with domestic and international nongovernmental organizations. The envoy's bureau has been entirely unstaffed since July 1, and Congressmen, Jewish groups and Jewish leaders have been urging Tillerson to keep it open and name an envoy. According to the Tillerson letter, the office will be returned to the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, with two positions and $130,000 in funding.

“I believe that the [State] Department will be able to better execute its mission by integrating certain envoys and special representative offices within the regional and functional bureaus, and eliminating those that have accomplished or outlived their original purpose. In some cases, the State Department would leave in place several positions and offices, while in other cases, positions and offices would be either consolidated or integrated with the most appropriate bureau. If an issue no longer requires a special envoy or representative, then an appropriate bureau will manage any legacy responsibilities,” Tillerson wrote in the letter.

Most of the United States’ special envoys will be abolished and their responsibilities reassigned as part of the State Department overhaul, Tillerson wrote, including envoys for climate change and the Iran deal. Special envoys for Afghanistan-Pakistan, disability rights and closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center will be eliminated under the plan. But the Trump’s administration does plan to keep envoys for religious freedom and LGBT rights, in addition to envoy to combat anti-Semitism, despite speculation from critics that it would seek to downgrade those priorities.

Other envoys that will be retained include the Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations; Israel and the Palestinian Authority U.S. Security Coordinator; Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS; and the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues.

Lawmakers of both parties, think tanks and even the diplomats’ association have long called for absorbing some of the countless U.S. envoys and special representatives into related offices, to help reduce redundancies across the State Department’s notoriously unwieldy bureaucracy.