By Ron Campeas
(JTA) – Elan Carr’s career makes him perfect for his new job as the State Department’s special envoy to monitor antisemitism, according to people most familiar with his appointment, which was made public on Monday, Feb. 4.
Ira Forman, Carr’s predecessor, who has been leading calls for President Donald Trump to fill the position – unfilled since Forman’s departure two years ago – said Carr’s CV speaks well of the skills he brings to the post.
“His political skills should serve him well because part of the job is the art of the possible,” he said, referring to the gang prosecutor’s 2014 run for Congress in a Los Angeles-area district. Carr won a spot in the runoff but lost to Ted Lieu, a Democrat. Carr ran as a moderate pro-immigration Republican.
Forman, who has yet to meet with Carr, also cited his successor’s background in the U.S. Army, his leadership of a Jewish fraternity, his day school background, his mixed Mizrahi-Ashkenazi heritage and his fluency in Arabic and Hebrew.
“It sounds like a great fit,” said Forman, whose background before he was antisemitism monitor was partisan Democrat – he was the longtime head of a Jewish Democratic group.
“We’ve all been complaining it hasn’t happened and we should now be happy it’s happened,” said Forman, who now works with Human Rights First, an NGO, to monitor and combat antisemitism.
Indeed, some of the organizations that have been leading the criticism of Trump for the delay could barely contain their pleasant surprise.
The statement by Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, perhaps Trump’s most outspoken critic among the large mainstream Jewish groups, welcomed the pick.
“Carr knows all too well the scourge of hate,” Greenblatt said. “His grandfather was imprisoned after an antisemitic show trial in Iraq, where Elan later served as a U.S. Army judge advocate. He has been a leader in the fight against antisemitism on college campuses and has long advocated for working across the aisle to craft thoughtful compromises, including in support of Israel.
“We deeply admire his public service and look forward to working with him in his new role,” the statement concluded.
The Wiesenthal Center said Carr “brings to the Special Envoy position boundless energy and a keen legal eye.” B’nai B’rith International called the appointment “outstanding” and the Israeli American Council said there is “nobody more qualified” than Carr.
Carr plunged into his work, heading last week to a conference on antisemitism in Bratislava organized by Slovakia, which currently holds the chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and then a European Union conference on antisemitism in Brussels.
“I’m very impressed with him,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker, the representative on combating Antisemitism for the OSCE, who first met with Carr last week. “He’s smart, he’s thoughtful, he’s fully ready to roll up his sleeves and put himself into this.” Baker is also AJC’s director of international Jewish affairs.
Carr has met or planned meetings with predecessors from both Republican and Democratic administrations.
“He sees this as a nonpartisan job,” said Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition who has known Carr for decades. “He’s got real seichel,” common sense, “in picking brains and not feeling threatened by his predecessors.”
Carr, 50, has since 2004 served as a criminal prosecutor in Los Angeles County, specializing in gang violence. His approach has been holistic, focusing on the difficult circumstances that drive youths to crime and not just on the crimes.
The big picture emphasis could serve him well in the job of antisemitism monitor, where he will be expected to take officials to task for specific antisemitic acts in their countries or even in their governments, while also gently encouraging larger fixes in education and rhetoric to roll back bias.
Carr has a knack for getting attention with acts of dramatic symbolism: As an Army major in Iraq in 2003, he organized a Chanukah celebration at the palace of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein, who had persecuted the country’s Jewish community. It was an especially sweet moment for Carr, he told The Times of Israel in 2013, because his grandfather was jailed in Iraq during the anti-Jewish acts following Israel’s establishment in 1948.
Carr’s mother is descended from Iraqi Jews, while his father is Ashkenazi. He attended a Jewish day school, spent a lot of time in Israel growing up and joined Alpha Epsilon Pi, the leading Jewish fraternity, at the University of California, Berkeley, which he says helped change his life. He was the organization’s president, or supreme master, from 2012 to 2014.
Carr, a former member of AIPAC’s National Council, also spent a year in Israel in the 1990s helping its Justice Ministry set up a public defender’s office.