US/World News

State Dept.’s antisemitism monitoring office unstaffed

(JTA) – The U.S. State Department’s office to monitor and combat antisemitism will be unstaffed as of July 1. A source familiar with the office’s workings told JTA that its remaining two staffers, each working half-time or less, would be reassigned as of that date. The Trump administration, which has yet to name an envoy to head the office, would not comment on the staffing change. At full staffing, the office employs a full-time envoy and the equivalent of three full-time staffers. The State Department told JTA in a statement that it remained committed to combating antisemitism – and cited as evidence the tools, including the department’s annual reports on human rights and religious freedom, that existed before Congress mandated the creation of the envoy office in 2004. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Congress in testimony earlier this month that he believed special envoys were counterproductive because they provided an excuse to the rest of the department to ignore the specific issue addressed by the envoy.

Congressional lawmakers from both parties have pressed the Trump administration, in letters and proposed bills, to name an envoy and to enhance the office’s status. They have noted that unlike other envoys, whose positions were created by Trump’s predecessors, the office of the envoy on antisemitism is a statute and requires filling.

Jewish groups have lobbied President Donald Trump to name an envoy, saying that despite Tillerson’s testimony, the position has been key to encouraging diplomats and officials throughout the department to focus on antisemitism. “The idea of having a dedicated envoy who can travel around the world to raise awareness on this issue is critical,” the Anti-Defamation League CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, told JTA in an interview. “That doesn’t mean there isn’t value for all ambassadors and every embassy in addressing issues of antisemitism and bigotry in countries they operate, but if the administration is truly committed” to combating antisemitism, “maintaining the special envoy for antisemitism seems like a no-brainer.” The ADL launched an online petition June 22 to the White House to fill the position.

“We are almost in July and there is still no one of proper rank at the State Department whom the Wiesenthal Center and others can work with to re-activate US leadership in the struggle against anti-Semitism at a time when global anti-Semitism is rising,” said an email from Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Mark Weitzman, its director of government affairs. Jason Isaacson, the American Jewish Committee’s director of government and international affairs, said the position was essential. “It’s not as though the need for a special envoy has diminished,” he told JTA in an interview. “If anything it has increased.”

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