by Ari Lieberman
Where were critics during the Obama administration?
In 2004, Congress established the position of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. The Special Envoy is tasked with developing and implementing policies and projects to support efforts to combat anti-Semitism. The envoy is also charged with compiling data on global antisemitism and incorporating his or her findings into the State Department's annual reports on Human Rights Practices and International Religious Freedom. The creation of this unique position was motivated partly by a desire by congressional officials to thwart anti-Israel de-legitimization efforts advanced by cacophony of Islamists and other pernicious elements. The Special Envoy position currently remains vacant.
On June 9, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave testimony before the foreign operations subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee. Secretary Tillerson was asked by Rep. Grace Meng, (D-NY) to provide a timeline for a new appointee. Tillerson was non-committal and suggested that the appointment of a Special Envoy was unnecessary and might actually be counter-productive. He argued that by having a Special Envoy, emissaries responsible for implementing U.S. policy might actually decide to forgo their responsibilities in misplaced reliance on the Special Envoy. A more effective approach, Tillerson argued, would be to channel efforts to combat antisemitism “through the delivery on mission at every level at every country.”
Needless to say, Tillerson’s response sparked outrage. Lawmakers noted that since the position was established by congressional legislation, it cannot be terminated by unilateral executive action. The committee’s ranking Democratic member Rep. Nita Lowey, (D-NY) blasted Tillerson. In an email to the JTA, she termed Tillerson’s position as “outrageous and offensive” particularly in light of the fact that “hate crimes against Jews continue to rise in the United States and around the world,” and urged the Secretary to “fill the Special Envoy position immediately.”
Tillerson’s position drew criticism from other quarters as well. At a recent briefing hosted by the Anti-Defamation League, two former Special Envoys who occupied the post during Obama’s tenure argued that the Trump administration has a responsibility to fill the vacancy.
Hannah Rosenthal, who held the position from 2009 to 2012 stated that the administration’s failure to fill the position would be a “a huge step backward and a huge opportunity missed.” That sentiment was echoed by Ira Forman who served as Special Envoy during Obama’s second term.
Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the ADL, whose organization spends more time defending the likes of Linda Sarsour and the rights of Syrian migrants than it does on combatting antisemitism, piled on and criticized Tillerson for being “opaque about his motives and inexplicably [kicking] the can down the road.”
Without passing judgement on Tillerson’s motives and the veracity of his argument, it is safe to assume that some of the Trump administration’s shrillest critics on this issue possess less than pure motives. The ADL under the stewardship of Jonathan Greenblatt has morphed into an organization that has completely forgotten and neglected its primary mission, which is to combat antisemitism and xenophobia. Instead, Greenblatt has chosen to become an advocate for Linda Sarsour, a rancid anti-Semite of the first order who advocates for the destruction of Israel and wishes she could rip out the vaginas of women with whom she disagrees. The ADL has also devoted substantial resources advocating for Muslim migration rights without ever considering that most of these migrants hail from countries where there is a near 100 percent prevalence of Jew hatred.
We must also consider the fact that the Special Envoy is only as effective as the leadership which issued the appointment. If the leadership is rudderless, apathetic and vacillates on the issue of antisemitism, the role of Special Envoy is substantially diminished and may actually cause harm. This was certainly the case with the Obama administration.
Obama may be the darling of the Left but his record on combatting antisemitism was abysmal. During his tenure, there was an explosion of anti-Semitic incidents at universities and college campuses across the United States (and Europe as well for that matter). Many of these incidents were inspired by campus hate groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Students Association. According to the Watchdog group AMCHA, which monitors antisemitism at institutions of higher learning, anti-Semitic incidents were eight times more likely to occur at universities where the SJP and MSA maintained an active presence. Yet Obama remained tone deaf to this deleterious phenomena.
And who among us can forget Obama’s flippant and now infamous characterization of the Hyper Cacher terrorist attack that claimed the lives of four French Jews, as a “random” attack on a “bunch of folks in a deli.” We were then forced to watch as his stooges at the State Department and the White House – Jen Psaki and Josh Earnest – tried their best, through painful contortions, to defend the indefensible. It was a low point among many low points during the Obama administration. Just imagine for a moment if this shameful incident had unfolded during a Trump term.
Moreover, Obama’s first Special Envoy, Hannah Rosenthal, was an unmitigated disaster. She was a shill for the rabidly anti-Israel J-Street lobbying organization. Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, a prominent Democrat with liberal bonafides, characterized J Street as “the most damaging organization in American history against Israel.” He also noted that “[J Street] will go down in history as one of the most virulent, anti-Israel organizations in the history of Zionism and Judaism.”
In 2009, Rosenthal criticized Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, for turning down an invitation to speak at J Street. That criticism provoked outrage from major Jewish groups who viewed Rosenthal’s criticism of the ambassador as “inappropriate.” They noted further that her unwarranted outburst “could threaten to limit her effectiveness in the area for which she is actually responsible.” Behind closed doors, criticism of Rosenthal was even more vociferous. Prominent columnist, editor, and researcher Shmuel Rosner referred to her as a “burden,” “a problematic pick,” “an unwelcome distraction,” and “definitely not smart.” Rosner was being kind.
That Obama would pick such an odious person to fill such a sensitive and important position is not surprising given that fact that most of his advisers and appointees subscribed to J Street’s views, which are well to the left of Israel’s leftist Labor Party. Some like Robert Malley were Hamas apologists.
In fairness, Obama’s second pick for Special Envoy, Ira Forman, was infinitely better than his predecessor but his efforts were undermined by an administration that was at best, apathetic when it came to antisemitism and at worst, stoked its flames. Such was the case when, in its twilight weeks in office, the Obama administration, with the assistance of despotic nations like Venezuela and Malaysia, perfidiously orchestrated one of the most anti-Semitic resolutions ever passed by the United Nations Security Council.
Whether the argument posited by Tillerson has merit, two unwavering facts remain indisputable. Under shameful influence of a large Muslim bloc, the United Nations is arguably one of the world’s greatest purveyors of anti-Semitism. And during his six months in office, Donald Trump through his UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, has successfully done more to combat anti-Semitism in this malevolent forum than Obama did in eight years. Well-meaning critics (and I specifically exclude the likes of Jonathan Greenblatt and his ilk from this category) should bear this in mind before pointing accusatory fingers at the administration.
Ari Lieberman is an attorney and former prosecutor who has authored numerous articles and publications on matters concerning the Middle East and is considered an authority on geo-political and military developments affecting the region.
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