A bipartisan bill creating an ambassador-at-large position to combat anti-Semitism was signed into law by President Donald Trump on Wednesday.
The Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Act, introduced in the House by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., elevates the special envoy position and provides more clout and resources to the office in charge of leading the U.S. response to fighting anti-Semitism worldwide.
“Anti-Semitism [has been] on the rise in many countries around the globe over the past 10 years,” Smith warned in a statement.
“We’ve seen members of the Jewish community harassed, intimidated, assaulted and even killed. We’ve seen sacred places like synagogues and graves desecrated. We’ve heard the use of anti-Semitic slurs and threats, and the open targeting of the State of Israel with what the great Soviet refusenik and former religious prisoner Natan Sharansky told me are the ‘three Ds’ — demonization, double-standards and de-legitimization of Israel.”
Part of the job description of the position is to implement foreign policy objectives to combat hatred and discrimination toward Jews. The person currently serving in that role is Elan S. Carr, the son of Iraqi Jewish refugees who fled persecution in Iraq. Carr formerly served as deputy district attorney for Los Angeles County and has prosecuted violent crimes for more than a decade, including hate crimes.
Smith’s bill was co-sponsored by 87 members of the House from both major political parties. Sens. Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Jackie Rosen, D-Nev., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and their staffs helped push through the legislation on the Senate side.
“My new law will raise the special envoy to the rank of ambassador-at-large, a high-level position that will allow the special envoy to report directly to the secretary of state,” Smith said.
“The official rank of ambassador comes with greater seniority and diplomatic access not only here in Washington, but equally important, overseas in dealing with foreign governments. In short, it gives the special envoy the clout required to do the job more effectively.”
The House voted twice to approve Smith’s legislation, once in September 2018 and again in January 2019. But in each instance, the bill stalled in the Senate even though it had the backing of human rights groups, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee Hadassah and Agudath Israel of America. The upper house passed the bill last December.
The enactment was praised by Jewish leaders.
“Sadly, we have seen a surge of anti-Semitic incidents around the world in recent years,” Nathan Diament, executive director for the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, said in a statement. “With the passage of this legislation, Congress is providing powerful new tools to the State Department to lead impactful international efforts to combat what has been aptly called ‘the world’s oldest form of hatred’ and roll back the tide of anti-Jewish hate.”
Chaplain Taakov Wegner of the National Chaplains Association called the new law “a welcome step in battling divisiveness and hate.”
“The National Chaplains Association applauds President Donald J. Trump for approving Congressman Chris Smith's important bill which will help battle the scourge of anti-Semitism worldwide,” Wegner said in a statement shared by Smith’s office.
In May, the international Jewish human rights organization Ant-Defamation League reported that the American Jewish community experienced record levels of anti-Semitic incidents in 2019. The organization began tracking such incidents in 1979. The group reported as many as 2,100 acts of assault, vandalism and harassment across the U.S.
In recent years, the Jewish community in the U.S. was targeted in horrific attacks on their places of worship and businesses, such as the synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh in 2018, the Poway synagogue shooting in California in April 2019, the Jersey City kosher mart shooting in December 2019 and the December 2019 stabbing at the home of a Hasidic rabbi in Monsey, New York.
In 2019, there was a spree of violent assaults against Jewish people in New York City.
Anti-Semitism is not just a problem in the U.S. In October 2019, a far-right gunman conducted an attack on a synagogue in Halle, Germany, while worshipers were inside celebrating Yom Kippur. Failing to break in, the gunman killed two people outside the synagogue.
On Wednesday, police in Montreal, Quebec, arrested a man who reportedly was caught defacing the Congregation Shaar Hashomayim synagogue with swastikas and planning to torch the building.
The new law’s enactment comes over a year after President Donald Trump passed an executive order aimed at combatting anti-Semitism on college campuses in the U.S. The order directs federal agencies to treat anti-Semitic acts as a violation of civil rights.
Trump’s order relied upon the definition of anti-Semitism drafted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” the definition reads. “Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
The order was opposed by critics who argued that it would enable the government to withhold funding from colleges that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. The movement is aimed at opposing the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.
Smith, who has served in Congress since 1981, is seen as arguably the leading congressional champions for international religious freedom, taking the baton from retired Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia.
He previously served as co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. He also authored the 2016 Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, which bolstered the State Department's ability to help counter-terrorism and the increasing persecution of religious minorities.