We have seen a steady rise in antisemitic activity domestically and around the world. The boldness of the physical and verbal attacks is chilling. While it has been comforting to hear words of support, commitment and promised action from government at all levels, we need more than soothing words. We need tangible steps and results.
There is an opportunity for the Biden administration and Congress to do just that with respect to funding for the State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism in the 2024 budget. The antisemitism envoy, Holocaust scholar and longtime Emory University professor Deborah Lipstadt is a well-known personality and voice in the fight against antisemitism and Holocaust denial.
Last week, a bipartisan group of House members asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken to increase the department’s funding request for the Special Envoy’s Office from $1.5 million in 2023 to $2 million in 2024 — a 33% increase, but less than a rounding error in the State Department’s budget.
The State Department and Congress should embrace this request. It will be money well spent. And it will demonstrate that lawmakers and the administration are willing to go beyond soothing rhetoric and fund a practical way to respond to a growing global problem.
This bipartisan ask, however, faces an uncertain future. It comes just as the new House Republican majority has rediscovered fiscal conservatism after two decades of borrowing to pay for tax cuts and growing government programs in both Republican and Democratic administrations. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) wants to cut planned 2024 spending for government services back to 2022 levels. That could doom any extra support for Lipstadt’s office and would also prompt significant cutbacks in a whole host of government services.
Another problem is that Lipstadt’s office does not deal with domestic antisemitism, which is a continuing and growing threat to our community’s safety and peace of mind. Jan. 15 was the anniversary of the hostage-taking crisis at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. Now, a year later, according to the recently issued ADL survey of “Antisemitic Attitudes in America,” American Jews are increasingly insecure and frightened.
Among the report’s disturbing findings: A whopping 85% of Americans believe at least one anti-Jewish trope. That’s up from a previously upsetting 61% in 2019. And more than 50% of those surveyed believe at least one antisemitic trope. In addition, some 39% of respondents believe that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the United States.Lipstadt and others have pointed out that societies undergoing stress often resort to blaming Jews. That seems to be the case in this country, and it concerns us. We need meaningful and real responses.
Last month, the Biden administration announced the creation of an interagency group to combat antisemitism. We said at the time that the effort requires strong leadership and urged the administration to make such an appointment. Some have suggested that Lipstadt’s portfolio be expanded to include domestic antisemitism. Whatever choice is made, it should be done quickly and be recognized as a serious challenge to antisemitic activity. ■