By Barbara Goldberg Goldman
For the past five months, the nomination of Deborah Lipstadt to be U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism has languished as Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have refused to agree to give her a hearing. This delay is particularly concerning because fighting antisemitism is an American national priority. Yet Senate Republicans have put partisanship ahead of the safety of Jews around the world. This is a grave mistake, and our country is less safe because Republicans have delayed the confirmations of Lipstadt and so many other foreign policy nominees.
Lipstadt’s experience combatting global antisemitism is unrivaled. She is best known for tackling the British author David Irving, who in 1996 sued her for libel for characterizing some of his writings and statements as Holocaust denial in her book “Denying the Holocaust.” In a testament to the integrity of Lipstadt’s scholarship, Irving lost his suit and by losing, validated “Denying the Holocaust” as a valuable resource for confronting Holocaust denial.
Lipstadt’s 2019 book, “Antisemitism: Here and Now,” is required reading for understanding antisemitism and has been an education tool and reference point for everyone concerned about identifying and fighting the scourge of antisemitism. In hyper-polarized times, Lipstadt stands out for her uncompromising insistence that antisemitism is wrong and inexcusable no matter its source or alleged justification. Moreover, she has a keen awareness that while antisemitism’s toxic rot may begin by targeting Jews, it rarely ends there. She brings to U.S. foreign policy a rigorous understanding of antisemitism’s role in global political movements and campaigns and is well poised to help make fighting it a key part of American foreign policy.
During the days of the movement to free Soviet Jews, Republicans and Democrats understood that the fight for Jewish rights was an essential component of America’s fight for freedom. Republicans and Democrats traveled to the then-Soviet Union together to combat antisemitism by visiting Jewish refuseniks and Jewish political prisoners in the Soviet gulag.
Rallying together to fight antisemitism is no less critical today. It is an integral part of advancing American foreign policy interests and its values. It is an imperative for Senate Republicans to recognize this. They are dragging their feet in delaying Lipstadt’s confirmation hearings. In so doing, they are weakening the advancement of American interests.
Scholars of antisemitism have long known that anti-Jewish discrimination is the canary in the coal mine, warning of dangerous decays in these core values. Populist extremist movements often use Jews as their showcase for why the rule of law must be abandoned. Jews are scapegoated as justification for why borders must be closed, books must be burned or discrimination must be tolerated. Jews are demonized for the so-called greater good and to offset supposed nefarious Jewish — “globalist” or “Zionist” — power. Once that door is cracked ajar, anti-democratic forces rarely can be contained. The politics resulting from such movements are inevitably hostile to Jews and other minorities. They are rarely amenable to American interests as leaders of the free world.
As experienced foreign policy hands, Maryland’s two incomparable senators, Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, are aware of this threat to democracy. Indeed, as members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, they have provided great leadership, across the aisle, in the fight against global antisemitism.
One of the most important objectives for the Jewish community today is to maintain bipartisanship around a rising existential threat against Jews and against all human rights and human dignity. Over 20 Jewish organizations across a spectrum have endorsed Deborah Lipstadt’s nomination, including the organization whose board I serve on, the Jewish Democratic Council of America. As Yair Rosenberg quipped in The Atlantic, “These diverse Jewish groups can barely agree on where to set the thermostat, yet they agree on Lipstadt.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee leadership is committed to the principle of “comity,” which requires that both parties agree to convene confirmation hearings. That same principle should compel Republican members of the committee to prioritize the fight against antisemitism over partisan agita. Lipstadt should have been confirmed last year.
In the words of Rabbi Avi Shafran, public affairs director of the Orthodox association Agudath Israel of America, “Ms. Lipstadt’s confirmation is being held up because of her sharp tweets … by legislators for whom hundreds of decidedly demeaning ones by a former president they lionize seem of no consequence at all.”
The time to confirm Dr. Lipstadt is now. We cannot wait.
Barbara Goldberg Goldman is vice chair of the Jewish Democratic Council of America and founder and co-chair of the Affordable Housing Conference of Montgomery County.