Concerned about growing anti-Semitic rhetoric, vandalism and violence plaguing Europe and the rest of the world in recent months, leaders from Jewish organizations in the United States and Europe met with State Department officials and Secretary of State John Kerry, Tuesday, for an off the record roundtable discussion on how to combat this growing international threat.
The discussion was hosted by Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski and Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Ira Forman, with Kerry stopping by briefly for a photo op and a few statements on various topics of interest to the group, according to a report in Jerusalem Post.
The secretary “reiterated the U.S. government’s deep concern about the prevalence and pervasiveness of anti-Semitic threats and attacks against Jewish individuals, houses of worship and businesses during the past few months,” according to a State Department press release about the meeting.
Writing in a blog post the following day, Forman cited specific examples that moved the department to convene the meeting. Specifically, the looting of Jewish-owned stores and protestors lobbing a Molotov cocktail at a synagogue in Paris; a group of teenagers in Sydney, Australia, boarding a school bus for a Jewish primary school and shouting anti-Semitic epithets; and various other incidents just this past summer.
“These and other incidents are of deep concern to the United States government,” wrote Forman, adding that Kerry “emphasized that monitoring and combatting anti-Semitism is a global State Department priority, and reaffirmed our commitment to speaking out against this scourge whenever and wherever it exists.
“For Secretary Kerry, whose own grandparents came to the United States escaping anti-Semitism in what is today the Czech Republic – and whose own ancestors who stayed behind lost their lives in the Holocaust – this cause is very personal.”
Each organization that was invited – mostly those involved in monitoring anti-Semitism – were represented by one individual each. The list included B’nai B’rith, Rabbinical Assembly, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Jewish Federations of North America, Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, American Jewish Committee, Reform Action Center and the Anti-Defamation League, among others.
Prior to his appointment as a special envoy, Forman was the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council from 1996 until 2010, and served as the Jewish Outreach Director for President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.
His current post – which is uniquely tasked to represent U.S. policy on anti-Semitism globally – was created as part of the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004.
Although he would not comment on what was said during the meeting, Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who represented his organization at the discussion, said that the most important aspect of the meeting, other than what was discussed, had to with it being the first time that the State Department had elevated the battle against anti-Semitism to such a high level within the department’s leadership – an achievement which he credits Forman and his office.
“The State Department’s record during the Second World War is abysmal. Books have been written about that. Nobody wanted to interfere, nobody wanted to get involved in the terrible tragedy of the Holocaust, so it’s refreshing that the State Department has done this,” said Hier. “This sends a loud message to the entire world that there is now an active office [dealing exclusively with anti-Semitism]. It’s not an office where [it] will get lost in a larger agenda, it’s specifically to monitor the new phenomenon of worldwide anti-Semitism.”
Hier’s colleague, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, agreed with Hier’s assessment about the importance of this week’s meeting for the global anti-Semitism battle, although he did not take part in the roundtable.
“I can just tell you that for me, when I go over there to Europe, the fact that [Forman] convened this, means we can now tell the Europeans, ‘Hey, you’re talking about the United States of Europe? Terrific! What are you going to do now about this problem?’ ” said Cooper. “So the answer is to create an Ira Forman or a committee like it and put some money behind it. I think [the meeting] has the potential to be extraordinarily significant.”
Cooper also heaped praise on Forman, saying that Forman has been actively lobbying all levels of the State Department to make anti-Semitism a priority.
“It’s a signal within the bureaucracy of the State Department that this is an issue that doesn’t end at the desk of Ira Forman,” said Cooper.
Although, the Gaza conflict was not the cause of the anti-Semitism, according to Hier, it helped bring it to public attention.
“This is now a malignancy. The Ebola outbreak is not nearly as ferocious as the anti-Semitic outbreak,” said Hier. “I don’t mean in terms of death, but the outbreak that we’re seeing now in anti-Semitism is unprecedented in the world, so it’s good that we have an office that is looking after that.”
Some of the other high level State Department officials participating in the meeting included Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Paul Jones.
[email protected] @dmitriyshapiro
JNS.org contributed to this story.