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Pompeo Promises Anti-Semitism Envoy Eventually, But Advocates Urge Quick Action

Advocacy groups welcomed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s promise to appoint a special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, but continued to urge him to fill the vacancy as soon as possible.

Pompeo was vague on a specific timeline, telling legislators he’d “move on” picking someone after Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) asked him in a hearing last week to quickly appoint an envoy to combat “this scourge of anti-Semitism, which is rising all over the globe.” Advocates voiced frustration with the lack of specifics, but it’s unlikely the job, which has been open since President Trump’s inauguration last year, will be filled soon.

The director of Human Rights First, Susan Corke, told the Forward she was “heartened” by Pompeo’s promise and that she’s been giving assurances by other State Department officials that they won’t drag their feet, but was still a bit frustrated “he didn’t commit to a timeline.”

Corke’s group helped lead a coalition of dozens of organizations and individuals, including the Anti-Defamation League and former anti-Semitism envoy Ira Forman, to sign a May 23 letter addressed to Pompeo calling for a swift appointment.

“That position has been vacant for over 16 months now,” Corke added. “This should be an obvious one. It’s required by law and has bipartisan support in Congress.”

The State Department did not return a request for comment.

Advocacy groups are already dealing with an administration that has been slow to fill key positions throughout the executive branch.

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was particularly unhurried, with more than 60 Senate-confirmed posts remaining vacant during his tenure.

Tillerson had also expressed skepticism over the anti-Semitism position’s impact.

“One of the things that we are considering — and we understand why [special envoys] were created and the good intentions behind why they were created — but one of the things we want to understand is by doing that, did we weaken our attention to those issues? Because the expertise in a lot of these areas lies within the bureaus, and now we’ve stripped it out of the bureaus,” Tillerson said during a 2017 hearing.

The position was created in 2004 under the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act. Past envoys have worked with European governments to counter anti-Semitic incidents and appoint their own officials to monitor hatred.

Forman, for example, worked with Hungarian leaders in 2015 to abandon plans to erect a statue honoring former government minister Bálint Hóman, who helped deport more than 400,000 Jews to Auschwitz in 1944.

There has been a noticeable rise in anti-Semitic incidents worldwide since that position was left vacant.

Britain saw a 34 percent jump in assaults in 2017 and France reportedly had a 26 percent jump during the same period, according to figures from a British anti-Semitism watchdog group. And this year saw the fatal stabbing of an 85-year-old French Holocaust survivor in March, in what Paris prosecutors believe was an anti-Semitic attack.

Anti-Defamation League spokesman Todd Gutnick said they too hoped the role would be filled “as quickly as possible” considering the rise in violence.

“America plays an essential role in the fight against anti-Semitism, but this role has been hamstrung for well over a year,” Gutnick said in a statement. “Giving the near daily reports of anti-Semitic attacks and incidents across Europe and elsewhere, there’s no better time for a capable and dedicated individual in this post to spur diplomatic efforts to stem anti-Semitism abroad.”

Brookings Middle East policy expert Shalom Lipner said he didn’t think the appointment would be held up indefinitely since combating anti-Semitism was as “apolitical an issue as you can find right now.”

He added that the rise in anti-Jewish assaults while the post was left vacant could lead some to question the ability of a single, new envoy to “put the toxic genie back in its lantern,” but said the post still “holds great symbolic value,” as world leaders wonder whether Washington will continue to weigh in on instances of anti-Semitism in their country.

“A lot of people look for moral leadership,” said Lipner, who served as an advisor in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office. “This issue can affect broader relationships.”

Contact Ben Fractenberg at [email protected] or on Twitter, @fractenberg

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