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At Lipstadt’s long-delayed confirmation hearing, Republicans double down on holding it up

Seven months after Deborah E. Lipstadt was nominated to serve as the nation’s antisemitism envoy, Senate Republicans defended their holdup of her confirmation hearing, which took place Tuesday.

Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin accused Lipstadt of engaging in the “malicious poison” of hatred for a tweet in which she accused him of white supremacy for a comment he made about the Jan. 6 riots.

“Why did you go on social media and level these vile and horrible charges against people, including me that you don’t even know?” a visibly agitated Johnson confronted Lipstadt, one of the foremost historians of the Holocaust. “You have never talked to me, you have never met me. You don’t know what is in my heart. Do you feel bad about that at all?”

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Lipstadt expressed regret for the tweet, saying it was not nuanced and not meant as a personal or political attack.

Johnson responded by saying that while he accepted her apology, “I certainly cannot support your nomination — hope my other colleagues won’t either. You’re just simply not qualified for it.”

Halie Soifer, chief executive of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said that contrary to his statement, Lipstadt did offer to meet with Johnston prior to Tuesday’s hearing. “Instead, he chose to make it a public display, and had the audacity to question Dr. Lipstadt’s qualifications for the role,” she said.

Lipstadt was nominated to serve as the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism in July, a position that has recently been elevated to the rank of ambassador, so that it requires Senate confirmation.

Sen. Jim Risch, the committee’s ranking Republican, referred to the holdup as “some grumbling” about how quickly the nomination should move forward. He called the delay a “learning moment” for future nominees who should to think twice about making public remarks about a member of the Senate committee that will consider their nomination.

It makes sense, he said, that the tweets of a nominee “should draw more scrutiny and more venting than usual.”

“Our job of advice and consent is very important,” he added.

Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, President Joe Biden's nominee for special envoy to combat and monitor antisemitism, at her confirmation hearing on Feb. 8, 2022

Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, President Joe Biden’s nominee for special envoy to combat and monitor antisemitism, at her confirmation hearing on Feb. 8, 2022 Image by Screenshot

Earlier in the hearing, amid questioning from Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, Lipstadt said that as “an equal opportunity foe of antisemitism” her criticism of Johnson was not made on a personal level, but based on what she viewed as something that can be construed or as antisemitic.

“I have been critical and I acknowledge that I’ve also learned not to tweet in the middle of the night — a very bad thing to do — and I have sometimes not been as nuanced in my tweets as I like,” Lipstadt said. But she added that a person’s political persuasions “are irrelevant in the fight against antisemitism.”

“I don’t care if I agree with you on everything else, if you’re engaging in antisemitism, I’m going to call you out and I’m going to address it,” Lipstadt said. “It can’t be a political weapon.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who participated at the start of the meeting to introduce other nominees, thanked members of the committee for finally agreeing to advance Lipstadt’s nomination. The Democratic leader said the recent spike in violent antisemitic attacks abroad and the “malicious poison of antisemitism” in major cities across the U.S. made filling the post “all the more urgent.”

Lipstadt was introduced by Sen. Jacky Rosen, a Democrat from Nevada, who described her as “the nation’s foremost expert” on antisemitism and Holocaust denial who is well-positioned to lead the office at the State Department at a critical time for Jewish communities in the U.S. and abroad.

Dr. Deborah Lipstadt leading a group at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp on July 2007

Dr. Deborah Lipstadt leading a group visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp on July 2007 Image by Robert A. Cumins

Lipstadt, who teaches at Emory University in Atlanta, was the protagonist of the 2016 film “Denial,” about her successful defeat of a libel suit filed by a Holocaust denier she had criticized. She is the author of numerous books, including “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory,” “The Eichmann Trial,” and “Antisemitism: Here and Now,” which won a National Jewish Book Award in 2019.

“Dr. Deborah Lipstadt has an extensive record of combating and calling out antisemitism, no matter which side of the political spectrum it comes from,” said Rosen, who is co-chair of the Senate Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism.

Sen. Bob Menendez, the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, defended Lipstadt at the conclusion of the hearing. “If you can’t call out an antisemitic trope, how in God’s name are you going to do this job?” he asked, noting that some of the rioters at the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol “literally wore and bore Nazi symbolism.”

Many prominent Jewish Americans groups called on the Senate to speed up Lipstadt’s confirmation process.

The committee has not yet set a date to vote on Lipstadt’s nomination, but it appears she will get bipartisan support. Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio who is retiring at the end of the year, told Lipstadt he thought she was qualified for the position.

Anna Salton Eisen, founding president of the Texas synagogue attacked last month who was invited by Lipstadt to attend the hearing, met with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas on Tuesday afternoon and urged him to support the nomination. Eisen told the Forward that Cruz didn’t indicate how he would vote, but also didn’t defend the Republican move to delay the confirmation process.

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