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February 22, 2018

Spirit of Unity at Congressional Breakfast on Combatting Antisemitism

Antisemitism is a red line. This clear conviction was the message espoused by members of the New York congressional delegation at a breakfast hosted by United Jewish Appeal and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York on the morning of February 11. The predominantly Democratic group, joined by lone Republican Congressman Dan Donovan, discussed the importance of security for American Jews and Jewish communities around the world. In addition, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) spoke eloquently about the global antisemitism crisis and U.S. commitment to this major issue.

Members of New York’s diplomatic and political establishment, representatives of religious-affiliated organizations—Jewish, Catholic, Sikh and more—and other interest groups, attended the event. The congressional delegation highlighted recent instances of antisemitism, and the need for a strong and unified voice of opposition. 

In attendance were Representatives Grace Meng, Eliot Engel, Jerrold Nadler, Dan Donovan, Yvette Clarke, Tom Suozzi, Sean Patrick Maloney, Carolyn Maloney, and Adriano Espaillat.

Throughout the morning, as each member of Congress responded to questions on an array of issues, one could feel the spirit of coalition and unity in the room. Also in attendance was Senator Chuck Schumer, whose remarks focused on a range of issues important to the Jewish community, including prioritizing combating manifestations of antisemitism in the United States.

Senator Menendez—an original co-sponsor of the Combating European Anti-Semitism Act of 2017—provided the day’s most cogent remarks on how to respond to antisemitism globally. He also called out recent revisionist and antisemitic efforts by the governments of both Hungary and Poland, and criticized Russian support for far right political groups in Europe. Having recently reclaimed his position as Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez seems eager to make fighting antisemitism one of his top priorities.

If passed into law, the bipartisan-supported Combating European Anti-Semitism Act of 2017 would improve how the State Department responds to hatred. The act requires, as part of the State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom Report, the department include information on bilateral efforts between the U.S. government, European law enforcement agencies, and civil society to combat antisemitism. It also requires the State Department report on security challenges facing the European Jewish community; educational programs promoting tolerance; and efforts by European governments to adopt and apply the working definition of antisemitism.

While reporting only goes so far, the idea behind the legislation is that increased reporting will enhance efforts to document, record, and ultimately combat antisemitism. According to the act, it is in the national interest to combat antisemitism at home and abroad. Thorough documentation of antisemitic incidents worldwide will inform policy both within the Executive and Legislative branches. It will also enable greater cooperation with, and support of, civil society groups documenting and combating antisemitism globally.

The legislation builds upon existing reporting required by the International Religious Freedom of Act of 1998, which requires reporting on international religious freedom worldwide. It also builds upon the 2004 Global Anti-Semitism Review Act, which requires the State Department to appoint a Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism—whose role is to report on global antisemitism. President Trump has not yet filled this critical position.

Both this legislation and the Special Envoy position reaffirm U.S. commitment to combating antisemitism at home and abroad. With the special envoy position empty, there is no U.S. representative working abroad to report on and respond to international incidents of antisemitism. For example, in January, Poland passed a “Holocaust law,” which restricts certain speech relating to the Holocaust. Had there been a special envoy in place, he or she likely would have traveled to Poland as a U.S. representative to discuss the detrimental effects of the law and document antisemitism stemming from its passage.

Human Rights First again calls on the administration to appoint a Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism. We also encourage the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to prioritize passage of the Combating European Anti-Semitism Act of 2017 so that the State Department will be mandated to increase its documentation of antisemitism worldwide.