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Challenged the Trump Administration on Antisemitism

Antisemitism is a grave threat to human rights. History shows us that it endangers not only Jews but entire societies because, left unchecked, it leads to persecution of other minorities and an overall increase in repression.

That’s why we’ve long pressed the U.S. government to take stronger and more comprehensive action to combat antisemitism. As Kenneth Jacobson of the Anti-Defamation league said, “Human Rights First is unique in the human rights community for making anti-Semitism a priority.”

This work gained particular urgency in 2017 as President Trump showed himself to be soft on antisemitism. First came the appointment of Nazi-linked Sebastian Gorka. Then the White House statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that neglected to mention Jews (and the rejection of a draft that did.) Then his warm words for neo-Nazis who had terrorized people in Charlottesville.      

Then came reports that the antisemitism envoy position was on the chopping block, threatened by Secretary of State Tillerson’s planned budget cuts. Created in 2006, the position had helped make fighting antisemitism was a higher priority in U.S. foreign policy, so we set out to save it. Working with a bipartisan group in Congress and Jewish organizations, we launched an advocacy effort that made the stakes clear to administration, including the PR blow it would take if it abolished the position.

In August, Tillerson announced that he would maintain the antisemitism envoy even as he eliminated similar positions. This was an important victory but incomplete, because the White House has yet to fill the position. We’re pressing it do just that.

President Trump’s softness on antisemitism was especially dangerous given the increase in violence against Jews in Europe and the willingness of authoritarian leaders to stoke hatred against Jews. Leaders like Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of U.S. ally Hungary, who traffics in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and dabbles in Holocaust denial.

In 2017, Orban allies were planning to participate in a tribute to Hitler ally Miklos Horthy. As if that weren’t bad enough, the ceremony would take place on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. We sprung into action. Teaming up with members of Congress and Jewish groups in both Hungary and the United States, we reached out to the State Department, urging officials to oppose this aggressively antisemitic act.

We helped created a furor that led to cancellation of the event. A year that began with the Trump administration blowing antisemitic dog whistles ended with the Trump administration taking a strong stand against antisemitism.