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Threading the Needle: Federal Officials Address Antisemitism and Anti-Israeli Sentiment

By: Sophie Balmagiya & Zachary Ainbinder-Barkley

On October 22, the Chabad of George Washington University hosted a panel discussion on combating antisemitism. The panelists included the past two U.S. Special Envoys for Monitoring & Combating Antisemitism (a diplomatic position appointed by the president): Elan Carr, who served as the envoy under President Trump, and Ira Forman, who served during the Obama Administration. The event also featured several members of Congress, including Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), who all gave remarks about the current state of antisemitism in the US and worldwide.

Deutch, who garnered national attention in September for criticizing Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) for her objection to additional Iron Dome funding, argued that the idea that “the one Jewish state in the world should be rejected and dismantled” is inherently antisemitic. In response to a recent incident in which the Washington D.C. chapter of the Sunrise Movement refused to participate in a voting rights rally with several Jewish organizations due to their support for Israel, Rep. Deutch encouraged the audience to go out and participate in the event. “When a group announces that they will choose not to participate in a political event in support of our democracy... because they will not participate with Zionists, then it becomes clear that your participation here is more important than ever,” he said. The Sunrise Movement incident is part of a broader trend of anti-Zionists and other opponents of Israel’s policies singling out and even targeting American Jews rather than protesting the Israeli government.

Another key point of discussion was the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, which reads:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Special Envoy Carr stressed the need for countries, including the U.S., to adopt the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism. He also urged attendees to show up at the polls, giving the impression that antisemitism is something that can be squashed in the voting booth and obliterated by an army of politically active individuals. Meanwhile, Special Envoy Foreman presented a more meliorist approach, comparing antisemitism to a faucet that can never truly be turned off but can ideally be turned down to a mere drip. It seemed that Carr was employing antisemitism and its severity within the U.S. as a fear mongering strategy for the sake of partisan gain, as was seen through his numerous ‘get out the vote’ requests.

Carr and Foreman also had very different interpretations of what forms of antisemitism are important to focus on and combat. Carr believed that antisemitism in the U.S. and on campus should be top priority, while Forman believed that the focus should be on nations with governments that allow for antisemitism to take hold such as Hungary or Poland. Forman questioned the importance of organizations such as‘Jewish on Campus’ (an organization highlighting incidents of antisemitism at colleges and universities) and chose to focus on antisemitism as a global issue.

Overall, it’s clear that neither envoy was having the same conversation. While both are obviously committed to combating antisemitism, they disagree on what constitutes antisemitism and antisemitism’s effects on contemporary American society. In accordance with the members of Congress that spoke, each brought valuable insights as to how the Jewish past and present can lead to a safer future.

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