Commentary Magazine


Topic: Gregg Rickman

Do We Still Need a Special Envoy on Anti-Semitism?

Reading the remarks of Ira Forman, the State Department’s newly-appointed special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, to a Washington D.C. gathering of the American Jewish Committee, I was seized by one heretical thought that was quickly followed by another. Are there any real benefits to be gained from the existence of this position? And does the special envoy help to clarify or obscure the reasons behind the persistence of anti-Semitism in our own time?

The position was created by the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act that was signed into law by President Bush in 2004. The act was authored by the late Democratic congressman Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor whose horror at the global upsurge in anti-Semitic beliefs and violence that accompanied the outbreak, in 2000, of the second Palestinian intifada led him to campaign for a dedicated State Department official to stay on top of the problem.

Bush was receptive because he regarded the fight against anti-Semitism as an essential component of promoting the values of liberty around the world. Announcing the act’s passage, Bush declared that “extending freedom also means confronting the evil of anti-Semitism.”

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Reading the remarks of Ira Forman, the State Department’s newly-appointed special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, to a Washington D.C. gathering of the American Jewish Committee, I was seized by one heretical thought that was quickly followed by another. Are there any real benefits to be gained from the existence of this position? And does the special envoy help to clarify or obscure the reasons behind the persistence of anti-Semitism in our own time?

The position was created by the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act that was signed into law by President Bush in 2004. The act was authored by the late Democratic congressman Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor whose horror at the global upsurge in anti-Semitic beliefs and violence that accompanied the outbreak, in 2000, of the second Palestinian intifada led him to campaign for a dedicated State Department official to stay on top of the problem.

Bush was receptive because he regarded the fight against anti-Semitism as an essential component of promoting the values of liberty around the world. Announcing the act’s passage, Bush declared that “extending freedom also means confronting the evil of anti-Semitism.”

The first special envoy, Gregg Rickman, did an admirable job of setting the tone, particularly in explaining the intimate connections between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. That cannot have been an easy task, especially as Rickman’s main interlocutors were European diplomats, most of whom shudder at the idea that distaste for Israel can be motivated by distaste for Jews. When Rickman left government following President Obama’s election in 2008, the post remained vacant for more than a year before Hannah Rosenthal, a former Clinton administration official, was appointed.

With Rosenthal’s arrival, there was a notable shift in emphasis: whereas the Bush administration framed the fight against anti-Semitism as integral to the broader struggle for political liberty, under Obama it was repositioned as one of several components of a tolerance agenda. The excessive attention Rosenthal gave to prejudice against Muslims provoked her predecessor, Rickman, into advocating that she be rebranded as the “special envoy to monitor Islamophobia,” in order that “someone else who cares more about the fate and welfare of Jews” be appointed in her stead. 

It’s too early to predict whether Forman will attract the same controversy that Rosenthal did. Given his previous role as CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, expectations that he will stick his neck out on an issue that adds an unwelcome layer of complexity to the administration’s Middle East policies will be low to begin with. Nonetheless, several clues to his approach can be found in his Washington speech.

In broad terms, Forman made the right noises. His account of recent anti-Semitic outrages ­­from Hungary to Iran was certainly accurate, if pedestrian. But what was absent was any understanding of what makes anti-Semitism unique.

Charles Maurras, a notorious French anti-Semite of the 19th century, once observed that the great strength of Jew-hatred is that it “enables everything to be arranged, smoothed over, and simplified.” This, in turn, helps explain why anti-Semitism finds fertile ground in such culturally diverse locations as Venezuela and Egypt, as well as why it wins adherents on both left and right. Burying this distinctiveness in the name of a multi-ethnic coalition that regards all prejudices as equally toxic, as Rosenthal surely did during her time as special envoy, necessarily blunts an effective response.

A related criticism is that too much of the Special Envoy’s time is spent on commemorating past atrocities against Jews, at the expense of current problems.

In his speech to the AJC, Forman urged his audience “not to think that the picture is all bleak. There has been good news as well as bad.” However, the “good” news he related was exclusively concerned with Holocaust commemoration in Europe and the United States. What that ignores, of course, is the painful truth that it is much easier for a country like Belgium to commit itself to educating school kids about the Holocaust than it is to clamp down on the various Islamist groups agitating against Jews within its own borders.

A related passage of Forman’s speech was even more striking. He described a recent visit to Auschwitz with an unnamed “Palestinian imam” who left the extermination camp carrying the following conclusion:

Because the people here in Europe, with what they have faced in the past, they have overcome the discrimination, all the terrible things. And now they live with peace…with safety. This means we can, in the Holy Land, do the same thing. We can overcome our conflict, our wars, our people who were killed, and we can talk together to reach a peace.”

There is nothing wrong with talking about peace. But is gushing over the invocation of the Holocaust in a Palestinian appeal for peace in the “Holy Land” what a special envoy on anti-Semitism should be doing? Wouldn’t it be preferable to highlight the manner in which the hardwired anti-Semitism of groups like the Muslim Brotherhood both confounds the peace process and contributes to the insecurity of Diaspora Jewish communities? And if we are going to educate about the Holocaust, shouldn’t the stress be on how the mass genocide of the Jews was the culmination of centuries of anti-Semitism, rather than an abstract illustration of the inhumanity which human beings are capable of? Finally, isn’t the Holocaust the best illustration of just how exposed and vulnerable Jews are when they don’t have their own state?

It may be that articulating these arguments would push the special envoy into politically and diplomatically difficult terrain. If that’s the case, then arguably we’d better off if his position didn’t exist in the first place.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Cliff May tries to explain satire to the Beagle Blogger. And it doesn’t even involve Sarah Palin.

COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick, on designating the Christmas Day bomber as a criminal defendant rather than an enemy combatant: “The question of what type of legal status we ought to grant Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab remains a live question with serious implications for the national security of the United States. As the situation now stands, with an untold number of plots in the works, treating this man as a criminal defendant requires us to count upon the discretion and good will of a would-be mass murderer.”

Former CIA Director James Woolsey doesn’t think Flight 253 was “a problem of coordination”: “It was about people within the agencies pulling in their horns. The only person who can turn this around is the president. Not much will change unless he speaks up. He needs to tell people that this is a long struggle against radical Islam and its manifestations.” I hope I am wrong but somehow I don’t think Obama is the one to “smash political correctness upside the head.”

A top-tier GOP contender shows interest in a Blue state senate race: “Republican Rep. Pete King (N.Y.) signaled Monday that he is reconsidering his decision not to run for Senate in 2010 .King said he’s actively looking at a run for statewide office this year after he’d ruled out such a campaign last summer.” If they suspect it will be a wave election, many more well-known challengers may want to jump into races that in ordinary years would be considered out of reach.

Benny Avni explains why “targeted” sanctions on Iran are a dumb idea: “No one in last week’s well-organized pro-regime mass demonstrations carried a sign advocating diplomacy to defuse tensions with America (and anti-government demonstrators aren’t itching for it either). A diplomatic solution exists only in our head. Some (like [John] Kerry) cling to last year’s foolishness, but for others it’s replaced by a new ‘boomerang’ theory: If we sanction the Iranian people too heavily, they ‘will be fooled into thinking we are to blame,’ as an unnamed administration official told the Washington Post. Nonsense, says Israel Radio’s Farsi Service veteran Menashe Amir, whose broadcasts are often cited by Iranian media as instigating the antigovernment protesters. . . Once again, the ideas underlying Washington’s new policy miss the target. At this late date, sanctions can only be helpful if they facilitate regime change, which should be the top objective of the new strategy. Targeting for sanctions only a handful of evil regime operators would hardly impress the Iranian masses (although it will be widely applauded in Washington and the United Nations).”

The State Department goes rushing to the defense of Hannah Rosenthal (who is supposed to be working on anti-Semitism but took some time out to lash out at Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren for not being nice to her J Street pals). “Separately, Rosenthal’s predecessor, Gregg Rickman, has slammed her for her remarks about Oren. ‘Ms. Rosenthal’s criticisms of Ambassador Oren strike a chord particularly because this is not her policy portfolio to advocate . . . She is supposed to fight anti-Semitism, not defend J-Street, an organization on whose Advisory Board she formally sat before her appointment to the State Department.”

If “Big is bad” is catching on as a political message, how long before voters exact revenge once they figure out that the Democrats have struck a health-care deal with big and bad insurance companies?

James Taranto goes on a roll: “We suppose Napolitano is a glass-is-half-full kind of gal. And it’s true that, apart from allowing a known extremist to board a plane while carrying a bomb, the system worked. . . ABC News reports that ‘one of the four leaders allegedly behind the al Qaeda plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger jet over Detroit was released by the U.S. from the Guantanamo prison in November 2007.’ Said Ali Shari, a Saudi national, was released into the custody of our friends the Saudis and “has since emerged in leadership roles in Yemen,” says ABC. Heckuva job, Nayef. In fairness, we should note that in November 2007, Barack Obama was only the junior senator from Illinois. This is a problem he inherited from the Bush administration. And he has responded by putting a stop to the release of terrorists from Guantanamo. Just kidding!” Looks like the joke is on us.

Worse than returning the Churchill bust: “The name of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was included in a dossier of people believed to have made attempts to deal with known extremists that was shared with American intelligence. . . Abdulmutallab came to the attention of intelligence agencies because of ‘multiple communications’ he had with Islamic extremists in Britain while a student between 2006 and 2008. However, denying reports that the information had not been divulged, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘Clearly there was security information about this individual’s activities and that was information that was shared with the US authorities. That is the key point.'”

Cliff May tries to explain satire to the Beagle Blogger. And it doesn’t even involve Sarah Palin.

COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick, on designating the Christmas Day bomber as a criminal defendant rather than an enemy combatant: “The question of what type of legal status we ought to grant Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab remains a live question with serious implications for the national security of the United States. As the situation now stands, with an untold number of plots in the works, treating this man as a criminal defendant requires us to count upon the discretion and good will of a would-be mass murderer.”

Former CIA Director James Woolsey doesn’t think Flight 253 was “a problem of coordination”: “It was about people within the agencies pulling in their horns. The only person who can turn this around is the president. Not much will change unless he speaks up. He needs to tell people that this is a long struggle against radical Islam and its manifestations.” I hope I am wrong but somehow I don’t think Obama is the one to “smash political correctness upside the head.”

A top-tier GOP contender shows interest in a Blue state senate race: “Republican Rep. Pete King (N.Y.) signaled Monday that he is reconsidering his decision not to run for Senate in 2010 .King said he’s actively looking at a run for statewide office this year after he’d ruled out such a campaign last summer.” If they suspect it will be a wave election, many more well-known challengers may want to jump into races that in ordinary years would be considered out of reach.

Benny Avni explains why “targeted” sanctions on Iran are a dumb idea: “No one in last week’s well-organized pro-regime mass demonstrations carried a sign advocating diplomacy to defuse tensions with America (and anti-government demonstrators aren’t itching for it either). A diplomatic solution exists only in our head. Some (like [John] Kerry) cling to last year’s foolishness, but for others it’s replaced by a new ‘boomerang’ theory: If we sanction the Iranian people too heavily, they ‘will be fooled into thinking we are to blame,’ as an unnamed administration official told the Washington Post. Nonsense, says Israel Radio’s Farsi Service veteran Menashe Amir, whose broadcasts are often cited by Iranian media as instigating the antigovernment protesters. . . Once again, the ideas underlying Washington’s new policy miss the target. At this late date, sanctions can only be helpful if they facilitate regime change, which should be the top objective of the new strategy. Targeting for sanctions only a handful of evil regime operators would hardly impress the Iranian masses (although it will be widely applauded in Washington and the United Nations).”

The State Department goes rushing to the defense of Hannah Rosenthal (who is supposed to be working on anti-Semitism but took some time out to lash out at Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren for not being nice to her J Street pals). “Separately, Rosenthal’s predecessor, Gregg Rickman, has slammed her for her remarks about Oren. ‘Ms. Rosenthal’s criticisms of Ambassador Oren strike a chord particularly because this is not her policy portfolio to advocate . . . She is supposed to fight anti-Semitism, not defend J-Street, an organization on whose Advisory Board she formally sat before her appointment to the State Department.”

If “Big is bad” is catching on as a political message, how long before voters exact revenge once they figure out that the Democrats have struck a health-care deal with big and bad insurance companies?

James Taranto goes on a roll: “We suppose Napolitano is a glass-is-half-full kind of gal. And it’s true that, apart from allowing a known extremist to board a plane while carrying a bomb, the system worked. . . ABC News reports that ‘one of the four leaders allegedly behind the al Qaeda plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger jet over Detroit was released by the U.S. from the Guantanamo prison in November 2007.’ Said Ali Shari, a Saudi national, was released into the custody of our friends the Saudis and “has since emerged in leadership roles in Yemen,” says ABC. Heckuva job, Nayef. In fairness, we should note that in November 2007, Barack Obama was only the junior senator from Illinois. This is a problem he inherited from the Bush administration. And he has responded by putting a stop to the release of terrorists from Guantanamo. Just kidding!” Looks like the joke is on us.

Worse than returning the Churchill bust: “The name of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was included in a dossier of people believed to have made attempts to deal with known extremists that was shared with American intelligence. . . Abdulmutallab came to the attention of intelligence agencies because of ‘multiple communications’ he had with Islamic extremists in Britain while a student between 2006 and 2008. However, denying reports that the information had not been divulged, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘Clearly there was security information about this individual’s activities and that was information that was shared with the US authorities. That is the key point.'”

Read Less




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