As of July 1, the U.S. State Department’s office to monitor and combat anti-Semitism around the world will be unstaffed, according to reports.
A source familiar with the office told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) that the office’s two staffers, neither of whom currently work full-time, will be reassigned next month. When operating at full capacity, the office employs both a full-time envoy and the equivalent of three additional full-time staffers. In a statement to JTA, the State Department said it was still devoting resources to combatting violence against Jews, while seemingly offering no explanation as to why shuttering an office monitoring anti-Semitism would help those efforts.
“The Department, our Embassies, and our Consulates support extensive bilateral, multilateral, and civil society outreach to Jewish communities,” the statement read. “Additionally, the State Department continues to devote resources towards programs combating anti-Semitism online and off, as well as building NGO coalitions in Europe. We also closely monitor global anti-Semitism and report on it in our Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and International Religious Freedom Report, which document global anti-Semitism in 199 countries.”
Last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he wasn’t sure the State Department needed a special envoy to combat anti-Semitism, arguing that such a designation actually detracted from attempts to tackle the issue.
“One of the things that we are considering — and we understand why [special envoys] were created and the good intentions behind why they were created — but one of the things we want to understand is by doing that, did we weaken our attention to those issues?” Tillerson said while testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee. “Because the expertise in a lot of these areas lies within the bureaus, and now we’ve stripped it out of the bureaus.”
Created by the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004, the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism has represented a U.S. commitment to addressing violence towards Jewish communities abroad, something that remains a persistent problem. In letting the office go unstaffed, critics are worried the United States may be mitigating the severity of anti-Semitism worldwide. Sparking more concern is the perception that rising U.S. anti-Semitism in the wake of President Donald Trump’s election is part of a larger pattern — namely, that a lack of concern for anti-Semitism abroad by the Trump administration reflects similar apathy at home.
While 2016 saw a huge uptick in hate crimes against Jews in the United States, 2017 has marked a dramatic rise — a report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in April noted the 541 anti-Semitic incidents that had occurred by that month alone, marking an 86 percent increase compared to the same period in 2016.
Much of that increase is due to a spike in anti-Jewish vandalism incidents across the United States, a number of which targeted Jewish cemeteries and synagogues. In March, ThinkProgress reported from a Jewish cemetery in northeastern Philadelphia, where around 200 graves were vandalized (an investigation remains ongoing.) Similar occurrences have also been reported in cities around the country, with college campuses also cited by the ADL as an increasingly unsafe space for Jews.
Trump’s administration has done little to address the issue. If anything, the president has repeatedly seemed apathetic to the concerns of American Jews, appointing controversial figures like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, both of whom have been accused of anti-Semitism, to powerful White House roles. Other members of Trump’s staff have also seemed to dismiss anti-Semitism in the past: in April, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer downplayed war crimes carried out by Adolf Hitler. Trump’s international Holocaust Remembrance Day speech, meanwhile, made no mention of Jews whatsoever.
Jewish groups have criticized Trump’s failure to name an envoy dedicated to anti-Semitism abroad before now. More than 100 Holocaust educators, scholars, and organizations criticized defunding the office in March, after reports circulated in February that it might be eliminated.
“The need becomes clearer by the day as hatred, like a tidal wave, sweeps across the nation,” the Association of Holocaust Organizations wrote, correlating attacks at home to attacks globally. “Cemeteries, synagogues, churches and mosques are being desecrated. Jewish Community Centers and schools are targets of bomb threats and shootings. Swastikas and white-supremacist threats appear on walls and on social media. Now is the time to increase vigilance, not roll it back.”
By April, it seemed that the State Department might staff the office after all, but Tillerson’s comments last week signaled its demise was still likely. Seemingly by coincidence, the ADL launched a petition on Thursday demanding a special envoy be appointed, though it now seems unlikely to alter the office’s staffing shortage come July.
Countering anti-Semitism overseas isn’t the only effort the Trump administration is letting fall by the wayside. According to reports, funding for Life After Hate, a group dedicated to de-radicalizing neo-Nazis and white supremacists, has been dropped from a new grant list released Friday.