Push for more action on anti-Semitism

Rep. Tom Lantos. ()

Rep. Tom Lantos. ()

WASHINGTON, Sept. 15 (JTA) — Politicians looking at what the United States can do to help quash a rise in international anti-Semitism are arriving at different conclusions. Republicans in the U.S. Senate are leading an effort to raise awareness of the rise of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist attacks in Europe and elsewhere. At the same time, a bipartisan group of policy intellectuals is criticizing the Bush administration for not backing new efforts to monitor and combat anti-Semitism abroad. While the re-emergence of international anti-Semitism is a phenomenon virtually no one in Washington disputes, opinions differ as to how to tackle it from here. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) is pushing legislation that would mandate an annual State Department report on anti-Semitism and what countries are doing to combat it. It also would create an office within the State Department to handle the issue. “Unfortunately, anti-Semitism has had an appalling upsurge in many countries across the globe,” Lantos told JTA. “It is my judgement, as the only Holocaust survivor in this Congress, that anti-Semitism deserves special attention.” The State Department opposes the legislation, arguing it already monitors anti-Semitism in other annual reports. A group of 104 “prominent Americans,” coordinated by the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, sent a letter Monday to Secretary of State Colin Powell suggesting that the fight against anti-Semitism deserves “specific, focused attention,” and expressing disappointment that the State Department opposes Lantos’ legislation. “This is, unfortunately, a historic and worldwide phenomenon,” former Rep. Steve Solarz (D-N.Y.), a coordinator of the effort, told JTA. “We know what the consequences of anti-Semitism are.” Solarz is joined by Jack Kemp, a former secretary of Housing and Urban Development; Jeanne Kirkpatrick, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and James Woolsey, a former CIA director. In its official comments on the Global Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, the State Department said that other department reports already touch on anti-Semitism, and that a report devoted solely to anti-Semitism “could erode our credibility by being interpreted as favoritism in human rights reporting.” The department also said that anti-Semitism issues already are coordinated out of the Office of the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. Lantos said Powell told him he agrees with the department´s position. A State Department spokesman was unavailable for comment. Solarz and Lantos said they think global anti-Semitism warrants the same treatment as international human trafficking and the situation in Tibet, which are dealt with in specific State Department reports. “The notion that Jews are singled out for special and preferential treatment is sort of insane,” Lantos said. “Jews are singled out for persecution, and we need to prevent that.” The State Department has said it does not oppose a similar bill sponsored by Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), which passed the Senate in May and which calls for a one-time report on global anti-Semitism. It also requires the department to document anti-Semitic acts in its annual reports on international religious freedom and human rights. Lantos said he is close to a deal with Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who is expected to sponsor the House of Representatives’ version of the Voinovich legislation, to amend it and make it similar to Lantos’ vision. Lantos said he believed the bill could be voted on this year and receive unanimous support if he can come to an agreement with Smith. Support for increased monitoring of anti-Semitic acts is popular on Capitol Hill. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) said Monday that he supports the Lantos legislation in principle, but believes the State Department is impeding progress. “My feeling is this is an important enough issue that we should be taking note of it and documenting it,” he told reporters. “The general concept is one we should be paying attention to.” Santorum hopes his colleagues will pay attention this week when the Senate Republican caucus devotes its floor time during morning business to global anti-Semitism. Six GOP senators were expected to address the issue for 10 minutes each on Tuesday and Wednesday, timed for the Rosh Hashanah holiday. “It’s important for us to take that time as a point of reflection for the Jewish community and as a point of reflection for this country,” Santorum said Monday. Republicans have been touting their efforts against anti-Semitism as part of a larger election strategy to court the American Jewish vote. A recent White House booklet, “President George W. Bush: A Friend of the American Jewish Community,” focused on Bush’s condemnation of anti-Semitic comments by the former prime minister of Malaysia and his decision to send high-level delegations to anti-Semitism conferences sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Warren Miller, chairman of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, also praised Bush’s efforts Tuesday, suggesting that since taking office Bush has made priorities of Holocaust remembrance and action against anti-Semitism. “There is action to fight anti-Semitism wherever it occurs, and strong efforts are underway to protect and preserve the cultural heritage of the Jewish people,” Miller said in a speech at the National Press Club. “Our citizens and our government are actively engaged.”

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