WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. Senate confirmed Rabbi David Saperstein, a Reform movement leader, for a State Department post.
On Friday, Saperstein in a 61-35 vote won confirmation as ambassador at large for international religious freedom. He will be the fourth person and the first non-Christian to serve in the post.
The ambassador travels the world making the case for minorities facing persecution or discrimination. In recent years, ambassadors have taken up the causes of Muslims in Burma and Christians in China and Sudan, among other cases.
Saperstein, a veteran civil rights activist, had served as director and counsel of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism since 1974.
“David’s clear and powerful voice has been the voice of our movement for 40 years,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said in a statement released Friday. “More than that, it has been the voice of the all-too-many among us who are often voiceless.”
National communal umbrellas, including the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, welcomed Saperstein’s confirmation. They were joined by the Interfaith Alliance, a religious freedom lobbying group that has 75 affiliates including all four major Jewish streams, and the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly.
Saperstein was a member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships from 2010 to 2011. He also was a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom from 1999 to 2001.
Separately, the Senate on Friday confirmed two new members to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the body that supervises U.S. government underwritten media, including the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. They are Leon Aron, a Russian affairs scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Michael Kempner, a New Jersey-based public relations executive and philanthropist.