There has never been a special envoy dealing with domestic anti-Semitism, but maybe now is the time to start.
Ira Forman, who most recently held the position that counters anti-Semitism on an international level, believes that given the current increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S., it might be a good idea to create such a position.
Forman served as special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, a State Department post, from May 2013 until this past January. His work was global in scope, and focused on protecting Jewish communities, and monitoring and countering anti-Semitism. That included calling on individual countries to do the same — ensure the safety of local Jewish communities and speak out and act against anti-Semitism.
“Since we advocated for foreign countries to have a position that would deal with anti-Semitism, and be a focal point, I think it makes sense for the U.S. to have such a position as well, especially given the uptick in these incidents around the country,” Forman told The Jewish Week on Tuesday.
Media reports have suggested that the Trump administration, in seeking to add significant funding for the military in the national budget, may cut back on special envoy positions like the one Forman held.
That particular job is congressionally mandated, but it’s possible the administration may choose not to fill the post, which deals with anti-Semitism outside of the U.S.
Domestic anti-Semitism, like the wave of bomb threats and cemetery vandalism in the news, is handled now on the federal level among officials from the Justice Department, FBI and Homeland Security.
Forman has often said that anti-Semitism is not going away, pointing out that it has been around for more than 2,000 years and could continue for centuries more. The metaphor he prefers is that of a faucet, advocating for “turning it down” even if it can’t be turned off completely.
He came to his position of special envoy during the Obama administration after serving as executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council for 15 years. His was a political appointment through former Secretary of State John Kerry with the consent of the Obama White House. But Forman insists the issue of anti-Semitism is nonpartisan.
One of the ironies in assessing attitudes toward Jews in the U.S. is that while more than half of hate crimes, which are on the rise, target Jews, according to a new Pew study, Jews are the best-liked religious group in America.
Forman said he disagrees with a recent statement made by Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., now a member of Knesset, who said that when it comes to countering anti-Semitism, action is important, not speech. “We found that a society needs to come together and speak up to make anti-Semitism socially unacceptable, and shame” those who express anti-Semitism, Forman said. “It’s our strongest weapon. It starts with the president and includes religious, civil and political leaders in combatting hate.
“It’s symbolic,” he said, “but very important. Civil society has to stand up.”