Orthodox rabbi and daughter of Tom Lantos named to controversial US human rights commission


(JTA) — An Orthodox rabbi and the daughter of the late Rep. Tom Lantos will serve on a new U.S. human rights commission whose formation has divided conservatives and liberals.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday announced the creation of the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights, whose goals include defining human rights in the context of foreign policy.

In his remarks, Pompeo said that international institutions “designed and built to protect human rights have drifted from their original mission. As human rights claims have proliferated, some claims have come into tension with one another, provoking questions and clashes about which rights are entitled to gain respect.”

Supporters of the commission welcomed the effort as an attempt to address international forums, like the United Nations Human Rights Council, that have been criticized for including human rights abusers among its members.

Critics say the commission intends to politicize human rights and to weaken protections for LGBTQ people and women seeking reproductive rights. The Democratic-led House of Representatives recently voted to ban funding for the commission.

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., who heads the body’s Foreign Affairs Committee, called the panel “bizarre” and said it risked “undermining many international human-rights norms that the United States helped establish.”

The commission will be headed by Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon, a former ambassador to the Vatican who teaches and writes on bioethics and human rights in international law. Glendon is a leader in the intellectual anti-abortion movement and has argued that same-sex marriage is not a human rights issue.

Commission members include Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City, as well as the director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University, and Katrina Lantos Swett, president of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice. Her father, first elected to his Northern California seat in 1981, was the only Holocaust survivor elected to Congress.

Other members of the commission are Hoover Institution fellow Russell Berman, Jewish political scientist Peter Berkowitz, Notre Dame law professer Paolo Carozza, American Islamic scholar Hamza Yusuf, Black Church  scholar Jacqueline Rivers, Christian ethicist Christopher Tollefsen and German literature professor David Tse-Chien Pan.

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