Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced this week that he plans to retain the position of special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. This is positive news, especially since he had indicated some reluctance to do so and because anti-Jewish behavior around the world appears to be growing at a dangerous rate.
Jewish organizations, joined by bipartisan leaders in Congress, had called on Tillerson to appoint a new special envoy to the post, which has been vacant during the Trump administration. Tillerson has said he will be cutting back on envoys and had indicated that the State Department’s overseas bureaus could preclude the need for a special post dealing with anti-Semitism. Fortunately, he appears to have changed his mind.
The position was created by a 2004 act of Congress and signed by President George W. Bush as part of an effort to highlight America’s important voice in fighting anti-Semitism on a global level. Hannah Rosenthal and Ira Forman, who served in the position, believe it is important to have a permanent diplomat putting pressure on foreign governments and to alert Congress and the White House when anti-Semitism flares up in other lands. Rosenthal and Forman traveled to trouble spots, countering hatred and bigotry, and sought to foster positive relationships with leaders around the world.
There is concern that the State Department’s announced funding of $130,000 per year for the envoy’s budget could make the necessary travel and other work difficult. But it is an important and positive sign that the post will continue. We look forward to it being filled soon by someone with the skills, background and determination to counter the hateful rhetoric and actions that target Jews and their religion.