Secretary of State John Kerry’s appointment this week of Ira Forman as special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism is a welcome and timely move as religious bigotry is increasing around the globe.
Of course it is a sad statement that in the 21st century, the United States requires a high-level post to deal officially with anti-Semitism. But the State Department’s annual report on international religious freedom, just released, underscores the need for a more assertive effort in countering the decline in religious freedom as well as the increase in Holocaust denial and a violent brand of anti-Semitism that is often couched as opposition to Israeli policy.
Forman, who directed the National Jewish Democratic Council for 15 years, is a respected professional whose competence transcends partisan politics. He faces a tall order at a time when the once-heralded Arab Spring has morphed into a bloody and growing intra-Muslim conflict between Sunnis and Shiites that includes much of the Arab world. In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad makes his father look like a humanitarian in comparison to the current civil war, driven by sectarian hatred, which has cost upwards of 70,000 lives and shows no signs of ending. Egypt, now run by a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood known for spouting the ugliest kinds of anti-Semitic rants, has a new constitution that bans defamation of Islam, but is silent on defamation of other religion. In Iran and Saudi Arabia, non-Muslims face persecution and arrest.
Of particular concern, the report pointed out that anti-Semitism is growing in Europe as well as in Arab countries. “Holocaust denial and glorification remain troubling themes, and opposition to Israeli policy at times was used to promote or justify blatant anti-Semitism,” it states. “When political leaders condone anti-Semitism, it sets the tone for its persistence and growth in countries around the world.”
Forman will begin his duties by joining a number of imams visiting Auschwitz, according to the State Department, and then will attend an international conference in Jerusalem of the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism. The trouble is that those religious and political leaders who attend such noble gatherings understand the morality of treating all God’s creatures with dignity. It’s the leaders who mock such attempts at cooperation that we need to worry about.