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State Dept. Refuses to Staff Anti-Semitism Office

06-28-2017
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US State Department, Courtesy Wikipedia
US State Department, Courtesy Wikipedia

Watch CBN News' interview with human rights advocate Katrina Lantos Swett above.

The U.S. State Department office tasked with monitoring and combating anti-Semitism around the world is reportedly on the verge of shutting down.

According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), the two people who currently work in that office, neither of whom are full-time employees, will be reassigned to other duties next month.

The Trump administration is also not planning to fill the position of special envoy to combat anti-Semitism.

In a statement released to the JTA, the State Department said it remains committed to tackling the scourge of anti-Semitism.

"We want to ensure the Department is addressing anti-Semitism in the most effective and efficient method possible and will continue to endeavor to do so," the statement said.

The position of special envoy was created by the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004.

But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently told Congress that he believes the position is counterproductive and that incidents of anti-Semitism could actually get worse with the appointment of a special envoy.

"One of the questions I've asked is, if we're really going to affect these areas, these special areas, don't we have to affect it through the delivery on mission at every level at every country?" Tillerson told lawmakers earlier this month during testimony before the Foreign Operations Subcommittee. "By having a special envoy, one of my experiences is, mission then says, 'oh, we've got somebody else that does,' and then they stop doing it."

When pressed by Rep. Grace Meng, the Democrat from New York, about why he hasn't filled the position after repeated requests by lawmakers, Tillerson responded:

"One of the things that we are considering-and we understand why {special envoys} were created and the good intentions behind why they were created-but one of the things we want to understand is by doing that, did we weaken our attention to those issues? Because the expertise in a lot of these areas lies within the bureaus, and now we've stripped it out of the bureaus," Tillerson said.

In the White House press briefing today, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders blamed staffing vacancies on Democrats in the Senate. She says the Trump administration has an inability to propertly staff across a number of agencies because it takes so long to get the president's appointees through the confirmation process. 

Now the Office to Combat and Monitor Anti-Semitism is reportedly scheduled to close on Saturday, July 1.

Ira Forman, who was the former special envoy from 2013 to Jan. 2017, is urging the State Department and White House to reconsider its position.

"The leadership the U.S. has taken around the world is deeply appreciated, by and large, by our democratic allies," Forman said. "That leadership will vastly diminish if the office of the special envoy is not supported by senior leadership at the State Department."

The Anti-Defamation League has launched an online petition urging Tillerson to staff the office.

"The State Department is making a big mistake in putting off a decision on the appointment of a Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat anti-Semitism," ADL said in a statement on its website.

"In order to continue fighting the rise in global anti-Semitism, it is critical that our government allocate the appropriate resources, and that begins with the key appointment to fill the role of special envoy."

(ADL Online Petition)

Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., added that failure to keep the office open sends a dangerous message and would be a "step backward for Jewish communities in the United States and around the globe."

"Now, more than ever, the United States should send a clear message to the world that anti-Semitism in any form will not be tolerated," Buchanan said in a statement released by his office. "We must start by filling the special envoy post responsible for monitoring and combating anti-Semitic activity."

Rep. Vern wrote this letter to Sec.Tillerson urging action on the matter.

Katrina Lantos Swett, whose late father U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, sponsored legislation 13 years ago creating the position of special envoy, wrote a letter to president Trump last month urging him to fill the post.

"It's baffling to me that a time when we all acknowledge that anti-Semitism is a huge problem worldwide, that there wouldn't be great eagerness to move swiftly to fill this post," said in the letter.

"Given the fact that it was my late father who was responsible for creating the post, I hope that perhaps that will be helpful in reaching Secretary Tillerson and persuading him not to make an unnecessary mistake," she added.

Meanwhile, another office in the State Department that deals with religious issues, the Office of International Religious Freedom, is also currently without a chief.

President Trump promised to fill the position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom when he took office, but has yet to fill the spot.

David Curry, who heads Open Doors USA, a group that monitor religious freedom around the world, said president Trump's "enthusiastic words on religious freedom must be met with action."

"Evangelical Christian voters seem to have been patient with the President thus far on international religious liberty issues, as they were with President Obama," Curry wrote in a recent op-ed for Fox News.

"But with the lack of key appointments in the State Department on religious liberty-there has been no whisper of a new ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, and rumor has it that it could be empty until at least the fall of this year-that patience will not last forever," Curry added.

President Trump's remarks at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's National Days of Remembrance

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