Senate should confirm Lipstadt as antisemitism envoy

On the Monday following Yom Kippur, Sept. 20, 2021, President Joe Biden officially delivered to the United States Senate his nomination of Professor Deborah Lipstadt of Georgia to be his special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism.

Lipstadt is one of the world’s leading scholars on antisemitism, the Holocaust and the troubling subject of Holocaust denial. She is the Dorot professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta.

Her credentials are impeccable. After completing her undergraduate degree from City College of New York, she matriculated at Brandeis University, where she earned her M.A. and Ph.D., and she is universally acknowledged to be a masterful university teacher and scholar of Judaic studies.

Her dedication to combating antisemitism is captured in the feature film “Denial,” starring Rachel Weisz as Lipstadt. The film tells the story of Lipstadt’s successful defense against allegations of libel against her by the British Holocaust denier, David Irving.

Irving sued Lipstadt for describing him as a blatant Holocaust denier in her book, “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory,” the first in-depth study of Holocaust denial. The book received rave reviews and was featured in front-page stories in both The New York Times and Washington Post, and was also lauded by Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Review as the authoritative opus on denial and minimization of the Holocaust.

Her book “The Eichmann Trial,” published in 2011, is the clearest contemporary assessment of a pivotal moment in Jewish history — Israel’s exercise of its sovereignty and legitimate right to try Adolf Eichmann as the architect of the Holocaust. The trial took place in Jerusalem in 1961. Eichmann was convicted of systematic genocide, received the death penalty from a three-judge court and was hanged in 1962. Publishers Weekly described the book as “a penetrating and authoritative dissection of a landmark case and its after effects.”

The Office to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism is part of the U.S. Department of State. The office was established by the Global Antisemitism Review Act of 2004. After thorough research and studies of global antisemitism, the House and Senate enacted the law to marshal America’s resources against global antisemitism and document numerous instances of vile acts against Jews. President George W. Bush signed the bill into law in 2004.

Lipstadt’s nomination is “on hold” in the Senate Foreign Affairs and Judiciary committees. Not surprisingly, Lipstadt has been outspoken when addressing issues of antisemitism, intolerance and Nazi Germany. Some Republican senators have taken umbrage at Lipstadt’s opinions.

“She has said enough things on Twitter that it [her nomination] needs to be reviewed carefully — particularly about members of the committee, which is quite sensitive,” Sen. Jim Risch (R-Iowa), the ranking Republican member on the Foreign Relations Committee, told the Jewish Insider, an online news magazine. He added, “We’re going to see them all, I suspect, before it’s over with.”

Lipstadt has taken criticism of her remarks against antisemitism in stride. She has compared herself to a baseball umpire. Whether antisemitism flares up on the left or right of the political spectrum, she is fearless. “’I’m like an umpire…I call balls and strikes as I see them,” she told the Jewish Insider.

The professor, who is a leading scholar of Holocaust studies and the history of Nazi Germany, compared President Trump’s assertions that he won last year’s presidential election, to vicious lies promulgated by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda. Trump supporters have taken offense. She is no stranger to criticism. David Irving’s libel action could have bankrupted her. With the assistance of able lawyers, she defended her opinions in open court and prevailed. She is a partisan of principle and a princess of citizenship. Her mettle will benefit America and the world as she battles hatred and prejudice.

Leaders from 21 major Jewish organizations recently wrote members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Judiciary Committee urging the committees to support her nomination. It is all but certain that Professor Lipstadt will be confirmed by a majority in a Senate vote on her nomination.

Groups signing the letter included the Jewish Federations of North America, the World Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League and the Orthodox Union, which supports Orthodox Jewish congregations and communities around the world.

Senator Risch has repeatedly demonstrated his strong support of Israel, and he is a dedicated foe of antisemitism. Before being elected to the Senate, he rendered distinguished service to Iowa as its governor and lieutenant governor. He has spoken at the national convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and in May of this year, introduced a Senate resolution condemning worldwide antisemitism.

Like Risch, Texas’ Republican Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz have also repeatedly demonstrated that they are dedicated foes of antisemitism and strong friends of Israel. These senators are lawyers and advocates of great ability. They understand the importance of taking up a nomination in committee so that the full Senate can vote on it.

Lipstadt will render distinguished service as America’s next antisemitism envoy. As a matter of fundamental fairness, senators who find fault with her comments should allow her nomination to be voted on by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and brought to the Senate floor for a vote. She should be confirmed by the Senate.

A version of this editorial appeared in the Dec. 2, 2021, issue of the Jewish Herald-Voice of Houston.

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