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Biden taps Aaron Keyak to serve as State Dept’s deputy antisemitism monitor

Republican senators continue to block confirmation to the top position of noted Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt

Aaron Keyak, left, stands with then vice president Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden at a Jewish Leaders reception at the Naval Observatory Residence in Washington, DC, Sept. 9, 2015. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann via JTA)
Aaron Keyak, left, stands with then vice president Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden at a Jewish Leaders reception at the Naval Observatory Residence in Washington, DC, Sept. 9, 2015. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann via JTA)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Biden administration named Aaron Keyak, who spearheaded Joe Biden’s presidential campaign outreach to the Jewish community, to the post of deputy antisemitism monitor as Republican senators continue to block the nomination to the top position of Deborah Lipstadt, the noted Holocaust scholar.

“Aaron Keyak will be joining the Department shortly to assume the position of Deputy Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism,” a State Department spokeswoman told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Monday. “Aaron will play a key role in the Department’s efforts to tackle rising global antisemitism and will be a highly effective deputy to Dr. Deborah Lipstadt once she is confirmed by the Senate as the Biden-Harris Administration’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.”

The deputy position is not at the ambassador level and does not require Senate confirmation. The State Department is giving unusual exposure to the naming of Keyak, signaling that they want to convey to the Jewish community that the Biden administration is taking antisemitism seriously.

“I am pleased to announce the appointment of Aaron Keyak as the new @StateDept Deputy Special Envoy for Antisemitism,” Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, said late Monday. “Aaron will play a leadership role in the Administration’s efforts to tackle rising global antisemitism.”

Republican senators have delayed Lipstadt’s nomination over past tweets in which she was critical of Republicans. Congress last year elevated the position of antisemitism monitor to ambassador level, which requires Senate confirmation. Most ambassadors are political appointees, and many have pasts populated with partisan statements.

The delay has prompted three major Jewish organizations, which rarely speak out on nominations, to urge swift consideration of Lipstadt’s nomination, citing the recent spike in antisemitic attacks worldwide.

Atlanta-based historian Deborah Lipstadt in Jerusalem, July 2019. (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

An array of Jewish groups praised Keyak’s naming to the role.

“As antisemitism continues to run unabated across the world, Aaron’s experience on Capitol Hill, in politics, with the Jewish community, and with the news media make him particularly well-suited to help lead American efforts to counter this scourge,” William Daroff, the CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said in a message to JTA.

Keyak was for many years a top aide to Democratic lawmakers before partnering with Steve Rabinowitz, a longtime strategist for liberal and Jewish groups, until he joined the Biden campaign last year. In an interview, Rabinowitz said he saw his former partner’s appointment as a necessary stopgap while the Senate considers Lipstadt.

“Until Deborah is — God willing — Senate confirmed, Aaron will make a terrific complement,” he said. “He respects her tremendously, as we all do; she’s incomparable, after all. But in the meantime, he’ll also be a great acting US special envoy in his own right for as long as it takes. In my mind, it’s like a recess appointment. I can’t say enough how outstanding I think it is.”

Keyak’s naming to the role was first leaked to the Forward last week.

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