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Biden to nominate Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt as US antisemitism envoy

Administration has been under pressure to fill vacant post amid surge in antisemitic attacks; noted scholar has been long-time favorite to get the role

Deborah Lipstadt, author of 'Antisemitism: Here and Now' (courtesy)
Deborah Lipstadt, author of 'Antisemitism: Here and Now' (courtesy)

US President Joe Biden has picked renowned Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt to be his antisemitism envoy, officials said Thursday.

Sources familiar with the matter told the Times of Israel he plans to announce the nomination on Friday.

Lipstadt has been a long-time favorite to get the role and pressure has mounted on the Biden administration to fill the position amid a surge in antisemtic incidents in recent months. The pick was first reported by the Forward.

Lipstadt, 74, is the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta.

Lipstadt is best known to the wider public from her appearance in a landmark British legal case in which she fought a libel suit brought by Holocaust denier David Irving. That experience was portrayed by superstar actor Rachel Weisz in the Hollywood feature film “Denial.”

Lipstadt is the author of several books, most recently “Antisemitism: Here and Now,” that focused on current trends in antisemitism including attacks on Jews in Europe; the “alt-right” in the US; the persistence of Holocaust revisionism and denial and whether and when criticism of Israel qualifies as antisemitism.

Rachel Weisz (left) with Deborah Lipstadt, whom she portrays in the film ‘Denial’ (Participant Media)

The Biden administration has faced pressure to name someone to the post, with added urgency after swastika was found on Monday etched into an elevator in the  US State Department building, near the office of the special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism.

“Let me be clear: Anti-Semitism has no place in the State Department, in my Administration, or anywhere in the world,” Biden tweeted. “It’s up to all of us to give hate no safe harbor and stand up to bigotry wherever we find it.”

The administration is also promising to soon name a Jewish liaison to the community. The Trump administration took two years to fill the envoy post before naming Elan Carr.

Although the nomination has not been publically confirmed, the move was already being hailed by politicians.

Florida Congressman Ted Deutch the founding co-chair of the House Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism, called her selection “an excellent choice.”

“She will bring to this role extensive experience and a deep understanding of historic and modern day antisemitism,” Deutch said in a statement. “Especially amid the years-long rise in global antisemitism, Deborah is the leader we need to push governments to take this deadly threat seriously.”

American historian and author Deborah Lipstadt poses for photographer at the Rome Film festival in Rome, October 17, 2016. (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

Lipstadt, has been for years a go-to expert for the media and for legislators on Holocaust issues, particularly on how the genocide’s meaning should be understood in the 21st century, and whether it had any cognates among anti-democratic forces in the current day.

Last year, during the election, she broke a longstanding taboo on comparing present-day American politicians to the Nazis and endorsed an ad by the Jewish Democratic Council of America likening the Trump administration to 1930s Germany. Lipstadt said Holocaust analogies were still off-limits, but she could see parallels to the rise of the Nazis.

“I would say in the attacks we’re seeing on the press, the courts, academic institutions, elected officials and even, and most chillingly, the electoral process, that this deserves comparison,” she said at the time. referring to the JDCA ad. “It’s again showing how the public’s hatred can be whipped up against Jews. Had the ad contained imagery of the Shoah, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Lipstadt will be the first nominee who will need to be confirmed by the Senate since Congress first created the position in 2004. Congress last year elevated the role to ambassador-level, granting the position more funding and easier access to the secretary of state and the president. If Lipstadt is confirmed, she will be the fifth person in the position.

The antisemitism monitor’s role is tracking and reporting on the phenomenon overseas, and lobbying governments to address anti-Jewish bigotry within their borders. The position does not have a domestic role, although Carr, Trump’s appointee, sometimes criticized domestic actors, including J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group. His attack on J Street drew a rare rebuke from one of his predecessors, Hannah Rosenthal.

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