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Lipstadt approved as US antisemitism envoy, wrapping up 8-month confirmation process

With Republicans lacking votes to block Holocaust historian’s appointment, none of them raise objection to Democrat’s request to confirm it by unanimous consent

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Deborah Lipstadt, nominated to be special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, with the rank of ambassador, speaks during her Senate Foreign Relations nomination hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Deborah Lipstadt, nominated to be special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, with the rank of ambassador, speaks during her Senate Foreign Relations nomination hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The US Senate on Wednesday officially confirmed Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt’s nomination to become the Biden administration’s special envoy to combat and monitor antisemitism, ending a process that dragged on for eight months amid repeated GOP-induced delays.

A wide range of Jewish groups had been lobbying the Senate to swiftly confirm Lipstadt, pointing to her lofty qualifications and arguing that leaving the position empty was significantly hampering the US’s ability to address a growing wave of antisemitism. But a large number of Republicans were wary of the nomination, pointing to her criticism of conservative lawmakers and all-around partisan past. GOP lawmakers for months prevented her and other Biden nominations from receiving a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

But pressure to hold the session, particularly from Jewish groups across the political spectrum, rose following the January standoff at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, where a gunman held four worshipers hostage.

The Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing several weeks later on Lipstadt’s hearing, where she was grilled by Republicans over her past tweets and comments against them. One of those Republicans, Ron Johnson, managed to delay the panel from reconvening to vote on her nomination earlier this month. That vote was eventually held on Tuesday, with all Republicans, except for Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio, voting against her. The Democrats had enough votes to get her through regardless, and the nomination was advanced in a 13-9 vote.

Lipstadt still needed to be confirmed by the entire Senate in a vote that was not expected to take place for weeks. But Democratic Senator Jon Ossoff took to the floor on Wednesday night and requested that Biden’s nominee be approved by unanimous consent in order to fast-track the process and draw it to a close.

“Right now as we speak, the scourge of antisemitism is rising again in this country and around the world. If we mean the words ‘never again,’ then at long last, Madam President, let’s confirm Deborah Lipstadt to fight antisemitism on behalf of the United States,” Ossoff said from the floor.

At this point, any senator could have come to the floor to declare their objection, thereby requiring a full roll call vote. Despite ample opposition to Lipstadt’s nomination in the GOP, no Republicans chose to block the move, likely because the party wouldn’t have had the votes to reject the nomination.

With Ossoff, who is Jewish, present to voice his support and no one else objecting, the motion to confirm Lipstadt by unanimous consent passed.

Lipstadt, 75, is best known to the wider public for her appearance in a landmark British legal case in which she fought a libel suit brought by Holocaust denier David Irving. That experience was depicted in the Hollywood feature film “Denial,” with Lipstadt played by Rachel Weisz.

She most recently served as the Dorot Ppofessor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, where she was the founding director of the Institute for Jewish Studies.

Lipstadt is the author of “Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust 1933-1945,” “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier,” “The Eichmann Trial,” “Holocaust: An American Understanding” and “Antisemitism: Here and Now.”

She has also served in several roles at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, including twice as a presidential appointee to the museum’s council, and was asked by former US president George W. Bush to represent the US at the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the White House noted in its biography of Lipstadt.

A picture made available by the Italian online news portal Open shows people gathered around a swastika-covered casket outside the St. Lucia church, in Rome, on January 10, 2022. (Open Via AP)

The historian received a BA from City College in New York and an MA and PhD from Brandeis University. She is also fluent in Hebrew.

In 2020, 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.

Lipstadt’s new position has existed since 2004 but this was the first time a nominee required the Senate’s approval, due to legislation passed last year elevating the special envoy post to the rank of ambassador. While the move was meant to project the weight that the position and the issue hold in the eyes of the US government, critics argue that the move further politicized the job as well as the selection process.

Despite rising antisemitism within the US, the mandate of Lipstadt’s position is restricted to addressing antisemitism abroad, even though US officials don’t have legal jurisdiction there.

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