As the United States experiences a surge in reported anti-Semitic incidents, the newly appointed Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism Elan Carr told The Times of Israel that the Jewish community and Israel “couldn’t have a better friend in the White House” than President Donald Trump.
Carr was appointed on February 5 to a statutory role that had been left vacant since the Trump administration entered the White House in January 2017. An attorney and former head of the Jewish fraternity AEPi, Carr is known for his work in prosecuting gang violence in Los Angeles and leading an anti-terrorism team in Iraq in 2003.
Carr said he was tapped for this new governmental role because he is “a fighter.”
“My career has been about two things: fighting evil and keeping people safe. And the fight against anti-Semitism is just that: fighting evil and keeping people safe. That’s my track record and that’s the same kind of determination and ferocity I’m going to bring to this scourge,” said Carr in an interview in Jerusalem.
Citing his own appointment as proof of the president’s commitment to battling anti-Semitism, Carr firmly denied allegations from Jewish community leaders who claimed in the wake of the slaughter of 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue that President Donald Trump “emboldens” extremists and anti-Semites.
“The United States is the most philo-Semitic country in perhaps history and this president is the most philo-Semitic president we’ve ever had. He loves the Jewish community, he supports the Jewish community and he is overtly, unabashedly pro-Israel in every way one could imagine,” said Carr.
“I think to accuse him of either being an anti-Semitic or overtly or intentionally emboldening the bad guys — I don’t think that’s true at all,” said Carr. As support, he referred to the February 5 State of the Union address in which Trump spoke at length about the evils of anti-Semitism, delivered mere hours after Carr’s appointment.
“There’s not a lot of free space in that speech and for him to spend the kind of time he spent talking about anti-Semitism is remarkable and extraordinary,” said Carr.
While much ink is spilled in the US about the country’s increasing grappling with anti-Semitism, Carr’s homeland falls outside of his mandate. According to the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004, the State Department is ordered “to monitor global anti-Semitism, reporting annually to the US Congress, and to combat acts of anti-Semitism occurring in foreign countries.”
This president is the most philo-Semitic president we’ve ever had
His office is obligated to contribute to two annual Department of State reports: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (HRR) and the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom (IRFR). “The Special Envoy also works with domestic and international NGOs and multilateral organizations as well as works bilaterally with other governments,” according to the 2004 Act.
It’s early days for Carr in the role, and it is unclear what kind of staff — or teeth — he will acquire. But he has hit the ground running and has already attended two conferences in Europe, as well as a trip to Jerusalem last week with delegates of the Conference of Presidents, and to meet with Israeli governmental bodies.
Carr told The Times of Israel that while global anti-Semitism is at crisis level, there is still room for optimism.
“I think there is a tendency to be alarmist and that’s because the challenge is urgent — I would call it a crisis. Anti-Semitism is on the rise around the world in virtually every region in the world, and it’s been on the rise in the United States as well. On the other hand, this isn’t the 1930s and we have cause for optimism,” said Carr. “We certainly have a lot of partners and allies who care about this issue with whom I’ve already begun to work.”
For Carr, the issue of anti-Semitism is personal as well as professional. His mother, a refugee from Iraq, witnessed her father’s arrest in Baghdad in the backlash to the foundation of the State of Israel. There was a knock at the door in the early morning, and Elan Carr’s grandfather opened it, shaving cream still on his face.
“My mother watched him being dragged away, she watched him paraded through the streets in leg irons and she saw him go to prison,” he said. His mother and grandmother continuously visited his imprisoned grandfather for two years until he told them to flee the country.
This isn’t the 1930s and we have cause for optimism
“Arabic was my mother’s first language. I grew up with Arabic in the home. When I served in Iraq in 2003 I spoke Iraqi Arabic to Iraqis in Iraq. They called me cousin all the time and I thought to myself, little do they know,” said Carr.
When his mother and grandmother fled Iraq to Israel, they travelled through the safe ports of Iran. Today, Carr is unequivocal in his condemnation of the country that once offered safe passage to fellow Mizrahi Jews.
“Iran is one of the world’s chief malefactors today. It is a hornet’s nest of anti-Semitism. It is a focal point of anti-Western and anti-Israel ideology, it is a clear and present danger to all civilized people everywhere,” he said.
While Carr is emphatically against prioritizing any region or population in his plan of attack, he said that he will not focus his efforts on Europe as he claimed was the operating procedure of his predecessors in the role, Gregg Rickman (the first envoy, named by president George W. Bush in 2006), Hannah Rosenthal (under the Obama administration in 2009), acting envoy Michael Kozak (2012), and Ira Forman (named by Obama in May 2013).
“The Middle East is important to me because my community, my history is as a Mizrahi Jew. And second of all because what happens in the Middle East is linked to what happens in Europe. You’re talking about the anti-Zionism flavor of anti-Semitism, the statements coming out of the Middle East and the zeitgeist coming out of the Muslim world have direct effects on the streets in Europe and on the anti-Semitism in the States on college campuses,” said Carr.
Iran is one of the world’s chief malefactors today
Carr, who grew up on New York’s Upper West Side, became activated as a campus leader in the 1980s during the heady days of anti-apartheid — and anti-Israel — rallies at the University of California, Berkeley. “There wasn’t a single protest or public expression on any issue that didn’t turn anti-Semitic,” he said.
Carr describes anti-Semitism as “a corrosive disease,” “a human pathology that rots to the core every society that embraces it,” and “a complex, multi-tentacled beast.” But it is also one few issues that unites societies, he said.
“Sadly, it is the great unifier in a sense because it brings together very disparate elements of society that often hate each other, but share only that in common. There is anti-Semitism that emanates from certain ethnic communities, there’s anti-Semitism that has erupted in the midst of populous protests in France, there’s anti-Semitism that comes from the left-wing intelligentsia.
“My goodness, it’s become almost accepted to publicly talk about how detestable the State of Israel is and how detestable Zionism is. It’s the unthinkable, but it’s become common,” he said.
Anti-Semitism brings together very disparate elements of society that often hate each other
That is becoming increasingly common, said Carr, except for in one country — the United States — where Carr said there is broad-based agreement for the condemnation of the oldest hatred. He pointed to increasing legislation against the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement, and a withdrawal from UN Human Rights Council that is “obsessed with singling out Israel.”
“We don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk, and this administration has been second to none in terms of backing up its rhetoric with action,” said Carr.