State Department says anti-Semitism monitor post to be filled ‘soon’

Official indicates Tillerson has shifted stance since saying that position, unfilled for a year, was not necessary

Illustrative photo of a swastika painted at Temple Ohawe Sholam in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. (Courtesy of Marty Cooper/Jewish Alliance for Greater Rhode Island via JTA)
Illustrative photo of a swastika painted at Temple Ohawe Sholam in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. (Courtesy of Marty Cooper/Jewish Alliance for Greater Rhode Island via JTA)

The Trump administration considers the position of anti-Semitism monitor “crucial” and hopes to name one “soon,” a State Department official told JTA Thursday.

The official did not provide a timeline on when the special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism would be appointed. But the tone was a pronounced change from the summer, when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the position was not necessary and the issue was best handled by other departments in the agency.

That led a bipartisan slate of lawmakers to remind Tillerson that the position, in place since 2004, was congressionally mandated and that he was not in a position to do away with it. Jewish groups also have lobbied intensively to restore the position, which they say makes clear to other countries that the United States prioritizes the issue.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson takes part in a press conference on December 8, 2017 in Paris. (AFP PHOTO / ALAIN JOCARD)

The position has been unfilled for a year and the office has been unstaffed since the summer.

Last June, Tillerson said in testimony before Congress that the administration had yet to make a decision about whether the position would be filled at all.

Part of his argument against appointing a special envoy was that local State Department missions neglect their responsibility to confront the issue if there is a special office in Washington dedicated to combating anti-Semitism.

Ira Forman, the US State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, speaking at the Hungarian parliament in Budapest, October 2013. (Tom Lantos Institute/ JTA)

Two previous envoys, Hannah Rosenthal and Ira Forman, who each held the post during the Obama administration, have vigorously disputed Tillerson’s explanation and bemoaned the possible consequences if the office wasn’t filled.

Jewish groups have lobbied US President Donald Trump to name an envoy, saying that despite Tillerson’s claims, the position has been key to encouraging diplomats and officials throughout the department to focus on anti-Semitism.

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