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U.S. anti-Semitism envoy wants to bring non-Jews into the fight

JTA

March 8, 2010 | 5:11 pm

President Obama’s special envoy on anti-Semitism wants to recruit non-Jews to make her case.

Hannah Rosenthal outlined her goals in her new role during a recent address in Dallas to the annual plenum of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the public policy umbrella she once led as president.

To combat anti-Semitism, the Jewish people need more non-Jews on their side, said Rosenthal, who spoke at a panel on anti-Semitism alongside Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director.

Everyone expects Foxman to be on the case, she said, “but if we have the messenger be someone who’s not Jewish, who’s willing to be a spokesperson condemning anti-Semitism, it comes with much more power.”

To that end, Rosenthal said she will incorporate the annual anti-Semitism report into the State Department’s annual human rights report instead of the separate breakout authored by her predecessor, Gregg Rickman. That brings the issue to a larger audience.

“If I want to infuse this into every annual report, the people on the ground better know what anti-Semitism is,” Rosenthal said.

Additionally, she will introduce a daylong module into training at the Foreign Training Institute; modules at the prep school for diplomats usually last only a few hours.

Rickman favorably views his successor’s attempts to bring non-Jews into the fight, but cautioned that Rosenthal needs to be wary of how she views criticism of Israel.

“If she fails to see how anti-Israelism can be parlayed into anti-Semitism,” then her efforts to train and work with diplomats will be in vain, he said.

Rosenthal said she would maintain existing practices, including using Jewish nongovernmental organizations like the ADL and pressing U.S. diplomats to report on anti-Semitic acts around the globe.

Rosenthal also committed to utilizing the United States’ role as a superpower through quiet diplomacy. She pointed to the recent referendum passed in Switzerland that would prohibit minarets from being built on new mosques. Buried in the same referendum was a call for the end of Jewish cemeteries.

“Very quietly, we dealt with the Christian Democratic People’s Party and in fact they apologized and that policy is not happening,” she said. “You didn’t read about it and that policy was taken care of.”

Rosenthal, who was sworn in last November, was a controversial choice by Obama. Jewish insiders questioned her lack of diplomatic experience. At the time she readily acknowledged that after a career of advocacy, she wasn’t about to switch to anodyne niceties overnight.

She has made waves with criticism of Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, for refusing to deal with J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group that Rosenthal helped to found.

That drew a rebuke from Alan Solow, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who said her remarks “could threaten to limit her effectiveness in the area for which she is actually responsible.” The Obama administration stood by Rosenthal.

The position Rosenthal holds was created in 2004 by legislation sponsored by U.S. Reps. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio).

Lantos, a Holocaust survivor, saw a need for Western democracies to speak out on the rise of anti-Semitism globally. Rickman was its first appointee.

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