Deborah Lipstadt, the Emory University Holocaust historian, is awaiting Senate confirmation to serve as the State Department’s antisemitism envoy.
President Joe Biden announced Lipstadt as his pick in late July. In August, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on the Senate to confirm her so she can begin work in this “critical moment,” according to the Jerusalem Post. He noted a rise in antisemitism in many parts of the world.
The nomination comes with ties to some recent Wisconsin history.
“Deborah is a wonderful appointment,” said Hannah Rosenthal, who held the antisemitism envoy position from 2009-2012. She later served as CEO and president of Milwaukee Jewish Federation, before her retirement in Madison.
“As a scholar, speaker, Holocaust expert, and a personal friend, I know she will do an excellent job,” Rosenthal told the Chronicle. “When I was in the position, I said ‘I know I can’t eliminate the world’s oldest hatred, but I hope to move the needle.’ Deborah will move the needle with profound impact. She is perfect for this. And Milwaukee should know, because we had the honor of having her in Milwaukee to sellout crowds.”
Lipstadt has spoken in Milwaukee repeatedly, including at Federation-sponsored events. In 2019, the Chronicle interviewed her about her changing career amid increasing antisemitism. She is the author of a 2019 guide based on the kinds of questions she was getting from college students and peers, “Antisemitism: Here and Now.”
Lipstadt is perhaps best known for defeating Holocaust denier David Irving after he sued her in a British court for defamation for calling him a Holocaust denier. Her 2005 book, “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier,” was made into a 2016 movie with Rachel Weisz starring as Lipstadt.
“We applaud President Biden for selecting Prof. Lipstadt,” said Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America. “Naming a qualified individual for this position as soon as possible amid the surge in antisemitism has been a top priority ….”
Lipstadt, 74, has been a go-to expert for the media and legislators on Holocaust issues, particularly on how the genocide’s meaning should be understood in the 21st century, and whether it had any relationship to anti-democratic forces in the current day. She twice endorsed Barack Obama for president but has been on call for her expertise across the political spectrum.
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.”
Jewish organizations, alarmed by a spike in antisemitism, had been pressing the Biden administration to name an envoy, The Trump administration took two years to name an envoy.
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, with more funding. 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 Elan 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 rebuke from Rosenthal.