Obama's commitment to fight anti-Semitism questioned

Ed Lasky
Barack Obama faced criticism during the campaign when videos came to light showing the pastor of his church, Jeremiah Wright, spewing anti-Israel invective. Wright was also close friends and had his church give an award to the nation's worst anti-Semite, Louis Farrakhan ( Wright later made explicit anti-Semitic comments about "Jews" keeping him from Barack Obama). Also, Barack Obama was one of the "million" during Louis Farrakhan Million Man March on Washington. Obama was in full campaign mode and fended off these charges by boldly stating that:
[N]obody has spoken out more fiercely on the issue of anti- Semitism than I have.

To which ABC News journalist, Jake Tapper, responded mockingly: 

"Really? No one? Elie Wiesel? Simon Wiesenthal? Alan Dershowitz? No one? Wow.

How is that fight against anti-Semitism going? Well, he picked Hannah Rosenthal as his head of the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. Rosenthal has been critical of Israel and American supporters of Israel, eliciting a critical response from Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League. She is a member of the J Street Council, a group that may bill itself as a pro-Israel group but has advocated a range of positions and engaged in lobbying that is harmful to the state of Israel. She has all but laid the blame for anti-Semitism at Israel's doorstep.

She reportedly did not want the post but was persuaded to accept the offer from her fellow Chicagoan, Barack Obama. She certainly seems to be acting as if she did not want the post. She has seemingly been as concerned about Islamaphobia as she has been about anti-Jewish prejudice.

But beyond what she herself has done, now she and Obama are facing criticism for all but ignoring the office charged with combating anti-Semitism, starving it of funds and personnel. This is especially of note given Obama's budget busting and outreach to the Muslim world (he has yet to visit Israel as President) while anti-Semitism is exploding across the world (over a 100% increase between 2008 and 2009 in anti-Jewish violence).

From the non-partisan The Hill comes reports that Obama's commitment to fight anti-Semitism is being questioned, and the questioning began with the appointment of Rosenthal.

The appointment wasn't received well by some, including Rickman, who would not comment for this article but wrote in July 2010 that "Rosenthal seems to continue her stray from her main job fighting anti-Semitism. Her consistent attention to Islamaphobia suggests a real sympathy for those very people who lead the way in attacking Jews in Europe."

Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill brought up concerns about the staffing levels of the office, which reportedly dropped to one at the beginning of the Obama administration.

"I am very concerned about the trend of-again of maybe double hatting, maybe not your position, but the staff," Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) asked Rosenthal at an April 2010 hearing. "...I would hate to see the specialness of your office diluted, and that is what I would believe it to be if you didn't have dedicated staff."

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who brought up the staffing issue and other concerns about human-rights policy in a July floor speech, charged that the White House has "downgraded" issues of combating anti-Semitism and battling for religious freedom worldwide.

"I don't think they're very strongly speaking out for Israel," Wolf told The Hill. "I just think there's this fundamental weakness there. I don't sense that this administration is nearly as committed on some of these issues as previous administrations have been."

Wolf, co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, introduced a bill in January to create a special envoy to address persecution of religious minorities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt. Smith and Wolf introduced a bill last Congress, which got mired in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, that would have amended the 2004 anti-Semitism act to require additional reporting by Rosenthal's office, as well as increase its funding.

But Wolf notes that the post of the International Religious Freedom ambassador still has yet to be filled. John Hanford stepped down from the position in January 2009, and Obama didn't nominate Suzan Johnson Cook, a former Clinton adviser, until June 2010. Her nomination was put on hold in the Senate and expired at the end of the 111th Congress, so the office hasn't had a leader for two years now.

"If you look at one dot on the page it doesn't tell you that much but if you connect them" it provides a broader picture of the administration's efforts on the issues of anti-Semitism and religious freedom, Wolf said.

"I don't think it's in their DNA to get really worked up about these issues," he charged.

Abraham Foxman, still head of the ADL, is less critical of the administration and is inclined to give the Obama team a pass.

But others see more serious problems with an approach that seems too little and too late.


Barack Obama faced criticism during the campaign when videos came to light showing the pastor of his church, Jeremiah Wright, spewing anti-Israel invective. Wright was also close friends and had his church give an award to the nation's worst anti-Semite, Louis Farrakhan ( Wright later made explicit anti-Semitic comments about "Jews" keeping him from Barack Obama). Also, Barack Obama was one of the "million" during Louis Farrakhan Million Man March on Washington. Obama was in full campaign mode and fended off these charges by boldly stating that:

[N]obody has spoken out more fiercely on the issue of anti- Semitism than I have.

To which ABC News journalist, Jake Tapper, responded mockingly: 

"Really? No one? Elie Wiesel? Simon Wiesenthal? Alan Dershowitz? No one? Wow.

How is that fight against anti-Semitism going? Well, he picked Hannah Rosenthal as his head of the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. Rosenthal has been critical of Israel and American supporters of Israel, eliciting a critical response from Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League. She is a member of the J Street Council, a group that may bill itself as a pro-Israel group but has advocated a range of positions and engaged in lobbying that is harmful to the state of Israel. She has all but laid the blame for anti-Semitism at Israel's doorstep.

She reportedly did not want the post but was persuaded to accept the offer from her fellow Chicagoan, Barack Obama. She certainly seems to be acting as if she did not want the post. She has seemingly been as concerned about Islamaphobia as she has been about anti-Jewish prejudice.

But beyond what she herself has done, now she and Obama are facing criticism for all but ignoring the office charged with combating anti-Semitism, starving it of funds and personnel. This is especially of note given Obama's budget busting and outreach to the Muslim world (he has yet to visit Israel as President) while anti-Semitism is exploding across the world (over a 100% increase between 2008 and 2009 in anti-Jewish violence).

From the non-partisan The Hill comes reports that Obama's commitment to fight anti-Semitism is being questioned, and the questioning began with the appointment of Rosenthal.

The appointment wasn't received well by some, including Rickman, who would not comment for this article but wrote in July 2010 that "Rosenthal seems to continue her stray from her main job fighting anti-Semitism. Her consistent attention to Islamaphobia suggests a real sympathy for those very people who lead the way in attacking Jews in Europe."

Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill brought up concerns about the staffing levels of the office, which reportedly dropped to one at the beginning of the Obama administration.

"I am very concerned about the trend of-again of maybe double hatting, maybe not your position, but the staff," Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) asked Rosenthal at an April 2010 hearing. "...I would hate to see the specialness of your office diluted, and that is what I would believe it to be if you didn't have dedicated staff."

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who brought up the staffing issue and other concerns about human-rights policy in a July floor speech, charged that the White House has "downgraded" issues of combating anti-Semitism and battling for religious freedom worldwide.

"I don't think they're very strongly speaking out for Israel," Wolf told The Hill. "I just think there's this fundamental weakness there. I don't sense that this administration is nearly as committed on some of these issues as previous administrations have been."

Wolf, co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, introduced a bill in January to create a special envoy to address persecution of religious minorities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt. Smith and Wolf introduced a bill last Congress, which got mired in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, that would have amended the 2004 anti-Semitism act to require additional reporting by Rosenthal's office, as well as increase its funding.

But Wolf notes that the post of the International Religious Freedom ambassador still has yet to be filled. John Hanford stepped down from the position in January 2009, and Obama didn't nominate Suzan Johnson Cook, a former Clinton adviser, until June 2010. Her nomination was put on hold in the Senate and expired at the end of the 111th Congress, so the office hasn't had a leader for two years now.

"If you look at one dot on the page it doesn't tell you that much but if you connect them" it provides a broader picture of the administration's efforts on the issues of anti-Semitism and religious freedom, Wolf said.

"I don't think it's in their DNA to get really worked up about these issues," he charged.

Abraham Foxman, still head of the ADL, is less critical of the administration and is inclined to give the Obama team a pass.

But others see more serious problems with an approach that seems too little and too late.