Major Breakthrough On Antisemitism Bill

News Release
September 24, 2004

In what the San Francisco Chronicle is describing as “a major breakthrough,” a proposed bill to have the U.S. monitor anti-Semitism around the world has gained the support of “a key Republican.”

The bill, known as the Global Anti-Semitism Awareness Act (H.R. 4230), was introduced by Congressman Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), in response to the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe and theMiddle East.  Lantos is the only Holocaust survivor serving in the Congress. The bill has 34 sponsors.

The bill was being stalled by the opposition of the State Department, which charged that Lantos’ proposal would “extend exclusive status to one religious or ethnic group.”  But now Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), who previously supported a much weaker version of the bill, has endorsed the Lantos version.  Smith is vice chairman of the House International Relations Committee.

The Chronicle also reported:  “One key to advancing Lantos’ bill may have been the surprise intervention of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. The Pennsylvania-based organization, named for a historian who has written about the West’s response to the Holocaust, organized an open letter to Powell signed by 104 prominent Americans. They included former Republican vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp, former United Nations ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick, ex-CIA director James Woolsey and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Garry Wills.  ‘I was delighted and totally surprised by this bipartisan, multi-faith group,’ said Lantos.”

The letter, organized by former Congressman Stephen Solarz and the Wyman Institute, was signed by prominent Americans from across the spectrum of the religious, political, academic and entertainment worlds, including former National Security Advisor Anthony Lake, singers Janis Ian and Peter Himmelman, comedian David Brenner, former State Department Legal Advisor Abraham Sofaer, writers Cynthia Ozick and Thane Rosenbaum, and leaders of four top Christian religious seminaries: the Union Theological Seminary, Yale Divinity School, Drew Theological Seminary and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary.

(To see the full text of the letter, with all 107 signatories, click here)

The Lantos bill would require the State Department to compile an annual report on anti-Semitism around the world, and make it the responsibility of a specific office within the department to focus on the issue.

The Wyman Institute’s letter says: “The State Department’s position on the Lantos legislation carries troubling echoes of the past…During the Holocaust, the State Department did its best to downplay the Jewish identity of Hitler’s victims – even though the Nazi regime had clearly singled out Jews for annihilation. Statements by U.S. officials about Nazi atrocities seldom mentioned the Jews. This made it harder for the American public to understand what was happening and hindered efforts to rally public support for rescue of Jews from Hitler.”

In response to the State Department’s claim that it cannot extend “exclusive status” to one group, the Wyman Institute letter points out that “the State Department already has a number of offices that extend ‘exclusive status’ to groups or issues of concern, among them offices on Tibet, Human Trafficking and women’s’ rights. It is the anti-Semites who are singling out Jews, and that is why the fight against anti-Semitism deserves specific, focused attention. The Lantos bill is a timely and appropriate response to the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe, where it frequently turns violent, and in the Arab and Muslim world where it is government-sponsored.”

The letter, which is addressed to Secretary of State Colin Powell,  said that his strong statements at the Berlin conference on anti-Semitism earlier this year “gave us hope that our government has learned from the terrible silence of the State Department regarding anti-Semitism in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. The Global Anti-Semitism Awareness Act offers an opportunity for your strong words to be translated into policy.”