More Than 100 Prominent Americans Challenge State Department’s Opposition To Bill On Anti-Semitism

News Release
September 13, 2004

More than 100 prominent Americans from across the spectrum of the religious, political, academic and entertainment worlds sent a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell challenging the State Department’s opposition to a bill that would have the United States monitor and report on anti-Semitism activities around the world.

The effort, organized by former Cong. Stephen Solarz and the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, backs the Global Anti-Semitism Awareness Act H.R. 4230, authored by Cong. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the only Holocaust survivor serving in the Congress. The bill has 34 sponsors.

The letter was signed by more than 100 Americans including former Secretary of Housing and vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, former Clinton Administration National Security Advisor Anthony Lake, former Reagan Administration Ambassador to the U.N. Jeane Kirkpatrick, singer Janis Ian, former State Department Legal Advisor Abraham Sofaer and leaders of four top Christian religious seminaries: the Union Theological Seminary, Yale Divinity School, Drew Theological Seminary and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary.

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 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.”

The State Department has said it opposes the bill because it would show “favoritism” to Jews by “extending exclusive status to one religious or ethnic group.”

Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of the Wyman Institute, said, “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 also states that Secretary Powell’s 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.”

For the complete text of the letter with the full list of signatories, click here.