Congress Passes Lantos’s Antisemitism Bill

News Release
October 11, 2004

Both houses of Congress have unanimously passed legislation requiring the U.S. to monitor anti-Semitism around the world, despite the State Department’s opposition.

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 the Middle East.  Lantos is the only Holocaust survivor serving in the Congress.   The bill  requires the State Department to compile an annual report on anti-Semitism around the world, and establishes an office within the department to focus on the issue.

The State Department at first stalled the bill, by arguing that Lantos’s proposal would “extend exclusive status to one religious or ethnic group.” But the legislation moved forward in recent weeks after the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and former Congressman Stephen Solarz organized more than 100 prominent Americans to sign a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, protesting the State Department’s position.

As the San Francisco Chronicle 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 was signed by prominent Americans from across the spectrum of the religious, political, academic and entertainment worlds.  In addition to Kemp and Kirkpatrick, the signatories included 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.

The Wyman Institute’s letter stated: “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.”

(For the full text of the letter, with all the signatories, click here)

Wyman Institute director Dr. Rafael Medoff praised Congressman Lantos for his “vision, courage, and determination in overcoming the State Department’s obstacles and achieving this crucial step in the battle against antisemitism.”