Wyman Institute letter in the Washington Times re: Jeane Kirkpatrick

As published in the Washington Times – Dec. 14, 2006

Jeane Kirkpatrick

Dear Editor:

Jeane Kirkpatrick’s criticism of “San Francisco Democrats” in her keynote speech to the 1984 Republican convention is well-remembered and was quoted in many of her obituaries. Helle Dale (Washington Times op-ed, Dec. 13) is to be commended for quoting additional portions of that speech, including Ambassador Kirkpatrick’s denunciation of the “brutal” antisemitism practiced by the Soviet government. (“Missing Jeane,” Op-Ed, yesterday).

To Dr. Kirkpatrick’s credit, she continued to be outspoken against antisemitism in the years that followed and, in fact, exactly twenty years later, she led a crucial fight on the issue that involved crossing swords with her old colleagues in the State Department.

In the summer of 2004, in response to the proliferation of antisemitic violence in European countries and government-sponsored antisemitic propaganda in the Muslim world, U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos, California Democrat, introduced legislation requiring the government to create an office to monitor antisemitism around the world and devise ways to combat it.

The State Department tried to block the bill, arguing that it was unfair to show “favoritism” to Jews by “extending exclusive status to one religious or ethnic group.” Ironically, the State Department already had offices that extend “exclusive status” to various other groups or issues of concern, among them human rights in Tibet, Human Trafficking, and women’s rights. The State Department seemed unwilling to acknowledge the simple fact that antisemites were singling out Jews, which is why the fight against antisemitism deserves specific and focused attention.

The State Department’s position inevitably called to mind its moral failures during the Hitler era, when it blocked opportunities to rescue Jews and 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 rarely mentioned the Jews by name, thus diverting public attention from the ongoing annihilation of millions of Jews.

To break the logjam of opposition to the Lantos bill, The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies began organizing a bipartisan, ecumenical letter by prominent Americans to demonstrate the broad range of public support for the legislation. Former Rep. Stephen Solarz became the lead Democrat on the letter. Mrs. Kirkpatrick agreed to serve as the lead Republican in this effort, even though it put her in conflict with the Bush administration. Her leadership inspired many other prominent Republicans to sign on. Ultimately, more than one hundred political figures, diplomats, theologians, writers, artists, and entertainers from across the political and religious spectrum signed the letter. The State Department soon backed down and dropped its opposition to the Lantos legislation.

The bill was adopted by Congress and signed into law by the president in October 2004, and it was not long before the initiative showed results. One of the bill’s requirements was that the State Department issue a report on antisemitism around the world. Released in early 2005, the report presented the first official U.S. government definition of antisemitism. Significantly, it stated that “the demonization of Israel or vilification of Israeli leaders, sometimes through comparisons with Nazi leaders, and through the use of Nazi symbols to caricature them, indicates an anti-Semitic bias rather than a valid criticism of policy concerning a controversial issue.”

Equally important was that the report specifically included instances of Holocaust-denial in various countries as examples of antisemitism. There was no pretending that denying the Holocaust is just another interpretation of history.

Such achievements are more than merely symbolic, because it is the United States which sets the standard for the international community on such issues. Turning the tide against the haters requires firm American leadership on the battlefield of ideas. The creation of the U.S. office for monitoring antisemitism is an important first step in that process, and its creation was due in no small part to the intervention of Jeane Kirkpatrick.

Rafael Medoff
The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies