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2017-06-16 digital edition

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June 16, 2017  RSS feed
World News

Text: T T T

Tillerson backs off pledge on anti-Semitism post

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson retreated from his department’s commitment to fill the post of envoy to combat anti-Semitism, saying the effort may be more effective without one.

“One of the questions I’ve asked is, if we’re really going to affect these areas, these special areas, don’t we have to affect it through the delivery on mission at every level at every country?” Tillerson said in testimony June 14, before a U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee. “And by having a special envoy, one of my experiences is, mission then says, ‘Oh, we’ve got somebody else that does,’ and then they stop doing it.”

Since Congress established the position with a 2004 law, the role of the envoy has been to train career State Department officers and diplomats in identifying and combating anti-Semitism and to encourage embassies to more closely monitor anti-Semitism. European Jewish community officials have said that having an envoy has delivered a message to their governments that the U.S. is focused on anti-Semitism.

Earlier this year there were reports that the Trump administration, eyeing massive budget cuts to the State Department, planned to eliminate the role. National Jewish groups and Congress members expressed outrage, and in April a State Department spokesman told JTA that the department did not in fact plan to eliminate the position and was reviewing candidates to fill it.

Lawmakers have noted that because the role was created by statute, the Trump administration cannot eliminate the post. Tillerson said he would seek to persuade Congress to cut the position if he deems it necessary.

Reacting to Tillerson’s testimony, Rep. Nita Lowey, D-NY, the ranking Democrat on the foreign operations subcommittee, told JTA in an email: “It is outrageous and offensive that Secretary Tillerson would even suggest appointing a Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism is unnecessary, particularly given that his State Department committed to filling the post back in April.”

Bipartisan legislation under consideration would enhance the position to ambassador level.


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