This morning the US State Department has proposed cutting nearly half its Special Envoy and At-Large Ambassadorial positions in order to streamline and refocus operations. It gives me great satisfaction to report to you that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has decided to retain the posts of both the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism and the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. The Lantos Foundation is proud to have played a role in bringing about this important victory.
Earlier this year, we launched the 2017 Solidarity Sabbath Initiative re-asserting our nation’s commitment to lead on defending religious freedom and combatting the scourge of anti-Semitism. We organized an unprecedented letter from former Ambassadors for Religious Freedom and Special Envoys to Combat Anti-Semitism from both Republican and Democratic Administrations in which they urged the current Administration to uphold our values by appointing outstanding individuals to fill these posts which were still vacant at the time.
In the months following our Solidarity Sabbath efforts, there have been mixed signals from the State Department about our requests. In a positive development, late July brought the appointment of an Ambassador for International Religious Freedom. But as you may recall, during Congressional testimony earlier this summer, Secretary Tillerson had suggested that the Administration was considering leaving the Special Envoy to Combat Anti-Semitism post unfilled. We immediately wrote to Secretary Tillerson urging the Administration to retain this post as a key component of America’s efforts to combat global anti-Semitism.
I reminded him that my late father, Congressman Tom Lantos, played the lead role in passing the legislation that created the post of Special Envoy. I know my father would not stand idly by at a time of growing anti-Semitism if our government were to downgrade our commitment to fighting against this insidious evil. In our letter to the Secretary I wrote: “I am baffled that the Administration would ignore the hard won wisdom and experience of Congress’ only Holocaust survivor and choose to leave this post vacant. This is disrespectful not only to the memory of my father but to all those who have fought against anti-Semitism for so long.”
It is good news indeed that the Administration will keep this essential office open and we intend to be vigilant in ensuring that an individual of the utmost skill and expertise is appointed to fill this position. America has long been a beacon to the world when it comes to combating anti-Semitism in all its forms. In the aftermath of the horrifying events in Charlottesville just a few weeks ago, we must redouble our efforts to confront and defeat anti-Semitism both at home and abroad. Only by doing so can we retain the mantle of moral leadership on this fundamental question of human rights and justice.
Katrina Lantos Swett
Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice