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Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 01/16/2011

Hannah Rosenthal and U.S. efforts to combat anti-Semitism

By Jennifer Rubin

The Obama administration initially ignored human rights and now has given nice speeches but taken little action. After Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's speech this week on democracy in the Middle East, there was considerable doubt that this represented a real change in policy. One Capitol advisor told me: "The Obama administration is devoting more rhetorical energy to the issue, which is an improvement, since rhetoric counts for a lot. But is there any evidence that they are really committed on this, or thinking seriously about what a serious democracy/human rights/governance strategy in the Middle East would look like? I don't see it."

With that question in mind, I interviewed Hannah Rosenthal, the State Department's special envoy to combat anti-Semitism. She is the child of a Holocaust survivor and is passionate about her work. Less clear is how seriously the administration takes her work and whether her hiring merely allowed the administration to "check the box."

I began with a simple question: What are the consequences for countries in Europe, South America and the Middle East that spew anti-Semitic rhetoric or condone and encourage anti-Semitism? In a lengthy interview, I never quite got an answer. She responded that her own hiring is more than "a baby step." She said that it is important that she has a "seat at the table" and has "made major observations" in her year on the job. She touted her ability to spur non-Jewish leaders to speak out about anti-Semitism. That is all very commendable, but what are the consequences for those who persist in peddling anti-Semitism?

The State Department employs Natan Sharansky's methodology for distinguishing anti-Israel criticism from anti-Semitism. Namely, language or conduct that demonizes, delegitimizes or imposes a double-standard on the Jewish state is anti-Semitism. Rosenthal enthusiastically described internal training for State Department officials to help them understand the distinction.

Is a Time magazine cover story that asserts Jews in Israel only care about money or another article that analogizes the current climate in Israel to fascism in the 1930's over the line? She said without hesitation, "That is absolutely over the line." Those types of assertions, she said, "are made by people who do not know history or misread history."

What about during the flotilla incident when the UN Human Rights Council, European governments and Israel-bashing groups asserted that Israel was not competent to investigate its own conduct? Again, she was blunt: "I think when you hold Israel to a different standard, it is over the line."

Why do we remain in the UN Human Rights Council, which is arguably the most anti-Semitic body in on the planet? She insisted that "every time," we forcefully rebut such "hateful and disgusting" sentiments. (In practice, our UN advocates are less than thorough.) She revealed that the U.S. is working "slowly, slowly" toward repeal of Article 7 of the UNHRC's charter that singles Israel out for specific condemnation. But what is the consequence if the UNHRC says it won't? That response "would have consequences," she said. What kind? She said she is "not going to negotiate through the media." Fair enough, but if we have already staked out the position that we must be there to respond to the anti-Semitic outbursts, it is hard to see what consequences would flow. Perhaps congressional oversight on this point would be helpful.

We then turned to the issue of Saudi textbooks. She said that she had just come from a meeting with the Gulf Institute. The institute published a report last summer documenting that, despite a promise from the king of Saudi Arabia to President George W. Bush, the king had delivered on his promise to scrub textbooks of anti-Semitic content. Rosenthal said that this issue will be one of her top priorities in 2011. She wants to do a complete evaluation of all the textbooks, go to Riyadh, and tell the Saudis that this is unacceptable. What if there is no change? She said there will be "a whole list of 'if/then,'' but she wouldn't go into particulars. Has the issue been raised with the king by the president or secretary of state? She said she doesn't know. (One would hope that she would ask that it be raised and get a read out.) She said she knows that they do talk generally about human rights. Would it be beneficial for the president to go to the Middle East and talk about anti-Semitism? She said wistfully, "We hope someday." She then insisted that "it is always under discussion."

Anti-Semitism is on the rise in South America and Europe, so I asked what the consequences are for those countries if they perpetuate anti-Semitism. Rosenthal vividly described her visit last fall to Venezuela, noting that violence and kidnapping are so pervasive that young people want to leave. She also described a meeting with four members of the national assembly in which she urged them to talk to President Hugo Chavez about his rhetoric sounding increasingly like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's. As for consequences, she said it is very "complicated," because Chavez has rejected our ambassador. Nothing apparently is in the works at Foggy Bottom, either.

We moved on to Europe. Rosenthal said that she finds it "particularly painful" that throughout Europe incidents are multiplying. She said she sees Holocaust denial, neo-Nazi groups, and incidents such as one in which bricks were thrown at a Jewish dancer. What are do we say to allies? She confessed, "I don't know until we come up with a plan" for countries to implement. She acknowledged that Germany is replete with official efforts (museums, school trips to Holocaust camps, etc.), but still the problem persists. She cited as a positive notes Lithuania's designation of 2011 as a year to commemorate the Holocaust. She is enthusiastic about "a whole year of programing."

We then discussed alleged "Islamaphobia" and how it compares to anti-Semitism in the U.S. (The latter, according to a recent F.B.I. report, is on the rise.) Rosenthal said that she stays away from the U.S., dealing with anti-Semitism as a foreign policy matter. Internationally, then, is the extent of Islamaphobia exaggerated at the expense of attention on more prevalent anti-Semitism? She said her approach is very "strategic," meaning that her goal is to get Muslims and other non-Jews to speak out against anti-Semitism. Likewise, she said she is gathering statements from Jewish groups condemning Islamaphobia. She described with great pride an international conference in which she and the State Department representative to Muslim communities, Farah Pandith, "traded scripts," with Pandith reading the statement on anti-Semitism and Rosenthal reading the one on Islamaphobia. That really woke them up at the meeting, she said. She diplomatically replied to my question as to whether anti-Semitism isn't a whole lot worse: "I respectfully disagree that [Islamaphobia] is non-existent." (I didn't ask if it was "nonexistent.") She continued, "It needs to be condemned." She contended that what's important is to get groups that are "hated" to condemn the haters and not each other. The price, it seems, for getting Muslim co-operation is to draw equivalence between Islamaphobia and anti-Semitism. And what do we do about Muslim groups that themselves are propagating anti-Semitism?

As for Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, Rosenthal said they enjoy a very collegial relationship. Any animosity between them, she said, "is not only behind me... but was made up." (Speculation arose when Rosenthal condemned Oren's decision not to attend the leftwing J Street conference.)

Will she advise administration figures not to attend (as former National Security Advisor James Jones did in 2009), this year's J Street conference if it features groups or individuals who go over the line into anti-Semitism? Rosenthal, a former board member of J Street, deflected the question, saying that her focus is outside the U.S. Besides, she said, she thinks she'll be in Vienna then. (I guess she is at least following the schedule.) But what, as part of her State Department training, would she tell top officials? She said that "if someone is planning to attend and asks 'what do you think'," she would see if there was a "red flag." She said that she has "no idea" if that will happen. It doesn't sound very pro-active. But pro-Israel groups concerned about administration attendance might help highlight the red flags for Rosenthal.

I asked how she is going to measure success. Well, it can't be the number of incidents, she explained, because she "is training people to do more reporting [of anti-Semitic] incidents." Success would be "if we got more groups and individuals to condemn anti-Semitism." At an upcoming international meeting, success would also be if the "people go back to insists" that governments and media not perpetuate anti-Semitism. Missing is any actual downturn in anti-Semitism or change in governments' behavior.

Is the job harder than she imagined? "It is different," she said. "I'm an advocate." In that mode she would be "shouting louder" and challenging "baby steps." But she has come to appreciate those baby steps and the ability to say "shame on you" to purveyors of anti-Semitism.

One can't help but wonder if she wouldn't be more valuable back in her advocacy role. Certainly, she'd be demanding results and decrying equivalence between Islamaphobia and anti-Semitism. I was struck by her passion, her energy and her travel schedule (rivaling George Mitchell in frequent flyer miles). And still, it seems the White House isn't terribly engaged on the issue. For if the president is not raising the issue with leaders, not giving speeches in the countries where problem exists, and not employing tangible carrots and sticks to impact the conduct of governments, the U.S. really has no effective policy to combat anti-Semitism.

By Jennifer Rubin  | January 16, 2011; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Human Rights  
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In the words of philosopher and writer George Santayana, “Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.” If Europeans and Russians are becoming more anti-Semitic, then America, in conjunction with EU and Russian collaboration, can make a concerted effort to decrease anti-Semitism. If, by doing this we can save a repeat of past genocide, it is certainly a just and worthy cause. It won’t be easy or fast. Racism and bigotry are typically taught from parent to child. Over successive centuries, anti-Semitism has become endemic. But, a combination of education and laws that hinder intolerance can work. This effort has potential.

While Israel will remain a hard and fast American ally, it is also in America's interest to foment a desire for liberty and democracy elsewhere in the Middle East. Muslim Kingdoms must not forever remain closed, totalitarian regimes. Valued religious and cultural characteristics can remain in place even while transforming into a nation in which discrimination and endemic prejudice are decreased and democracy is increased. Turkey is an example of a nation moving in this direction.

Whenever we stand up to anti-Semitism we send a critical message to the world. As we continue to live in an age of genocide and ethnic cleansing, we must repel the broken ethics of our ancestors, or risk a dreadful repeat of past transgressions. A world that continues to allow genocide, persecution and discrimination will benefit from ethical remediation. America can help to show the world that religious, racial, ethnic and gender prejudice is wrong; and that tolerance is our progeny's best hope. But, we cannot do it alone. Collaboration must exist among other global leaders. Only through such efforts can we promote the triumphant spirit of humankind.

Charles Weinblatt
Author, Jacob’s Courage

Posted by: csw18 | January 16, 2011 4:41 PM | Report abuse

It's hard to say if this is amusing or ridiculous.

Neither shades of anti semitism, or attempts to liken it to criticism of Israel, nor Hannah Rosenthal or the State Department is going to be able to impose 'consquences' on people who criticize Israel...or who criticize the US Jewish organizations who work to minipulate US policy concerning Israel to the detriment of what most Americans consider American interest.

There is no double standard on Israel except from those want to make Israel an exception to all law and universally understood human rights.

The facts are Israel is engaged in an illegal occuption, a 60 year land theft and a slo mo genocide of another people. And from observation of recent events in Israel, is indeed tracking the 1930's German mentality.
And,the activities of the US Israel supporters have made the US a finanical and political enabler and complict in their actions, to the great shame of Americans.

If any supporters of the current incantation of Israel think slurs of anti semitism will keep Americans from calling a spade a spade, they are fighting a losing battle and going to be very disappointed.

Posted by: Renfro1 | January 17, 2011 2:58 AM | Report abuse

I suppose the blogger Renfro1 believes that by repeating the usual lies and half truths about Israel that this will somehow or in some unexpected way bring about a change in Israel's behavior or that it will somehow bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table in good faith. There are in fact those people who believe that unreserved support for the rather silly and frankly entirely fabricated Palestinian narrative about a cruel, oppressive, imperialistic, thieving, and murderous Israel will somehow strengthen or improve the Palestinian negotiating stance. But I doubt if that is what Renfro1 really has in mind. Like far too many anti Semites who try to hide their visceral hatred behind their anti Israel rhetoric, their idea is not to positively influence Israeli government behavior or even help support the Palestinians. Their idea is the elimination of Israel as a state and as a people. For example, the clearly false statement that Israel is engaged in a "slo mo genocide" of the Palestinians. This is belied by the clear fact that the Palestinian population continues to grow larger every year, by 3.422% per year in fact. Heck, even the Palestinians, the most notorious liars on the planet, no longer make that ridiculous claim. And even more to the point, because Palestinians have complete access to advanced Israeli medical facilities, their mortality and morbidity rates continue to drop yearly.
The unpleasant reality is that the more individuals like Renfro1 continue to repeat or embellish the lies and half truths manufactured by anti Semites, Israel haters, and their Palestinian cronies, all they do is further extend and worsen the Palestinian situation, and practically guarantee that the conflict will continue, and not to the advantage of the Palestinians.

Posted by: Beniyyar | January 17, 2011 4:57 AM | Report abuse

So, let me get this straight. Our cherished reporter Jennifer asks Ms. Rosenthal repeatedly about anti-semitism among Islamists in Europe, and she responds that "Islamophobia" is the problem?

Whew! Is this lady supposed to be working for the benefit of Jewry, or is she just window dressing for the Obama administration?

Posted by: ericdondero | January 17, 2011 5:28 AM | Report abuse


Is is true that Israel maintains a segregated school system, one for Jews and another for Israeli citizens who are Muslim? If true, could not this reasonably be construed as cruel and oppressive, at least by American standards since Brown in 1954?

Posted by: Inagua1 | January 17, 2011 8:18 AM | Report abuse

The Obama administrationa and Dennis Ross are doing such great things for the people of Gaza and no one knows it? Gosh if they would just publicize all they have done for Gaza then maybe some of us wouldn't so so skeptical of almost every lie that oozes out of Hilary and the other dodo neocon swill who run the government these days. Perhaps Mosad can tell us what is really going on.

Posted by: Boils | January 17, 2011 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Oh yawn. This is just another effort to make criticism of Israel seem illegitimate at a moment when the Israeli right is trying to make racism against Palestinians legitimate. Democracies are an exclusive club and have to be held to a higher standard, or the word, democracy, is drained of any meaning. I'm with the person who said it's hard to know whether Ms. Rosenthal is amusing or ridiculous. One thing I do know is that this effort to try make anti-Zionism the same thing as anti-Semitism is tyrannical, pathetic, and a ridiculous waste of taxpayers money.

Posted by: freespeechlover | January 18, 2011 12:54 AM | Report abuse

You know what I find curious? Hannah Rosenthal disagree's with everything that Rubin has written wrt this:

"According to Rosenthal, Rubin blatantly misrepresented Rosenthal’s comments as a condemnation of specific articles Rosenthal made clear she hadn’t read."

Jennifer, you are a disgrace.

Posted by: kindness1 | January 18, 2011 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Nice of the Washington Post to provide a media presence to right-wing Zionist interests.

Ms. Rubin's "lengthy interview" of the State Dept Official seems to have produced protests fromn the same State Dept Official that Ms. Rubin's summary of the interview is willfully wrong, and does not represent the views or positions of the Administration.

Strike one. Unless a retraction is issued, Ms. Rubin loses all claim to impartial, accurate reporting.

And of course, there is the Elephant in the room. Illegal encroachments inot territories which have never belonged to the present state of Israel, illegal state-sponsored armed violence and active oppresion and suppression in the Occupied Territories, state-sponsored racism, segregation, and discrimnation against Palestinians.

MAYBE when Israel begins to address these problems, MAYBE Ms. Rubin can scream and whine to the State Department about how mean and hurtful those anti-Semites are.

Anti-Zionism is not Anti-Semitism.

Posted by: Wellstone | January 18, 2011 2:14 PM | Report abuse

2 hours ago I posted that Hannah Rosenthal has denied saying this to Jennifer Rubin. I linked to the Thinkprogress post where they specifically asked Hanna about Jennifer's column.

That post never got put up here....Why is that?

Posted by: kindness1 | January 18, 2011 3:38 PM | Report abuse

"'That post never got put up here....Why is that?"

Because you exposed Jennifer's misrepresentation of her interview with Rosenthall, and we can't have that can we?

Posted by: Shingo1 | January 18, 2011 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Jenniofer falsely claims that the Times article “asserts Jews in Israel only care about money”, which is a cheap way to tap into the anti Semitic stereotype about Jews. In fact, the Times article does not make this argument at all, but suggests that Jewish Israelis are by and large happy and have no reason to want change.

The same coudl be said of any country.

I also loved this line:

"What about during the flotilla incident when the UN Human Rights Council, European governments and Israel-bashing groups asserted that Israel was not competent to investigate its own conduct? Again, she was blunt: “I think when you hold Israel to a different standard, it is over the line.”

I take it that Rubin and Rosenthal are both opposed to the Special Tribunal in Lebanon then – you know seeing as they are so outraged by holding Israel to a different standards?

Rubin shows her true colors when she makes this abrd argument:

"She diplomatically replied to my question as to whether anti-Semitism isn’t a whole lot worse"

Surely she cannot be serious if she thinks that the levels of anti-Semitism are louder and more pervasive than Islamophobi (when was the last time there were demonstratipons against the building of a Synagogue?) but I suspect that Jennifer's real point was that she doesn’t regard Islamophobia as unacceptable as anti-Semitism. She goes on to express her disgust that anyone who even dare to compare the two:

"The price, it seems, for getting Muslim co-operation is to draw equivalence between Islamaphobia and anti-Semitism."

Rubin really exposes the level of her contempt for Muslims. She goes on to mention this again, suggesting that Rosenthal would be better suited to advocacy because…

"..she’d be demanding results and decrying equivalence between Islamaphobia and anti-Semitism."

You can almost picture the drool on Rubin’s keyboard by this stage can’t you?

Posted by: Shingo1 | January 18, 2011 4:06 PM | Report abuse


I'd be surous to know how the Palestinians managed to enrirely fabricate the fact that they were ethniclalyl cleansed and continue to be since 1948, or that Israel is violating the 4th Geneva Conventions on human rights by bulding illegal settlements, or how Israel massacred more than 300 children and almost as many women in it's attack on Gaza, or how the Palestinians bamboozled Golstone into producing a report on Israel's war crimes.

"Like far too many anti Semites who try to hide their visceral hatred behind their anti Israel rhetoric, their idea is not to positively influence Israeli government behavior or even help support the Palestinians."

I thik the Israeli government has demonstrared that it does not respond positivelty to any kind of influence. Even the offer of 20 free F35 jet fighters wasn't sufficient to convince the Israeli government to cease buildign illegal settlements for only 3 months.

"Their idea is the elimination of Israel as a state and as a people."

By that logic, you are suggesting that Israel's existence as a state and as a people is incment upon the state violating international law, human rights and war cimes. That sounds pretty anti Semtic to me.

"For example, the clearly false statement that Israel is engaged in a "slo mo genocide" of the Palestinians."

According to Wikipedia, Genocide is described as "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group". Israel is certainly doing that and achieved it to a great extent. After all, erasure of Arab presence and history by building parks and forests over Arab villages is part of that policy.

"And even more to the point, because Palestinians have complete access to advanced Israeli medical facilities, their mortality and morbidity rates continue to drop yearly."

In Iserael they do, but not the Palestinians in the West Bank, who regularly die while waiting to pass through a check point as they seek medical attention.

Posted by: Shingo1 | January 18, 2011 4:17 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: ericdondero

"So, let me get this straight. Our cherished reporter Jennifer asks Ms. Rosenthal repeatedly about anti-semitism among Islamists in Europe, and she responds that "Islamophobia" is the problem?"

No you didn't get it straight, though that might have a lot do with the fact that Jennifer misrepresented the statements by Rosenthal.

Rosenthal's argument was that both are problems Islamophobia and anti-semitism are problems. This answer clearly didn't please Jennifer, who was offended that Rosenthal dares to suggest they were equally unacceptable.

Posted by: Shingo1 | January 18, 2011 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Despite the headline, Rosenthal did not read the article in Time and did not condemn it in the terms stated. Rubin characterized the article to Rosenthal in highly tendentious terms and Rosenthal gave a conditional response that Rubin misrepresents.

Rubin clearly intended to write an article that attacked those who disagree with Likud as 'anti-semitic' and was going to fit whatever Rosenthal said into that narrative. So what we have here is not a reporter talking about 'human rights' as she claims, we have a political hack posing as a journalist.

This was probably apparent to Rosenthal during the interview and thus the refusal to make further statements on Islamic extremism that Rubin was likely to misrepresent is quite understandable.

What Rubin seems unable to grasp here is that the comparison in the Time article to the 1930s came from members of the Israeli right. Benny Begin is not a member of Meretz or a left winger by any stretch of the imagination. Furthermore, anyone who follows Israeli politics knows that comparisons to the 1930s are made constantly by all sides. Implying that the Prime Minister a NAZI is as routine as invoking the second amendment in US politics.

What Rubin does not seem to understand, despite the fact that it is her job to understand such things is that US opposition to Israeli policies comes mostly from Jews. There is a generational divide between the older 60+ Jews for whom Israel cannot do any wrong and the 45 and younger population who mostly regard Netanyahu's Israel as an embarrassment at best. Calling the opposition to Israel 'anti-Semitic' is thus to attack the majority of younger US Jews as being motivated by anti-Semitism, which is facile. That is why a majority of Jews in Congress refused to sign AIPAC's motion supporting Israel's attack on an unarmed Turkish vessel.

At the moment the younger generation tends to still defer to the older for the sake of avoiding arguments. But the older generation is dying out and the Israeli right is growing increasingly eliminationist. As far as they are concerned people are either with them unquestioningly or they are enemies.

Lieberman has almost singlehandedly turned Turkey from being an Israeli ally to being an opponent in the space of a couple of years. The attack on the flotilla was merely the last straw in a series of unnecessary provocations.

Eventually these people will commit a provocation that the younger US Jews cannot support and there will be a reckoning.

Posted by: hallam1 | January 19, 2011 9:53 AM | Report abuse

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