Does America Need an "Antisemitism Czar"?
Plus: A trailer for my explainer video series on antisemitism, coming early next month
Welcome to a special all-antisemitism edition of this newsletter. Don’t worry, we’ll be back to our more uplifting coverage of topics like Israel/Palestine and American politics soon enough. In the meantime, scroll down if you want to see an exciting sneak peak at my forthcoming video series tackling big questions about antisemitism.
Aren’t All Czars “Antisemitism Czars”?
Earlier this month, social media got a chuckle out of a Newsweek op-ed published by Ellie Cohanim, the former U.S. deputy envoy for combating antisemitism. The piece’s title: “The Time Has Come for a Domestic Anti-Semitism Czar in the U.S.” The response was predictable:
Ellie Cohanim @elliecohanimMy new op-ed: The time has come for a domestic Anti-Semitism Czar in the U.S. | Read: via @Newsweek cc: @iwf https://t.co/wWpK1k5kWk
Jonathan Chait @jonathanchaitI wish I could go back a few generations and ask my ancestors what they think of the term "Anti-Semitism Czar" https://t.co/PEpd6FahQu
But the good-natured ribbing over the awkward appellation had the unintended consequence of obscuring an important point made by the piece: contrary to what many believe, the U.S. does not have a domestic official charged with tackling antisemitism.
What the country does have is a “special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism,” a position which was recently upgraded by Congress to ambassador level. But this is a State Department office charged with combating antisemitism abroad, not policing the problem at home. Few people realize this. In fact, the intramural Jewish debates over who should fill this role have largely taken place over how a given candidate might approach American antisemitism—despite the fact that this would not be their job! All of which is to say: To the extent that American Jews think that such a role is warranted, they ought to be lobbying for it to be created.
That said, while the idea of an “antisemitism czar” has obvious appeal, it also has some political drawbacks that become clear upon closer consideration, and that I suspect make it a hard sell. Such a person—“the Supreme Golem,” perhaps?—would inevitably be tasked with making extremely difficult calls about anti-Jewish prejudice, from responding to prominent people who engage in it to untangling anti-Israel rhetoric from anti-Jewish rhetoric. Not everyone will agree on these sensitive subjects, and every intervention risks becoming a political distraction for a given American administration. It’s a lot easier to have a diplomat tasked with quietly fighting antisemitism overseas than it is to have an official charged with constantly raising the issue domestically. And Jews themselves may not like having one person appointed to speak for them on the issue, depending on their worldviews. (To understand why, just look at the former deputy envoy who wrote the original op-ed above, whose politics and conception of antisemitism certainly differ from my own.)
So, should there be an antisemitism czar? And if yes, what should we call them? Hit me with your best responses and I’ll share the winners in a future edition. The newsletter has a fair amount of congressional readership, so you never know who might take the idea and run with it…
Coming Soon: Antisemitism (And What To Do About It)
If elected as antisemitism czar, I will not serve. But as mentioned previously in these pages, I’ve been working for nearly nine months on a punchy video explainer series on antisemitism that straightforwardly answers big questions about anti-Jewish prejudice that many have, but are afraid to ask. And we now have a release date!
The series will premiere on August 4, and rest assured, when it’s out, you’ll be some of the first to know. Until then, here’s the first minute of the entire production, which sets the stage for what’s to come:
As ever, if you’d like to support this and all my other work, please consider sharing, subscribing, or upgrading to a paying subscription. Thank you.