On September 5, 1996, Holocaust denier David Irving sued scholar and author Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher Penguin Books in an English court for libel for saying in her book, “Denying the Holocaust,” that his writings and public statements constituted Holocaust denial. Lipstadt won the lawsuit, even though English libel law places the burden of proof on the defendant rather than the plaintiff. The Times said of Lipstadt’s victory, “History has had its day in court and scored a crushing victory.”
This week, it appears that history is winning again, following a Thursday night alert from the White House that President Joe Biden that he was about to nominate Lipstadt the State Department’s anti-Semitism envoy.
The post of Special Envoy was established by the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004 and provides input on anti-Semitism for the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and the Reports on International Religious Freedom published by the State Department. Anti-Semitism is defined by US law as discrimination against or hatred toward Jews, and the Special Envoy develops and implements policies and projects to support efforts to combat anti-Semitism.
Lipstadt has been the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia since 1993. She served as a consultant to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and in 1994, she was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and served two terms.
Lipstadt was born in New York City to a Canadian mother and German father who met at their neighborhood synagogue. She grew up in Far Rockaway, Queens, and studied at the Hebrew Institute of Long Island. She spent her junior year of college in Israel during the Six-Day War, where she stayed as an exchange student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Lipstadt has criticized the German philosopher and historian Ernst Nolte for engaging in what she calls “soft-core denial” of the Holocaust, arguing that Nolte practices an even more dangerous form of negationism than the Holocaust deniers. Speaking of Nolte in a 2003 interview, Lipstadt stated:
In 2003, Lipstadt accused German historian Ernst Nolte of being even more dangerous than the Holocaust deniers, and called him an anti-Semite of the first order who tries to rehabilitate Hitler by saying that he wasn’t worse than Stalin.
In February 2007, Lipstadt received a standing ovation at the Zionist Federation’s annual fundraising dinner in London when she asked how former President Jimmy Carter could omit the years 1939–1947 from a chronology in his book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”
Yet in 2011 she told Haaretz that, “if anti-Semitism becomes the reason through which your Jewish view of the world is refracted, if it becomes your prism, then it is very unhealthy. Jewish tradition never wanted that,” and in 2014 she criticized Israel for cheapening the memory of the Holocaust by using it to justify the Gaza war, but also rejected the view that the IDF engaged in genocide in Gaza.
In February 2019, Lipstadt resigned her Young Israel membership after its national council president defended Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s forging the merger between Habayit Hayehudi and Otzma Yehudit.