Photo Credit: POMED
Anti-Israel activist Sarah Margon is awaiting her Senate confirmation to head DRL.

President Joe Biden’s nominee for the State Department’s top human rights envoy has reached an impasse in the Senate confirmation process, and the post of running one of the president’s biggest foreign-policy priorities has been stuck in limbo for months, Foreign Policy reported on Monday (Biden’s Pick for Top Human Rights Post Stuck in Nomination Limbo).

The nominee, Sarah Margon, slated to become assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor (DRL), is mistrusted by the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Idaho Sen. James Risch, because of her anti-Israel tweets. In one of those tweets, dated Nov. 19, 2018, Margon wrote: “Airbnb to remove listings in Israeli settlements of occupied West Bank. Thanks, Airbnb, for showing some good leadership here. Other companies should follow suit.”

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And after the NY Times ran Peter Beinart’s revolting op-ed, “I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State,” op-ed, Margon shared an excerpt that urged the destruction of Israel as we now know it, with the caption: “Peter Beinart on fire.”

But wait, there’s more: in December 2019, after President Trump signed an executive order on combating antisemitism, Margon tweeted: “POTUS’ new exec order ostensibly addresses antisemitism. But in reality, it’s a bogus initiative geared to stifle free speech & go after those who might criticize Israel. So today I’m feeling ‘othered,’ which is not a good thing.”

During Margon’s nomination hearing last September, she denied charges that she supports the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment movement against Israel, declaring: “I firmly oppose the BDS movement.”

But Senator Risch confronted her with the tweet cheering the AirBnB boycott of Israeli settlements and said he found it hard to see how it wasn’t a statement of support for BDS.

“Senator, I am not and have never been a supporter of the BDS movement. I oppose it,” Margon repeated, to which the Senator responded: “With all due respect, ma’am, I don’t believe it. Saying it over and over again just doesn’t square with your actions,” and “doesn’t make it true.”

Early in his presidency, Biden vowed to bring human rights and democracy to the center of his foreign-policy agenda, but the absence of a top human rights envoy at the State Department exposes the administration’s weakness in this area.

Since that September hearing—more than four months ago—the Senate Foreign Relations Committee does not seem any closer to a vote on Margon’s nomination than they were in the fall.

According to Foreign Policy, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a prominent friend of Israel, supports Margon’s nomination and criticized the Republicans over the impasse on her nomination. The committee’s chairman and the ranking member agree jointly on the agenda, including scheduling votes on nominees.

Menendez issued a statement saying, “The US needs to fully reclaim the mantle of leading the global fight in defense of democracy and human rights. Sidelining experienced diplomats and leaders poised to advance our national interests makes our country less safe. … What’s more, we are not demanding Republican’s support for these nominees, we are simply asking them to allow for a vote to be scheduled so every member can cast it however they wish.”

Menendez said he was certain Margon would be confirmed by an “overwhelming majority of the Senate.”

Margon is Jewish, the daughter of Marilyn and Arthur Margon, of Brooklyn. But she has been associated for more than 20 years with high-profile human rights groups that are traditionally anti-Israel, including Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, and the Open Society Foundations. She also served as a foreign-policy advisor to former Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold from 2007 to 2011, when she worked closely with now-Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

In her confirmation hearing, Margon said that Israel has the right to defend itself and that she did not believe Israel was guilty of committing war crimes when it responded to attacks from its Arab neighbors. But Risch just doesn’t buy any of it. He also rejected behind-the-scenes efforts by the Biden administration to convince him to let the vote go through.

“When a nominee makes statements in support of the BDS movement, that person is going to be aggressively vetted,” Risch told Foreign Policy. “In the case of the nominee Sarah Margon, I have given her the opportunity to walk back her statements applauding private companies supporting BDS, including publicly during her confirmation hearing. She has not done that. Therefore, I will not support her nomination.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition is also on the record against Biden’s human rights nominee. Last May, they issued a statement declaring that “Sarah Margon has made her career at some of the most virulently Israel-hating organizations around. For several years, she ran the Washington office of Human Rights Watch, a terribly misnamed, bitterly anti-Israel organization that issued a report just last week calling Israel ‘an apartheid state.'”

The RJC continued: “President Biden and Secretary Blinken claim to oppose the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, but now they want to install a supporter of Israel boycotts in a senior role. They say they favor a peace settlement based on a two-state solution, but they want to elevate someone who supports the idea of a single ‘equal’ Israeli-Palestinian state replacing Israel, eliminating the Jewish state entirely.”

Foreign Policy cited administration officials who said Sen. said Risch has cooperated with congressional Democrats to help move some State Department nominees through the confirmation process, in recognition of how important it was to let Biden get his people in place. But he won’t budge on Margon’s nomination.

The absence of a Senate-confirmed human rights envoy was glaring during Biden’s Summit for Democracy last December, which was a virtual conference with more than 100 countries involved. It was considered one of the most important foreign-policy events of the president’s first year in office – but foreign officials could not confer with their equal on human rights because the position was vacant.

Lisa Curtis, a former senior National Security Council official under President Trump, signed a letter supporting Margon’s nomination, explaining: “Without that person in place, you just don’t have a powerful voice weighing in with the bureaucracy … to make sure human rights dimensions are at the top of every foreign-policy discussion.”

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.