Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday told Congress he would appoint a new Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. In a letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, Tillerson said he was finally filling the post which has stood vacant since Ira Forman, President Obama’s anti-Semitism envoy, stepped down when President Trump took office.
As late as June, according to Newsweek Tillerson wasn’t sure the State Department should have a special anti-Semitism envoy, saying he was concerned the role could actually take attention away from the efforts to fight anti-Semitism. He said as much during his testimony before the House Appropriations Committee Foreign Operations Subcommittee.
“One of the things that we are considering—and we understand why [special envoys] were created and the good intentions behind why they were created—but one of the things we want to understand is by doing that, did we weaken our attention to those issues? Because the expertise in a lot of these areas lies within the bureaus, and now we’ve stripped it out of the bureaus,” Tillerson told the subcommittee.
“One of the questions I’ve asked is, If we’re really going to affect these areas, these special areas, don’t we have to affect it through the delivery on mission at every level at every country?” Tillerson wondered aloud. “And by having a special person, an envoy out here, one of my experiences is, mission then says, ‘Oh, we’ve got somebody else that does that,’ and then they stop doing it. And so it was not the intent—I know the intent was to bring more attention to it—but I’m back to how do we deliver on mission? How does this actually get done?”
The Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism (SEAS) is a part of the Office of Religion and Global Affairs (S/RGA) at the United States Department of State. The office “advocates US policy on anti-Semitism both in the United States and internationally, develops and implements policies and projects to support efforts to combat anti-Semitism.”
The Office was created by the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004, which calls for the Secretary of State to establish within the Department of State an Office to Monitor and Combat anti -Semitism, and “the head of the Office shall be the Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating anti-Semitism.” The Office shall assume the primary responsibility for: monitoring and combating acts of anti -Semitism and anti-Semitic incitement that occur in foreign countries; coordinating and assisting in the preparation of [the report] relating to an assessment and description of the nature and extent of acts of anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic incitement for inclusion in the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices; and […] in the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom.
Apparently, the anti-Semitism Envoy’s position remained unstaffed for eight months while Sec. Tillerson continued to have doubts about the wisdom of even having such a position. And then, obviously, Charlottesville, Virginia happened, and the Trump Administration, already mired in the President’s dubious responses to Nazis marching on America’s streets, didn’t need the become known as the guys who killed the anti-Semitism monitoring thing.
And so Tillerson overcame his doubts and wrote Sen. Corker that the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, will be “returned to the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) where the Special Envoy can be assisted by the entire team of experts in the bureau.” In practice, Tillerson explained, “this will involve realigning 2 positions and $130,000 in support costs within D&CP from the Office of the Secretary to the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL).”