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Opinion: Protect us from antisemitism; confirm this special envoy

Utah Sens. Lee and Romney should help confirm professor Deborah Lipstadt to help combat growing violence here and abroad

SHARE Opinion: Protect us from antisemitism; confirm this special envoy
Rabbi Samuel Spector reviews the Bible while prerecording the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur service at Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City.

Rabbi Samuel Spector reviews the Bible while prerecording the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur service at Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020.

Yukai Peng, Deseret News

It could have been us. It could have been anyone. Hostages could have been taken at Kol Ami. Right here in Salt Lake City.  

The thought has haunted us since the moment we heard the news; A synagogue in Texas has been taken over by a terrorist, with hostages inside. We are, of course, tremendously grateful that the hostages escaped safely. However, the threat and the fear remain. It is a painful reminder of the fact that synagogues in America continue to be at risk as potential targets. 

Antisemitic incidents are at historic highs in the United States, and antisemitism is rising across the globe. Our community is not immune, sharing in the anxiety. The concern spreads across the global Jewish community. It happened before: Colleyville, Poway, Pittsburgh. Tomorrow, could it be Salt Lake City? Beyond the support of law enforcement, the security trainings and other precautions, is there more that can be done?

One thing we can do is ask Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee to take action now.

The U.S. government is confronting the mounting global challenge of antisemitism without our highest-ranking official in place. And yet, this official — the foremost global expert on antisemitism — has not even received the courtesy of a hearing. It is nearly 200 days since the nomination of professor Deborah Lipstadtto be the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism. For six months, the top expert and advocate has been waiting to get to work. Sens. Romney and Lee, the time is now.

The threat is real. Give professor Lipstadt a hearing now. Set a date immediately.

With the substantial uptick in antisemitic incidents in recent years, official positions that specifically target antisemitism are more important than ever. For more than 40 years, the Anti-Defamation League has tracked incidents of antisemitic harassment, vandalism, and assault. The numbers are striking; 2020 was the third highest year on record, with over 2,000 incidents. And like the annual FBI Hate Crimes Statistics Report shows, these numbers are likely and significantly underreported. It is undeniable; hate is on the rise, including hatred directed at Jews.

The numbers are not distant abstractions. The incidents include swastika vandalismthat targeted synagogues Kol Ami and Chabad of Salt Lake City last year. Or just a few weeks ago, we recall the bizarre, antisemitic rant of the Silicon Slopes founder and former chairman of Entrata. Indeed, it was similarly conspiratorial lies about Jewish power and control that animated and inspired the terrorist in Texas to attack a house of worship during Sabbath services.

Sen. Romney, Sen. Lee, the time to act is now. Before the next tragedy.

As you know, the special envoywas elevated to an ambassadorial level position by the U.S. House in a floor vote of 411 to 1. The Senate passed the bipartisan measure by unanimous consent in 2020. Accordingly, the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism requires a vote by the Foreign Affairs Committee, where Romney sits. And Lee could lend his voice in support of professor Lipstadt when her confirmation comes to the floor for a vote.

Exposing and confronting antisemitism is not about politics. Hatred targeting the Jewish community comes from the left and the right. Professor Lipstadt has identified and criticized both extremes for their role in fomenting antisemitism.

It is well past time. Jews cannot wait; not one more day. Professor Lipstadt is the world’s leading historian on antisemitism. She is eminently qualified as a distinguished scholar. She knows if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.

Jan. 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Senators, please, grant professor Lipstadt a hearing now.

Sam Spector is the rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City and a member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Gary Doctorman is an attorney in Salt Lake City and a member of the Anti-Defamation League’s Central Pacific Region Executive Committee.