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Long delayed, Deborah Lipstadt nomination for antisemitism envoy passes committee

The nomination had languished in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for eight months. Lipstadt's nomination now heads to the Senate for confirmation.

Deborah E. Lipstadt speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

(RNS) — Following an eight-month-long delay, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday (March 29) approved the nomination of noted antisemitism scholar Deborah Lipstadt to be the State Department’s envoy to combat and monitor antisemitism.

The nomination now heads to the full Senate.

The vote was 13-9 with two Republican Senators, Mitt Romney of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida, voting in favor. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote was closed to the public.

Biden had nominated Lipstadt in July to lead the State Department’s office for combating antisemitism. Jewish groups across the spectrum hailed the nomination and strongly advocated for Lipstadt, an Emory University professor who has taught about antisemitism for 40 years and published numerous books on the subject. Last year, she served as an expert witness in the Charlottesville civil suit against the organizers of the Unite the Right that turned deadly.

But Lipstadt’s nomination languished after Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, objected to her nomination. He was offended, he said, by a tweet she wrote in which she said his comments about the Jan. 6 insurrection amounted to “white supremacy/nationalism.”

“You’ve never met me. You don’t know what’s in my heart. Do you?” he said at a hearing on her confirmation in February, in which he said he would not vote to confirm her.

Lipstadt acknowledged her tweet was not nuanced and vowed to not conduct diplomacy by tweet. She emphasized her criticism was aimed at Johnson’s words not his character.

“I’m sorry if I made it in a way that it could be assumed to be … of the person personally,” she said.

Following the vote on Tuesday, the Orthodox Union congratulated the Senate for the vote.

“We are extremely pleased the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved Prof. Lipstadt for the position of special envoy to combat antisemitism as attacks and threats continue against the global Jewish community,” the group, representing Orthodox Jewish congregations, said in a press release.

The Jewish Federations of North America and the Anti-Defamation League also pushed the Foreign Relations Committee to speed up her nomination.


RELATED: Jewish groups urge Senate to hold hearing on antisemitism envoy


The special envoy’s office was established in 2004. In response to a growing threat of antisemitism globally over the past five years, Congress elevated the position to the rank of ambassador last year. That requires full Senate confirmation.

The position, located at the State Department, is intended to advance U.S. foreign policy on antisemitism.

Lipstadt’s credentials are not much debated. She is best known for winning a libel case in the United Kingdom filed by Holocaust denier David Irving. The story of the case inspired the 2016 movie “Denial,” in which Lipstadt was portrayed by actor Rachel Weisz. Lipstadt is professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies.

The Biden administration appointed Aaron Keyak, a former House staffer who served as Jewish outreach director for Biden’s campaign team, as Lipstadt’s deputy last November.


RELATED: We should hire Deborah Lipstadt to combat antisemitism, not punish her for doing so