Historian Deborah Lipstadt confirmed as envoy to combat antisemitism after push from Jewish groups

It comes after months of delays and Republican opposition.

March 31, 2022, 11:19 AM

The Senate on Wednesday night unanimously confirmed Deborah Lipstadt, Biden's nominee for special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, after months of calls from the Jewish community to move forward on her delayed nomination.

Biden had announced his intent to nominate Lipstadt in July 2021. But Lipstadt's confirmation only came after months of delays and Republican opposition, similar to the experiences faced by many of Biden's other nominees that require Senate confirmation.

But a diverse swath of Jewish groups, including the Orthodox Union and the American Jewish Committee, supported her nomination. High-profile instances of domestic antisemitism also led to renewed calls for her to be confirmed, even though the envoy role is predominantly focused on antisemitism abroad.

Those incidents include one in January in Colleyville, Texas, in which a British national took the rabbi and members of Congregation Beth Israel hostage, holding them for hours until law enforcement officials stormed the synagogue.

Lipstadt is a high-profile historian of Jewish history and the Holocaust who teaches at Emory University in Atlanta. She gained fame after winning a court case against British author David Irving, who sued her and a publisher for libel when she accused him of Holocaust denial.

Deborah Lipstadt, nominee to be Special Envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, speaks at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations committee on Feb. 8, 2022 in Washington, D.C.
Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA via AP

Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga, who is Jewish, introduced the vote in the Senate by invoking his own family history with antisemitism.

"My great grandparents, Israel and Annie, arrived in this country in 1911 and 1913, fleeing antisemitism in Eastern Europe," Ossoff said.

"Their story is like the story of so many Jewish immigrants and refugees who came to the United States because the free exercise of religion is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."

Ossoff also called attention to America's status as "a place where you're protected from persecution. No matter how you worship."

The head of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, told ABC News that the delay felt "beyond anyone's understanding." On Wednesday morning Jacobs tweeted, "It took way too long but we are excited that the most qualified person for the job will finally be able to get busy combatting antisemitism."

Lipstadt herself wrote about the Texas synagogue hostage situation in the New York Times without mentioning her stalled nomination.

"It is not radical to say that going to services, whether to converse with God or with the neighbors you see only once a week, should not be an act of courage. And yet this weekend we were once again reminded that it can be precisely that," she said.

Ossoff did not mention Colleyville, but said in his remarks that "right now as we speak, the scourge of anti semitism is rising again in this country and around the world. If we mean the words 'never again' then at long last Madam President, let's confirm Deborah Lipstadt to fight antisemitism on behalf of the United States."

Antisemitism has been prevalent in the United States over the past two years. The Anti-Defamation League tracked over 2,000 antisemitic incidents in 2020, as well as an uptick in antisemtic incidents during and after a period of fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza in May 2021.

During her hearings in the Senate, Lipstadt had to respond to some specific grievances from Senate Republicans who took issue with her previous criticisms of former President Donald Trump and current Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. But nobody on the Senate floor Wednesday night voted against her confirmation.

Lipstadt's new role as an ambassador in the Department of State "advances U.S. foreign policy on antisemitism... [and] develops and implements policies and projects to support efforts to combat antisemitism," according to the department's website.