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Anti-Semitism Is A Potential Threat to People of All Faiths and Cultures, Says US Special Envoy

The Secretary of State’s “Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism” is a position that grew out of the 2004 Global Anti-Semitism Review Act passed by the U.S. Congress. The Congress had noted a rise in anti-Semitic incidents around the world. They include violence against Jews, desecration of Jewish property, publication of books by government-owned publishing houses that encourage “hatred toward Jews,” and conferences sponsoring denial of the Holocaust.

Last year Gregg Rickman was appointed to the position of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. A former director of congressional affairs at the Republican Jewish Coalition, Mr. Rickman is the author of two books – Swiss Banks and Jewish Souls and Conquest and Redemption: A History of Jewish Assets from the Holocaust. Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, Gregg Rickman says that from 2002 to 2004 there were numerous attacks against Jews and attacks on synagogues and Jewish cemeteries in Europe. The U.S. State Department, he says, has been working with foreign governments and with multilateral agencies to combat such incidents and to develop educational programs promoting tolerance. Mr. Rickman notes that, although previous conferences in Berlin and Cordoba have dealt solely with anti-Semitism, this June’s conference in Bucharest dealt with intolerance and discrimination against Christians and Muslims as well.

Gregg Rickman says that governments have to make clear that they will not tolerate attacks on their own citizens. He notes that in the Muslim world incidents of anti-Semitism are often conflated with anti-Zionist sentiment and take the form of incitement against Israel. Mr. Rickman says many discussions have been held in North Africa, the Middle East, and most recently in Saudi Arabia to differentiate between “what happens in Israel” and incidents directed against “individual Jews in other countries.” Iran is a country of special concern, especially in light of its recent sponsorship of a Holocaust denial conference.

Gregg Rickman says in January the United States and 104 other countries cosponsored a U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning Holocaust denial, and Iran was alone in opposing it. He calls it unfortunate, given its “rich Persian heritage regarding Jews,” that Iran should have become the “center” of Holocaust denial in the Middle East today. But he points out that the region is not uniform and he notes that there are reformers in the Muslim world who oppose both “Islamophobia” and anti-Semitism. He welcomes their realization that “incitement” and “spreading conspiracy theories against Jews” is a real problem, and he says it signifies a first step in “planting seeds” that will grow into new ideas of tolerance.

Gregg Rickman says that throughout history Jews have served as “canaries in the coal mine.” And, if it is regarded as acceptable to discriminate, or commit violent acts, against one group, then other groups are potentially at risk as well. In fact, Democratic congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who is the only Muslim member of Congress, joined the newly formed Congressional Anti-Semitism Task Force earlier this month. Its primary role is to “bring to light specific cases of anti-Semitism” and to educate members of Congress, world leaders, and citizens about their negative effect on society.

For full audio of the program Press Conference USA click here.