Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Letter urges US anti-Semitism monitor

More than 100 religious leaders, former US officials, writers, artists, and academics, have written to US Secretary of State Colin Powell to protest the State Department's opposition to a congressional bill that would require the department to set up an office dedicated to combating anti-Semitism, and issue an annual report on anti-Semitism around the world.

The State Department has said it opposes the bill because it would show favoritism by "extending exclusive status to one religious or ethnic group."

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-California), a Holocaust survivor, authored the proposed Global Anti-Semitism Awareness Act.

"The State Department's position on the Lantos legislation carries troubling echoes of the past," says the September 10 letter organized by former Democratic congressman Stephen Solarz and the Pennsylvania-based David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.

The institute, the letter says, "has documented how, during the Holocaust, the State Department did its best to downplay the Jewish identity of Hitler's victims – even though the Nazi regime had clearly singled out Jews for annihilation."

In a letter to Lantos in July, the State Department's Bureau of Legislative Affairs said the Department "strongly agrees that anti-Semitism is a problem, and one that the US Government is working vigorously to eliminate."

It noted, however, that the department already details anti-Semitic acts and attitudes through its annual human rights and international religious freedom reports.

A separate reporting requirement on anti-Semitism "could erode our credibility by being interpreted as favoritism in human rights reporting," it said.

Those who signed the letter to Powell included former secretary of housing Jack Kemp, former US ambassador to the UN Jeane Kirkpatrick, former CIA director James Woolsey, former national security adviser Anthony Lake, Yale University Divinity School Dean Harold Attridge, writer Cynthia Ozick, and Richard Perle, a former Pentagon adviser who is now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Many who signed the critique, like Perle, are strong supporters of the Bush administration.