The nation’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism addresses the state of anti-Semitism worldwide.
The nation’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism worldwide expects to be out of a job next January when a new administration takes over in Washington, D.C.
But while Ira N. Forman said, “I can’t imagine a more rewarding job,” he admitted that despite the strides he’s made in his three years traveling the globe and meeting diplomats and Jewish leaders, the work will never be done.
“We’re not gonna solve the problem of anti-Semitism — not in my lifetime, not in yours. Not our great, great, great, grandchildren’s lifetimes,” Forman told the Jewish Exponent on May 10 before leaving to address the board of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). “It’s been around for 2,300 years. I have a fair degree of confidence it’s gonna be here for many centuries to come.
“So, I like to use the metaphor of a faucet. We’re not turning off the faucet, but we can turn it down. That’s our goal. After World War II, the faucet was turned down for many decades, and there’s been some evidence since the start of the 21st century it’s coming back up.
“Our goal is to turn it down. The United States is totally committed to fighting anti-Semitism.”
And it’s not just the Obama administration, which appointed Forman, the former Jewish Outreach Director for the Obama for America campaign, to his post in 2013. According to the 64-year-old Forman, who served as executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council for 15 years, this is one of those rare issues which everyone supports.
“This is an issue that is bipartisan,” said Forman, who also had a four-year stint as political director and legislative liaison for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and once served as Director of Congregational Relations in the Office of Personnel Management in President Clinton’s administration. “I’m a political appointee, and people know I was appointed by [Secretary of State John Kerry] with White House consent.
“But I’ve never gone into a Republican office which treats this issue as anything but bipartisan. There’s no criticism.”
Of course, things are bit different overseas, where the anti-Semitism faucet has grown more powerful in some places than an open fire hydrant. It’s Forman’s job not so much to find out why as to figure out a way for Jews abroad to feel safe and not consider the drastic alternative of leaving their homeland.
Forman is quick to point out is the insidious nature of anti-Semitism, which he believes goes well beyond Jews and Israel.
“Many of our democratic allies see that anti-Semitism is not just a Jewish problem. It’s a problem for the very souls of their democracies,” Forman said. “If you have anti-Semitism, inevitably you have persecution of other minorities. You often have xenophobia. You have anti-democratic, anti-pluralistic forces that can destroy a democracy.
“As one person told me, ‘We may be the first to suffer. We will not be the last.’”
Hearing such prophesies is a reality of the world in which we live, he said.
“I’m concerned, but I find it a privilege to work on this,” he said. “I know a lot more than when I started. I don’t think I understood the complexity at all.”
And he’s appreciative of groups such as the ADL, American Jewish Committee and Simon Wiesenthal Center, which may hear of problem areas before he does and point him in the right direction.
“We can’t do this alone,” he said repeatedly. “We’re first gonna need our European and democratic allies. It’s absolutely essential they are committed to this. But we also need Jewish organizations, Jewish NGOs (non-government organizations).
“I’ve learned a tremendous amount from the major NGOs. I was not the foremost expert on anti-Semitism when I started. I’m still not. So we need the Jewish organizations but, as I said, this is not just a Jewish issue, and we need human rights organizations.
“Ultimately, we need civil society. And not just in the U.S. When you say something anti-Semitic in this country, people speak out. Not just Jews.”
That’s not necessarily the case elsewhere, as anti-Semitism may be overt or more subtle. Regardless, it’s causing some anxious moments for Jews.
“In September 2014, I was in Paris a few months after the Gaza riots,” Forman recalled. “When I asked the question what’s gonna happen to the Jewish community, someone got up and said ‘Everyone I know talks about leaving, but most of us won’t leave, because it’s too hard.’
“But our Jewish organizations won’t be able to raise any more money if some people do leave, because who wants to give money to a perceived dying Jewish community? Beyond that why be Jewish if it means our kids in public schools are harassed or physically attacked? Or if you send them to Jewish day schools, they may the target of terrorists?
“It’s easy enough for a Jew in Paris to assimilate.”
That’s the inherent danger of anti-Semitism — that Jews will decide maintaining their identity just isn’t worth the hassle and risk.
Forman, who’s spent most of his life trying to tackle the problem in one way or another, can empathize: He’s got another eight months on the job to keep turning down the faucet of anti-Semitism throughout the world.
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