David Benger
David Benger

Choosing President Biden’s Antisemitism Ambassador

President Biden and Secretary Blinken face a difficult choice (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

On April 19th, the Senate Bipartisan Task Force for Combatting Antisemitism submitted a letter to President Biden urging him to “expeditiously nominate a qualified Ambassador to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism in order to confront the rising level of anti-Semitism worldwide.” A couple of weeks ago, in honor of Yom Hashoah (Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day), I published a piece with The MirYam Institute, (later syndicated by The Algemeiner) in which I made the same argument.

This push to nominate a “qualified” person raises the obvious question. Who should be named to the post? In my MirYam essay, I laid out some key qualifications, but I did not propose any names. This article will supplement that framework with some prospective strong candidates for the role.

In my initial piece, I wrote that “The Ambassador will have to cast away arcane labels of ‘left wing’ and ‘right wing’ antisemitism and address all actions that harm to Jews with equal gusto.” The Ambassador must prioritize fighting the BDS movement, widespread adoption of the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism, and keeping Jews safe on social media and in the virtual world, as well as in real life.

I closed the piece by noting that though most of the names being discussed in the running for the position have experience and expertise, it may behoove the “Biden administration to look outside the box for a person with the creativity, energy, and fresh perspective to proudly represent the State Department in every corner of the planet where Jews are at risk.”

So, below, I have simply introduced a few people who I feel ought to be considered.

Just a couple of important disclaimers before we jump into the list. First, I have not communicated with a single one of these people about this position. I have no inside knowledge regarding whether they would even accept the position if offered.

Second, I recognize that both the inclusion and the omission of certain names will incur strong reactions. This piece is meant to start a conversation, and I invite every reader to reach out to me, challenge these names, and propose new ones.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, I have done no independent vetting of any of these candidates. All of this is based purely on publicly available information.

In alphabetical order by last name, here we go:

Amanda Berman is the Founder and Executive Director of the Zioness Movement, an initiative geared toward proud Zionists who identify with the progressive left, and wish to advocate for social justice causes without shedding their identity as Jews and Zionists. Before Zioness, Amanda was a civil rights attorney, who used the law to help Jews seek remedies for injustices by which they had been victimized. Amanda speaks and writes on these issues frequently, and has proven herself as a tireless, creative advocate for threatened Jews.

Ambassador Norm Eisen might be the most traditionally credentialed candidate on this list. A very well known and highly regarded Washington DC lawyer, Eisen also has experience working on antisemitism issues with the ADL. He served as President Obama’s Ambassador to the Czech Republic, a particularly poignant posting given his family history. Eisen’s grandmother was a Jewish holocaust survivor who had been deported from her home in Czechoslovakia to Auschwitz.

Congressman Josh Gottheimer has a consistently pro-Israel record in Congress. He supported the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem, and he has cheered the signing of the Abraham Accords. His youth, his energym and his gravitas as a sitting US Congressman all make him worthy of consideration.

Roberta Kaplan is a household name among civil rights lawyers. History will remember Kaplan as the Supreme Court advocate who argued and won United States v. Windsor, which led to the federal government’s recognition of same-sex marriage. She has also captained the legal battles against the Charlottesville white supremacists. A proud Jew and an avowed Zionist, her skills as a first-rate litigator would serve her very well in this position.

Frederick M. Lawrence is a leading scholar of civil rights law, and currently Secretary and CEO of Phi Beta Kappa. Previously, as president of Brandeis University, he represented the world’s only Jewish-founded non-sectarian university across the entire globe. Lawrence is a practicing Jew who takes his observance and his connection to Israel very seriously. His expertise in higher education is particularly valuable, as some of the most hostile centers of antisemitism around the world tend to be university campuses.

Rabbi Sandra Lawson has proven herself as a master of social media and creative approaches to advocacy. She is also a musician and a prolific writer and speaker, who has been welcomed as a powerful Jewish voice for liberal Jews who care deeply about progressive values.

Alyza Lewin is the President of the Louis d. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under the Law. In addition to an impressive career in private practice, she famously argued Zivotofsky v. Kerry (known as the “Jerusalem passport case”) before the US Supreme Court. In her current role, Lewin works round the clock to help young people who face serious emotional (and at times, physical) harm for being proudly Jewish and proudly Zionist on their university campuses.

Rabbi Shais Rishon is a rabbi and a social justice activist. He is also a writer, both under his own name and under his nom de plume, MaNishtana. He is an expert on the relationship between Jews and other marginalized communities.

Halie Soifer currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Democratic Council of America. In addition to her most recent work in domestic organizing, she has a deep well of experience in foreign policy, including a stint as National Security Advisor to then-Senator Kamala Harris.

And just a few honorable mentions: Moishe House founder and CEO David Cygielman, Arizona State Representative Alma Hernandez, Director of International Programs at “Stand With Us” Charlotte Korchak, Journalist and author of “How to Fight Anti-Semitism,” Bari Weiss

This is a very important pick for the Biden administration, and the onus rests upon the Jewish community to help him make the best possible choice. Let the debating begin!

About the Author
David is a research fellow at Harvard University, and a publishing Adjunct at The MirYam Institute. He is a recent graduate of Harvard Law School, where he served as the chapter president of Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under the Law, and the Events Chair of the HLS Alliance for Israel, as well as an editor on the Journal of Law and Public Policy and the HLS National Security Journal. Previously, he was a Schwarzman Scholar at Tsinghua University in Beijing, where he studied international relations with a focus on international law and Israel-China relations. He received his BA summa cum laude in Politics and Russian Studies from Brandeis University. Please follow him on Twitter at @David_Benger
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