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U.S. Senate confirms Deborah Lipstadt as antisemitism monitor

Biden nominated Lipstadt for the role in July. Jewish groups across the spectrum hailed the nomination.

Deborah Lipstadt on Capitol Hill in February. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

(RNS) — After an eight-month delay, noted antisemitism scholar Deborah Lipstadt was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, in a late-night voice vote Wednesday.

The Senate vote was required because the position was recently elevated to the rank of ambassador. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday approved the nomination, sending it to the full Senate on a vote of 13 to 9 with only two Republican senators, Mitt Romney from Utah and Marco Rubio from Florida, voting in favor.

Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) introduced the motion on behalf of Lipstadt, who lives in his state. She teaches at Emory University in Atlanta.

Ossoff, who is Jewish, mentioned his great-grandparents, Israel and Annie, who fled Eastern Europe because of antisemitism in the 1910s.

What counts as antisemitism? Biden nominee Deborah Lipstadt receives hearing on the topic.

“If we mean the words ‘never again,' ” he said, “then let’s confirm Deborah Lipstadt to fight antisemitism on behalf of the United States.”

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the Wisconsin Democrat who presided over the session, called the vote.

“The ayes appear to have it,” Baldwin said. There were no nays.

U.S. Jews who had advocated for Lipstadt and pressed for her confirmation over many months breathed a sigh of relief. Although the position is intended to advance U.S. foreign policy on antisemitism, many American Jews, pained by rising antisemitism at home and abroad, felt it was critical.

“At a time when there is rising antisemitism across the globe, it is reassuring to have a tireless warrior against the world’s oldest hatred assume this essential role,” the American Jewish Committee said in a statement.

In 2019, Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) helped introduce the bipartisan Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Act that elevated the rank of the envoy to ambassador.

President Biden nominated Lipstadt for the role in July. Jewish groups across the spectrum hailed the nomination. Lipstadt, an Emory professor, has taught about the Holocaust and antisemitism for 40 years and published books on the subject. Last year, she served as an expert witness in the Charlottesville civil suit against the organizers of a demonstration four years earlier that turned deadly.

But Lipstadt’s nomination languished after Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) objected to her nomination. He was offended, he said, by a tweet she wrote in which she said his comments about the Jan. 6 insurrection amounted to “white supremacy/nationalism.”

“You’ve never met me. You don’t know what’s in my heart. Do you?” he said at a hearing on her confirmation in February, in which he said he would not vote to confirm her.

Lipstadt is best known for winning a libel case in the United Kingdom filed by Holocaust denier David Irving. The story of the case inspired the 2016 movie “Denial,” in which Lipstadt was portrayed by actor Rachel Weisz.

The Biden administration appointed Aaron Keyak, a former House staffer who served as Jewish outreach director for Biden’s campaign team, as Lipstadt’s deputy in November. — Religion News Service