"Today's rise in antisemitism is staggering," holocaust historian Dr. Deborah Lipstadt told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 8. The committee was considering her nomination as Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism.

"It is especially alarming that we witness such a surge less than eight decades after one out of three Jews on Earth was murdered," the 74-year-old Emory University professor said. Her written testimony and a video of the hearing can be found at the committee website, foreign.senate.gov.

'An equal-opportunity foe of antisemitism'

"I am an equal-opportunity foe of antisemitism," she told the senators. She noted that hatred of Jewish people could be found "among Christians, Muslims, atheists, and, sadly, even a handful of Jews." Antisemitism could be found all over the world, "even in countries with no Jews," she said.

Lipstadt pointed out that she had spent 40 years teaching about antisemitism and she had written seven books about the subject. She recalled having organized an exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and having taught at one of the Vatican's Pontifical Institutes.

Lipstadt, the daughter of immigrants with a "rock-solid Jewish identity," recalled three "life-changing" experiences.

  • As a graduate student, she visited the Soviet Union in 1972. There, she met Jewish people who had faced harassment and unemployment after applying unsuccessfully for permission to immigrate to the U.S. or Israel. "I left strengthened by them and acutely aware of democracy's precious gift."
  • Holocaust denier David Irving initiated a libel suit against her in 1996. A "grueling six-year legal battle" ensued. Lipstadt won but only after ten weeks of "listening to a Hitler apologist spew Holocaust denial, antisemitism, and racism."
  • Last year, she appeared as an expert witness in a civil suit against the leaders of the violent 2017 far-right demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia. "For those extremists... neo-Nazism, racism and antisemitism are intimately intertwined," Lipstadt said.

'Disappointing' delay in confirmation

On July 20, 2021, the White House announced that President Joe Biden had decided to nominate Lipstadt.

The Washington Post noted that her confirmation by the Senate appeared to have stalled due to Republican senators' concerns over her criticism of their party on social media. Pressure to confirm Lipstadt had been put on senators after the January 15 attack at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, the paper said. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) recalled that the confirmation hearing had begun with Chairman Robert Menendez saying, "I am truly disappointed it took this long."

The JTA reported Lipstadt telling the committee members that she had been critical of members of the Democratic Party.

In 2019, she had criticized Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, for using antisemitic rhetoric, the JTA said.

"Barring some unforeseen calamity," it appeared Lipstadt would be confirmed, wrote Michelle Cottle, in The New York Times. The same prediction was offered by the JTA and The Times of Israel.

Opposition from Ron Johnson

The Washington Post recalled that, in March 2021, Lipstadt had responded on Twitter to comments by committee member Ron Johnson saying, "This is white supremacy/nationalism. Pure and simple." She told Johnson she regretted the response and the senator said he was glad to hear that, according to the JTA. Before walking out of the hearing, Johnson said he would not support Lipstadt's nomination, the JTA added.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) took to Twitter to express its support of Lipstadt's nomination.

The organization's CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted, "We need her expertise and leadership because what starts with attacks on Jews does not end with Jews." The JTA noted that her nomination had also been supported by Christians United for Israel.