High Holiday Briefing on Anti-Semitism with U.S. Special Envoy Elan Carr

September 24, 2020

On Thursday, September 24th, 2020, the Combat Anti-Semitism Movement (CAM) hosted a special high holiday briefing on anti-Semitism with US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Elan S. Carr. Members of CAM along with Rabbis and Jewish community professionals were updated by Special Envoy Carr on the work of his office and the current administration towards combating the rise in anti-Semitism domestically and around the world. Rabbi Steven Burg, Director-General of Aish HaTorah introduced Special Envoy Carr and offered an invocation prayer for the new year.

The full briefing can be watched below.

Special Envoy Carr began the briefing by noting how appropriate it was to meet now to discuss the challenges facing the Jewish people and civilization itself, at a time when we are meant to take stock of ourselves and our world. He framed the briefing in the overall context of the disbelief many have experienced in seeing rising anti-Semitism around the world. He said he was appointed to “lead America’s fight against this recurring, indefatigable, ancient and modern human sickness that is anti-Semitism.” Carr said he “took this appointment at a time when anti-Semitism was rising from all corners,” including the “ethnic supremacists of the far-right, the Israel-haters and anti-Zionists of the radical left and from militant Islam.”

As one of the primary vectors of anti-Semitism from across the ideological spectrum, Special Envoy Carr took particular notice of the dangers posed by anti-Semitism online and on social media. “Today by means of the internet and social media these ideologies are propagating and transmitting this contagion…at the speed of a click,” Carr said.  

In order to combat the various forms of anti-Semitism, Carr outlined the key policy initiatives that have been the primary focus of his office. First he said is “ensuring the physical security of Jewish communities around the world…because every Jew, no matter where they live, ought to feel safe…physical security is job one.” Second he said, “Social media and the internet is a key policy priority. I am the first Special Envoy to have a principal team member devoted exclusively to dealing with anti-Semitism online and on social media – a critical challenge for us today.” Carr said he is hoping to have a very exciting announcement in this field shortly. 

The third focus area is pushing countries to condemn anti-Semitic movements and anti-Semitic expressions, particularly through legal structures. “I’ve worked with counterparts around the world and here at home to train law enforcement to prosecute hate crimes properly and to appropriately punish hate crimes because that is such an important message to send. When a crime is committed with ethnic or religious hatred as its motive, it is worse and is worthy of heightened punishment.”  

Fourth, Elan Carr explained that his office is working on an initiative in “Philo-Semitism.” “To go on the offense against anti-Semitism we have to shout from the rooftops what the Jewish people are and what the Jewish people have brought to every country where there has been a Jewish community – and to civilization itself,” Carr said. 

The fifth policy priority, which the Special Envoy stressed as being of critical importance, is “the adoption by countries, states, municipalities, and NGOs of the accepted standard international definition of what anti-Semitism is,” referring to the International Holocaust Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. “As an army officer, we are especially sensitive to the concept of defining an enemy and understanding an enemy before you can properly confront it.”

The importance of this definition the Special Envoy said, is it “provides tangible examples that give a context and an understanding of how anti-Semitism is typically manifested. It is in those examples that the IHRA definition is so very important.” Underlining the importance of the definition’s examples, Carr noted how in his diplomatic work, “it is very rare for people to defend anti-Semitism on the right…but when it comes to anti-Zionisn and Israel hatred or the anti-Semitism…from militant Islamist communities, I have leaders sometimes telling me, ‘well that’s complicated.’ But denying the Jewish people…self-determination and targeting the one Jewish state for special and focused opprobrium, is anti-Semitism and the IHRA definition allows us to say that,” Carr said. 

The Office of the Special Envoy under Carr is also encouraging widespread adoption of the IHRA definition around the world. “One of my top diplomatic asks when I go overseas, if a country has not adopted it, we ask that they do so…In addition to countries, we’re seeing universities, cities, in some cases sports teams, adopt it.” 

In a high holidays message to participants, Special Envoy Carr expounded upon an analogy about the Jewish holidays to the wider fight against anti-Semitism today. “The blast of the shofar is meant to invoke a human cry that should open the heavens for tshuvah (repentance). When we come together to fight Jew-hatred…we are crying to the heavens. It is not a cry of surrender or resignation, it is a cry of defiance and determination. May it be the case that all of us join together in unity, to fight for Jewish safety, for the Jewish future and for those values that the United States of America was built upon. If we do that, [we will] bequeath to our children and grandchildren that better, safer, more just world that they so deeply deserve.” 

Following the Special Envoy’s holiday message, a participant asked the Special Envoy a question about the implications of Kosovo adopting the IHRA definition, shortly after a US-brokered economic agreement between Serbia and Kosovo saw both countries commit to moving their embassies to Jerusalem. In response, Carr said that he expects another Muslim-majority country to adopt the IHRA definition by parliamentary majority during a conference later this year. 

Responding to a question about the implications of the recent signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Special Envoy Carr said that he soon hopes to travel to the Gulf and looks forward to discussing the IHRA definition “with our Arab allies.” Further elaborating on the significance of the accords, Carr said, “it is accurate to say that these agreements put us on the road to the death of the BDS Movement.”