Letter to House Foreign Affairs Committee on Human Rights Under Siege

July 12, 2016

The Honorable Ed Royce
House Foreign Affairs Committee
2310 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Eliot Engel
Ranking Member
House Foreign Affairs Committee
2462 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Engel:

We write to share the views of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) with the Committee on Foreign Affairs in advance of its July 12 hearings entitled, “Human Rights under Siege Worldwide” and ask that this letter be included as part of the official hearings record. 

The focus of this statement is to highlight the growing threat of anti-Semitism and the interconnectedness between the fight for human rights of Jews and of all targets of bigotry and discrimination.

Anti-Semitism is a major concern for the Anti-Defamation League – not only because we are a Jewish community organization, but because anti-Semitism, the longest and most persistent form of prejudice, threatens security and democracy and poisons the health of a society as a whole.  We view the fight against anti-Semitism today as enhancing and strengthening the fight against all forms of hatred and hate crime.  Human rights are universal, and ADL was founded in a belief that safeguarding Jewish rights, or those of any targeted group, advances the cause of rights for everyone.  As such, ADL links arms with groups like the Council on Global Equality (CGE), which is testifying on the brutal violations of the rights of LGBT communities around the world.  ADL is proud to be a member of the CGE and to add our support to their recommendations today.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) was established in 1913 to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people and secure justice and fair treatment for all.”  ADL does not view defending the Jewish people and securing civil rights for others as an “either/or” choice.  Rather it always has been a matter of “both/and.” We strengthen our own safety and dignity when we fight for others, and fighting for others strengthens our cause.

This mission has driven ADL to become a leading resource on effective responses to violent bigotry, defending democratic ideals and protecting civil rights for all.

Today, ADL carries out its mission through a network of 27 Regional and Satellite Offices in the United States and abroad.

Anti-Semitic Harassment and Violence

Anti-Semitism is a form of hatred, mistrust, and contempt for Jews based on a variety of stereotypes and myths, and often invokes the belief that Jews have extraordinary influence with which they conspire to harm or control society. It can target Jews as individuals, as a group or as a people, or it can target the State of Israel as a Jewish entity. Criticism of Israel or Zionism is anti-Semitic when it uses anti-Jewish stereotypes or invokes anti-Semitic symbols and images, denies the Jewish right to self-determination, or holds Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel.

Today, overt anti-Jewish discrimination is not state-sponsored as it once was in many countries and it does not bar Jews from full participation in their society. Instead, in many regions, a Jew’s right to live in security and to express his/her identity with dignity is threatened by an atmosphere of intimidation, harassment and violence against Jews and Jewish sites like schools, synagogues, shops and cemeteries. It is this everyday fear that prevents Jews in many places from being able to express who they are, to freely wear yarmulkes, Stars of David, or even T-shirts bearing Hebrew lettering or slogans. 

Several factors affect the confidence level of Jews to live openly and freely as Jews, and those factors differ in emphasis in different communities. The Jewish communities in France and Hungary are both under significant threat, for instance, but the threats themselves differ significantly. These differ from, for example, South Africa or Argentina.

Key indicators of rising anti-Semitism are: (1) the degree of anti-Semitic attitudes held by the general population; (2) the number and nature of anti-Semitic incidents; (3) anti-Semitism in politics and media; and (4) the reaction of governments and civil society to these incidents.

In 2014, ADL released a groundbreaking survey to establish for the first time comprehensive, data-based research of the level and intensity of anti-Jewish sentiment around the world. The ADL Global 100: An Index of Anti-Semitism surveyed 53,100 adults in 102 countries and territories and found that more than one-in-four adults, 26 percent of those surveyed, hold anti-Semitic attitudes. A follow-up to this survey was done in 2015 and found that although anti-Semitic attitudes dropped slightly in European countries such as France, Belgium, and Germany, concern about violence directed against Jews in those countries increased dramatically. 

Even in the U.S., despite efforts to educate, raise awareness, and advocate, anti-Jewish attitudes and incidents remain a disturbing part of the American Jewish experience. The latest ADL Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents found that in 2015, there were 941 anti-Semitic incidents, a three percent increase over the 912 incidents reported in 2014.  The Audit included 56 cases of anti-Semitic assaults, a dramatic increase from the 36 reported in 2014; 508 anti-Semitic incidents of harassment, threats and events, a slight decrease from the 513 in 2014; and 377 cases of anti-Semitic vandalism, an increase from 363 in 2014. 

Fringe anti-Semitic con­spir­acy the­o­rists rarely miss an oppor­tu­nity to exploit tragedies to pro­mote their hatred of Jews, as they did blam­ing Jews for events rang­ing from coor­di­nated ter­ror attacks across Paris in Novem­ber 2015 to the Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School mas­sacre in Decem­ber 2012 to the 9/11 ter­ror­ist attacks.  Some social media users responded by post­ing vehe­mently anti-Semitic mes­sages on Twit­ter, mak­ing accu­sa­tions sim­i­lar to those of David Duke or Vet­er­ans Today, either blam­ing Jews them­selves for per­pe­trat­ing the attacks or Jew­ish con­trol of a num­ber of sec­tors in the U.S. for inspir­ing the attacks.  And during this presidential election campaign season, white suprema­cists and anti-Semites have been bom­bard­ing Jew­ish jour­nal­ists with anti-Semitic tweets.  

Anti-Semitism Doesn’t Exist, or Grow, in a Vacuum 

Anti-Semitism flourishes in the context of, and often in conjunction with, persecution of other groups on the basis of religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, or ethnicity.

For example, in some countries, the rise of far-right groups, who may use the refugee crisis or economic distress to foment fear, scapegoating and bigotry, contributed to a wave of xenophobic violence. Openly anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, racist, and homophobic far-right political parties have gained strength in local and national elections, particularly in Greece, Hungary, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Poland, and France. Disturbingly, their involvement in racist violence has not stopped their ascendance. Perhaps most stunning is the case of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece, which polled third in national elections in September 2015 even though its entire leadership is on trial for its role in dozens of violent attacks— including murders—targeting migrants and others.[1]

Broad-based concerns of human rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran continue to grow, including against vulnerable communities, including LGBT and religious minorities, namely the Baha’i population. We urge Congress to send a strong signal to the Iranian regime that the United States stands with the Iranian people in support of their dignity and freedom by passing House Resolution 220 condemning the Iranian regime’s state-sponsored persecution of its Baha'i minority and its continued violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights. There are also state-sponsored expressions of anti-Semitism, including this month we saw in the Al Quds (Jerusalem) Day demonstrations as well as in a recent contest for Holocaust denial cartoons.

Vio­lent expres­sions of anti-Semitism, includ­ing encour­age­ment of attacks against Jews and Jew­ish or Israeli insti­tu­tions, have been at the core of pro­pa­ganda dis­trib­uted by Al Qaeda, ISIS, and other Islamic extrem­ist ter­ror­ist groups for decades. Last year, the ADL released a report, "Anti-Semitism: A Pillar of Islamic Extremist Ideology,” which describes the way in which ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions rely on depic­tions of a Jew­ish enemy to recruit fol­low­ers, moti­vate adher­ents and draw atten­tion to their cause.

These groups also traffic in bigotry and hatred of other groups. We have seen the members of the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS) carry out targeted mass killing of Yezidis, Christians, and other minorities, which the State Department and the House in House Concurrent Resolution 75 have recognized as genocide. We have also seen the members of ISIS literally throw individuals from rooftops, simply for being suspected of the “crime” of being gay. Hamas executes individuals without trial for the same “offense.” The Islamic Republic of Iran also has been known to hang young men suspected of homosexuality. A recent case in point is when Al Mala­hem media, Al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula (AQAP)’s pro­pa­ganda wing, released a pam­phlet on June 23 that praised the Orlando shoot­ing and pro­vided sug­ges­tions for copy­ing it and mak­ing addi­tional attacks both more lethal and bet­ter suited to AQAP’s pro­pa­ganda aims.

Recommendations for Action

Governments bear the primary responsibility to ensure that Jews are afforded the same rights as others to live in security and with dignity in their communities. Whether it is espoused by hate groups on the margins or political parties garnering support in elections, governments and civic leaders can mobilize political will to reject anti-Semitism and its messengers and to use human rights and anti-discrimination instruments related to anti-Semitism and intolerance.

Below are recommendations for Congress to institutionalize a systemic, comprehensive strategy against anti-Semitism and other forms of violent bigotry. 

What the United States Can Do:

  1. Start by using our government’s own bully pulpit to speak out.  Political leaders have the most immediate and significant opportunity to set the tone of a national response to an anti-Semitic incident, an anti-Semitic party or an anti-Semitic parliamentarian.  Nothing gives a greater sense of security than seeing anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry publicly rejected.  This signals that the government takes seriously the impact of this climate on the community
  2. Prioritize combating anti-Semitism and hate crimes on bilateral and multilateral organization agendas.  The U.S. should let our allies know that addressing anti-Semitism and hate crime is a core part of our bilateral agenda and within multilateral institutions, including the United Nations. Congress has a central role to play in promoting this emphasis both within the State Department and in your own bilateral contacts and outreach to foreign officials.
  3. Monitor and Spotlight the Problem: Sunlight is the best disinfectant.  U.S. reporting on anti-Semitism as a human rights and religious freedom issue is an indispensable tool in spotlighting the problem and a tool for U.S. diplomacy. Congress has been a vital driver of expanding and improving U.S. reporting on anti-Semitism and other human rights violations.
  4. Continue to support a strong Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism and Support Robust Work of the Special Envoy’s Office. This will ensure that the U.S. maintains a specialized focus on anti-Semitism and a dedicated effort to mobilize the arsenal of U.S. diplomatic tools to respond. As this testimony has set out, it sometimes must be addressed in unique ways and it requires the attention of someone experienced to have a particular focus on crafting a strategy to address it. 
  5. Equip U.S. Diplomats with Training to Sustain Improvement in U.S. Reporting and Response. Anti-Semitism is a continuously mutating phenomenon that is not always easy to discern. The Special Envoy expanded training on anti-Semitism in the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute to give diplomats the understanding and tools to recognize anti-Semitism and the contemporary forms it takes. The Foreign Service Institute course on “Promoting Human Rights and Democracy” should consistently include such training.
  6. Congress and the Administration should have visible contact with Jewish and other communities that feel under siege. While many U.S. embassies have deep and longstanding relationships with Jewish and other community activists, there are many communities which have never had contact with their local U.S. mission. Members of Congress should reach out to those communities during country visits to affirm and encourage U.S. outreach.
  7. Combating anti-Semitism and hate crimes should be part of the full array of human rights and democracy programming, funding, and public diplomacy efforts.  For example, the State Department’s International Visitor Programs and other U.S.-funded exchange and public diplomacy programs should reflect the growing U.S. and international recognition of anti-Semitism and of the problem of hate crime broadly. U.S. assistance programs should fund prevention as well as response efforts. The U.S. should also provide targeted international support for countries promoting good governance and human rights.
  8. U.S. training and assistance programs should include a focus on improving the policing and prosecution of anti-Semitism and hate crimes.  Much more can be done to leverage existing international training programs, particularly those geared toward law enforcement such as the Department of Justice OPDAT and ICITAP programs or training delivered through U.S. International Law Enforcement Academies (ILEA), that reach governmental and law enforcement audiences around the world.
  9. Lead by Example: Strengthen the fight against anti-Semitism and intolerance at home. Congress has been instrumental in advancing the fight against global anti-Semitism on the international stage. Legislators also have the ability to strengthen America’s efforts to address and prevent anti-Semitism and hate crime here at home.  The federal government has an essential role to play in helping law enforcement, communities, and schools implement effective hate crimes prevention programs and activities.  We know of no federal anti-bias or hate crimes education and prevention programming that is currently addressing youth hate violence. Members of Congress should authorize federal anti-bias and hate crimes education programs to help schools and communities address violent bigotry.
  10. Civility: What you say matters.  Members of Congress can lead by example by rejecting the kind of divisive appeals that demonize parts of our community whether based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or religion.  Political leaders have opportunities every day to reach across political divides to demonstrate that bigotry is simply beyond the pale.  Never lose sight of the power that words have to shape, not just our political debate, but the environment in which targeted communities live.
  11. Don’t Let Fear Govern U.S. Policy: Uphold America’s commitment to victims of persecution and welcome refugees. Proposed measures to rollback America’s refugee resettlement program that are created out of fear and anxiety of a future attack are impractical and undermine the U.S. as a global human rights leader. The U.S. can continue to welcome refugees while also ensuring national security. We must do both.

We appreciate the opportunity to provide our views on this issue of great concern. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can provide additional information or if we can be of assistance to you in any way. 


Stacy Burdett
Vice President, Government Relations & Advocacy
Anti-Defamation League


[1] Scorecard on Hate Crime Response in the OSCE Region, Anti-Defamation League and Human Rights First (2015)