At Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Portman stresses urgency of combating anti-Semitism
February 8, 2022
WASHINGTON DC — During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) discussed ways to address the root causes of anti-Semitism with Dr. Deborah E. Lipstadt , candidate for the post of special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. Both agreed that the nonprofit Security Grants Program, of which Portman has been a longtime advocate, has provided the Jewish community with valuable training and assistance in the face of anti-Semitic attacks. Portman emphasized his Pray for safe actionWho establishes a federal clearinghouse through which faith-based organizations and places of worship could access information on safety and security best practices, available federal grant programs, and training opportunities. Finally, Portman highlighted the need to tighten our visa waiver program, as current standards have allowed terrorists to enter our country, like the man who took several people hostage at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas.
A transcript of Senator Portman’s interrogation can be found below and a video can be found here.
Senator Portman: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate today’s hearing, and I just appreciate hearing about some improvements in Central America, which is always good news considering the impact it has on people in those countries , but also on our current situation regarding illegal migration. So you will have your hands full. And it’s really important that we do everything we can to manage the push factors in those countries.
“My question, Mr. President, is for Dr. Lipstadt, you are about to take up a very important position. And with your background, I think you’ll fill it well. I had a number of constituents who reached out to you on your behalf, who worked with you, and as a ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, we continued to advocate for something that I think you’re aware of, which is called the Nonprofit Security Grants Program. It is an essential source of funding for houses of worship and other non-profit organizations. It has been used primarily in the Jewish community, as synagogues, community centers, schools face increasing threats, anti-Semitism and other hate crimes, increasing threats of violence. We just saw that recently with the kidnapping in Texas. As we continue to help protect the targets of antisemitic violence, we must also fight the root causes, of course. How do you propose that we tackle the root causes of anti-Semitism? »
Dr. Deborah E. Lipstadt: “Thank you very much. I know this program well. I have benefited from it in my own synagogue and in other synagogues. I was just talking to Mrs. Eisen, who is here from Colleyville, Texas, and she told me that the synagogue had need a lot of repairs after what happened. And I said, ‘how do you pay for that?’ And she said, ‘well, what the insurance doesn’t pay for, the government helps us.’ I don’t know if it’s through that specific program, but I was glad to hear that .
“But back to the bigger question of root causes. Anti-Semitism has the nickname of being the oldest or the longest hatred. It has been around for a very long time. And while I’m not easily surprised, given my field of study, it’s sometimes surprising that, as I said in my opening statement, but less than eight decades after the Holocaust, we are facing to anti-Semitism. Many people predicted after the Holocaust that this was the end of anti-Semitism and we are surprised, or as the British would say, dumbfounded how this is not the case. I intend to become a thorn in the side of those who engage in anti-Semitism.
“There are those who are violent anti-Semites. We saw that in Texas. We have seen it on the streets, as Senator Schumer said earlier, of Williamsburg. We saw it in Charlottesville. We have seen this in Holle, Germany, and in so many places across Europe. But they are also polite anti-Semites, people who say things but I just say them or who don’t think about the implications of what they say. I think all of these people need to be called. And then we have to tell the governments that this is something that we take very seriously, and we will work with you on that. We will work on it with you.
“This is no way for the middle of the United States to make a small group of Jews comfortable or happy. But we see in it a danger for the founding ideals of this Republic. We see this as a sign of what could be and we recognize, and especially Senator, no genocide, no attack begins with attack. Whether you are talking about a genocide in Europe, whether you are talking about a genocide in Rwanda, wherever you are. It starts with words. And as some of your colleagues have mentioned, the Holocaust Museum, you just walk down the block and you can see how it starts with words and then escalates.
“That doesn’t mean it will always escalate into the Holocaust. But if you have to stop something, you stop it long before it reaches that degree. So I plan to be as forceful as possible in the fight against that. I never thought I would be in this position, but if I have the honor of being confirmed, I want to make a difference in this regard.
Senator Portman: “Well, again, given your experience, you are well qualified to take on this task, including the international task, and we want to work with you on this. The Nonprofit Security Grants Program has provided the synagogue in Texas with reinforcement, as I understand it, including cameras, which were very helpful with regard to the hostage situation, but also training. And one thing that we found out is that that while these grant programs have been used effectively in some parts of the country, other people don’t know about it Sikh community, Muslim community, Jewish community, Christian community, it’s widely available for this genre of threats.
“So we introduced new legislation called the Pray Safe Act, which is to provide places of worship with a centralized place where you can find out what the best practices are, find out what training is available. It’s with Senators Shaheen and Hassan. And I feel like in the aftermath of the incident in Colleyville, Texas, it’s more important than ever to let people know what’s available to them. Have you looked at this Pray Safe law? »
Dr. Lipstadt: ” I’ve watched it. I have not studied it in depth because my mandate, of course, if confirmed, will be abroad. But the line between domestic and international anti-Semitism is becoming more blurred. The terrorist, the kidnapper, the would-be murderer from Colleyville became radicalized overseas, and then he came here to do his job. The divisions we used to draw are not so clear cut. Obviously my tenure at the State Department is overseas, but you can’t – hard lines, especially with social media, for better or worse, it’s harder to draw those lines .
“My synagogue has benefited from this program, and I have to tell you, speaking personally, just for a second, that I sat in the synagogue, I guess it was before COVID, but about two years ago, where the rabbi and the members of the synagogue who took care of it, distributed slips of paper indicating by which door to leave, God preserve us, and saying to the parents, all the parents but especially the Jewish parents, do not go look for your children. Your children will be brought to safety. There is a lot of good that will do, but getting out, how to get out, where to meet. I have this piece of paper on my desk. It is a reminder that he came to me in Atlanta, just as it came to so many places in the rest of the world: Paris, Berlin, Holle, Belgium, too many places to name.
Senator Portman: “Pittsburgh Tree of Life.”
Dr. Lipstadt: “Absolutely, where the rabbi trained before. And of course the people of Colleyville talked about the training and how it saves their lives.
Senator Portman: “…and can save lives. Well, as you say, this terrorist, and my time is up but just one sentence on that because this committee deals with these issues, he came here on a visa from a country that we have a relationship. Where it’s easy to gain access to the United States through visa programs and yet reports say he told UK police and others he wanted – well, reports are – that he said he wanted to kill Jews and that was reported to British police last year, these anti-Semitic threats. And yet, the Visa Waiver program was accessible to him. So we need to strengthen the visa waiver program of countries, even our big allies like the UK, to make sure we don’t let in these terrorists when we have information. Thank you.”