The public knows Deborah Lipstadt as an internationally renowned scholar of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.
If the U.S. Senate confirms her nomination by President Joe Biden to be the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, professor Lipstadt of Emory University will add the title “ambassador” to her resume.
Lipstadt’s new portfolio would take in anti-Semitism anywhere in the world, except by statute, in the United States.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee website does not yet list a confirmation hearing date. The AJT did not receive a response to questions for Lipstadt submitted to the White House press office, which said she would not be available for an interview.
Lipstadt, the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies in Emory’s Tam Institute for Jewish Studies and religion department, recognizes the influence that comes with her prominence.
“It’s given me a hearing amongst certain people and certain circles where I otherwise wouldn’t have had a hearing. And that’s important. That gives you a certain responsibility to use it properly,” Lipstadt told The Emory Wheel student newspaper in September 2015.
If confirmed, the 74-year-old Lipstadt will take a leave of absence from Emory, where she has been on faculty since 1993. “Should I be confirmed by the Senate and have the opportunity to accept this position and take on this awesome responsibility, I will miss one thing: Being in the classroom with my Emory students,” she said in a release published by the university.
Lipstadt is also a member of Congregation Ohr HaTorah.
“There is a real sense of excitement and pride within our congregation that Dr. Lipstadt was chosen for this role,” Rabbi Adam Starr told the AJT. “She is an expert communicator both in the spoken word and in her writings. Dr. Lipstadt is so well versed in Jewish tradition and practice, which is unique for a person in a position of such public prominence in secular society. She and her work are a Kiddush Hashem [sanctification of God’s name].”
Starr called Lipstadt “a treasured scholar, teacher and a leading voice of moral clarity for our generation. To those that know her personally, she is a wonderful friend and loads of fun to be around, especially at a Shabbat table. Jewish community, life and practice are integral to who she is.”
The rabbi also offered this caution to anyone thinking of tangling with Lipstadt: “Everyone knows you don’t mess with Deborah Lipstadt. She is the perfect person needed in our generation to speak with courage and conviction in fighting against the persistent evil of anti-Semitism in the world.”
Lipstadt also holds a special place in the family of Randy and Caroline Gold.
“Deborah is part of our family, whose presence in our house makes each of us better people. She is never far from her teaching instincts, challenging and broadening our thinking each day, on everything from world affairs to proper floral care,” Randy Gold said. “‘Tante Deebah,’ as she is known to our three children, began reading each night to Natanel, our 15-year-old son, when he was 5, and she now reads to Shai, our 9-year-old daughter. We joke that her busy travel schedule is a detriment to our kid’s literacy. Deborah recently finished reading the entire Harry Potter series with Shai, celebrating the completion of each book with an ice cream brunch and screening of the movie adaptation.”
Emory President Gregory Fenves, who is Jewish, said on Twitter of Lipstadt: “Since 1993, she has transformed lives at Emory and her scholarship on antisemitism is seminal. There has been a disturbing rise in antisemitism in the U.S. and around the world. @EmoryUniversity stands united against these hateful actions. Dr. Lipstadt will help lead our nation forward in addressing this vital issue.”
Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs Nachman Shai — a visiting member of Emory’s faculty during 2019-20 — applauded the nomination.
“I cannot think of anyone more qualified or deserving than Dr. Deborah Lipstadt to take on this role at such a critical moment in time,” Shai told the AJT. “I look forward to partnering with Dr. Lipstadt and finding opportunities to develop and expand the cooperation between the State of Israel and the United States on this issue in order to ensure the safety and security of Jewish communities and individuals.”
Shai added that, “On a personal note, I admit that it is particularly exciting to see a fellow Emory faculty member and lifelong friend appointed to such a prestigious position. I believe I can speak for all of Dr. Lipstadt’s former colleagues and wish her a heartfelt congratulations and the best of luck.”
Lipstadt’s nomination also was praised in statements by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, the Atlanta regional office of the American Jewish Committee, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta.
Lipstadt is “a brilliant choice” who will “serve with integrity, distinction and an unparalleled wealth of expertise and credibility,” said Margo Gold, the immediate past international president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and vice president of Masorti Olami, the World Council of Conservative Synagogues.
Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff, who grew up in Atlanta’s Jewish community, emailed the AJT: “I was pleased to recommend Deborah Lipstadt’s nomination to President Biden, and amidst a global surge in antisemitism, her expertise, skills, and determination will be of immense service to the nation and the world.”
Lipstadt’s nomination has been criticized by politically conservative Jewish groups and commentators, who cite her defense of a September 2020 statement by then-Democratic presidential nominee Biden, that then-President Donald Trump was “sort of like Goebbels,” referencing Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda.
Chuck Berk, who heads the Atlanta chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition, told the AJT: “I was glad to see that Deborah Lipstadt spoke out and condemned anti-Semitic remarks by Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar. By appointing Ms. Lipstadt, does this mean that the Biden administration, which has been silent on [Omar’s] anti-Semitic remarks, will also condemn her?”
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