Hannah Rosenthal

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Since 2009, Hannah Rosenthal has been Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism in the U.S. Department of State. In a historically mixed metaphor, she has been called the "antisemitism czar" of the Obama Administration.

Prior to coming to State, she was on the Board of Directors for Americans for Peace Now and the advisory board of J Street, organizations that consider themselves pro-Israel but not supporting hard-line Israeli government policies; this made her appointment controversial.

She was active in the Bill Clinton campaign and subsequently was a regional official in the Clinton Administration, and then was Executive Director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. Later, she worked for various organizations in the nonprofit sector and health care.

After appointment

In the American Thinker, Ed Lasky on 11 November, [1] posed the rhetorical question, "Who better to fight anti-Semitism for President Obama than someone who is not too keen on Israel defending itself from its anti-Semitic neighbors? " Lasky said it is also one more step forward by J Street, a group with ties to George Soros, in their reach for power in Washington, D.C." J Street's financial statements show no contributions from Soros, although there are advisory board members that have worked with Soros-related organizations. Michael Goldfarb, in the Weekly Standard, said "Maybe I'm old fashioned, but it strikes me that an anti-Semitism chief probably shouldn't have said something in the recent past that warranted a rebuke from the ADL." [2] The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), however, is generally supportive of the policies of the State of Israel, and is not exclusively concerned with antisemitism in the U.S.

Still before the actual appointment, New York Jewish Week predicted that she "will be an inviting target for the Jewish right – all the more so because she was an early supporter of J Street, the pro-peace process lobby and political action committee that continues to be the punching-bag-of-choice of major pro-Israel leaders. Right wing bloggers are already howling. What did they think, President Obama would appoint a Jewish neo-con to the post?" Richard Besser wrote that she
has a history of challenging the old-boys network that dominates the Jewish communal leadership – which will make her new role doubly interesting when some former colleagues come calling at the State Department. My own guess: Rosenthal will be very aggressive and focused in fighting anti-Semitism around the world. At the same time, she will likely view anti-Semitism as one of numerous human rights issues U.S. policy needs to address more actively, not as a totally separate problem. That could make her more successful internationally but more controversial within the Jewish community here.[3]

Aaron Klein, of WorldNetDaily, referring to her involvement in J Street, wrote shortly after the appointment that she was "on the board of a controversial Israel-lobby group accused of working against the Jewish state, while her writings suggest Israel's policies are to blame for anti-Semitism."[4] MediaMatters, however, called Klein's reporting an attack article, challenging his position that J Street by mentioning statements of support for it from President of Israel Shimon Peres and opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima), as well as support of Rosenthal's appointment by Jewish Week, and current JCPA president and CEO Rabbi Steve Gutow. [5]

Her predecessor in the George W. Bush Administration, Gregg Rickman, as well as Rafael Medoff, director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, wished her well in the challenges facing the office. They said she would be under pressure from a variety of interests: U.S. officials who believed "friendly relations with a particular regime is more important than speaking out against anti-Semitism in that country" and fanatics who "try to mask their anti-Semitism as opposition to Israel or Zionism." [6] Under the Obama Administration, the office was symbolically upgraded when it was physically moved to the same floor as the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

In an interview with Haaretz she said she opposed blurring the line between antisemitism and criticism of the State of Israel: "It is not 1939. We have the state of Israel. We have laws in countries that are holding people accountable." Rosenthal said it was "most unfortunate" that Michael Oren, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., had declined to attend a J Street conference, and that Oren w "would have learned a lot" if he had been there, as she
I came away realizing what a generational divide there is and I don't know how it is in Israel. Young people want to be part of the discussion, they feel they have fresh ideas and they feel that we have to end the stalemate. [7]
Speaking of the need for different voices, she continued,
"We need to have as many people coming together to try and put an end to this crisis, the matzav [situation] can not continue - it's unacceptable and that's why I always paid my membership to AIPAC, but I have always paid my membership to Americans for Peace Now - because they all need to be supported and they all need to be at the table.
When asked to comment on the Goldstone Report, she told Haaretz,
I do believe that some of the criticism against Israel is anti-Semitism but not all of it is. And I think that healthy democracies - and Israel is one - has to do self reflection and the world looks at the light unto the nations and says I agree to this policy or I don't agree - that is not anti-Semitism. But having the UN single out Israel for 170 resolutions over the last five years - when everybody knows that Sudan is committing genocide and they have only five resolutions. When Israel is the only agenda item on the human rights council - I think it's legitimate to look at this singling out, holding Israel to a different standard than the rest of the world. I think that crosses the line to anti-Semitism.
But it is not anti-Semitic to look at a certain policy of Israel and say - I disagree with it. Half of the population in Israel isn't anti-Semitic by not agreeing with policies.

Earlier issues

Before the Presidential election, Abraham Foxman, of the Anti-Defamation League, wrote an open letter, challenging her recollection, in New York Jewish Week, of the National Israel Solidarity Rally in Washington in 2002, while she was executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. "You recall a day of speeches in which you heard only the constant drumbeat of 'narrow, ultra-conservative views of what it means to be pro-Israel..." You found yourself asking, "Where was the pro-Israel, pro-peace message? Why was the voice of so many American Jews absent from this rally'" Foxman said he remembered many pro-peace messages. " I remember you introducing Hugh Price, then president of the National Urban League, and I remember Mr. Price closing his remarks with a call to world leaders 'to give lasting peace a chance in the Middle East.'"[8]

In 2001, however, while JCPA Executive Director, she had coordinated efforts to prepare for the upcoming UN World Conference Against Racism, to be held in Durban, "with ongoing efforts by Arab and Muslim states to use the United Nations World Conference Against Racism (WCAR), scheduled for early September in Durban, South Africa, as a forum to attack Israel and to revive the old canard equating Zionism with racism."[9] Specific warnings came against efforts tp

  • "Attempts to link the term anti-Semitism to other language that would distort its meaning, as in “anti-Semitism and Zionist practices against Semitism;”
  • "Language that would trivialize and relativize the meaning of the Holocaust by referring to multiple “holocausts” or by linking it to such phrases as “and the genocide in Palestine;
  • "Attempts delegitimize Zionism by referring to the “racist practices of Zionism” and the “racial supremacy of the Zionist movement;”

Background

Immediately before State, she worked as Community Relations Vice President at the not-for-profit Wisconsin Physician Service Insurance Corporation in Madison. From 2005 to 2008 Ms. Rosenthal was Executive Director of the Chicago Foundation for Women, where she led one of the largest women's funds in the world. Prior to that, she was Executive Director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs for five years, where she worked on domestic and international policy for the organized Jewish community in North America. She had been Midwest regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the Clinton Administration and helped lead the Wisconsin Clinton-Gore campaigns in 1992 and 1996. [10]

Her father is a Holocaust survivor.

References