Elan Carr is the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, a senior diplomatic post that had been vacant for two years until he assumed it in February.
Carr is a well-known pro-Israel figure in California, having served as the Los Angeles deputy district attorney before an unsuccessful 2014 bid on the Republican ticket for Congress in L.A.’s 33rd district. Carr also served as the international president of Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), the Jewish fraternity.
JNS caught up with him over the phone while he was in London in early July to find out more about his work combating this “vile poison” in America and beyond.
Q: What work do you do with your European partners?
A: Anti-Semitism is a global problem. It’s increasing everywhere in the world, so I am here to represent the United States in meetings with Jewish leaders in London and to make sure that the Jewish community in the United Kingdom understands that the United States supports them. That’s the same message I conveyed in my trips that I’ve made so far to Eastern and Central Europe, and I’ll be going to Western Europe shortly as well…
Then, in bilateral meetings with government leaders, we work together to improve the situation for the Jewish community and to advance our shared interest in combating anti-Semitism — and that is a shared interest because it’s very important to remember that anti-Semitism isn’t only about protecting the Jewish community, [it’s] about guaranteeing the health of the society and of the country itself.
Q: Your counterpart in Germany, Felix Klein, announced that Jews should be advised not to wear kippahs everywhere. What is your reaction?
A: I understand why somebody would want to take whatever measures are necessary to keep people safe. However, I don’t think the response to anti-Semitism should be the hiding of the Jewish community. If that’s what Jews have to do, then we’ve lost the fight. If observant Jews want to wear a kippah in public, they should wear a kippah in public, and it’s the job of society to keep them safe. The onus shouldn’t be on them to hide and protect themselves.
Q: What do you think about the German Bundestag vote to brand BDS as anti-Semitism?
A: Movements that seek to suffocate the one Jewish country out of existence through economic boycotts — that is anti-Semitism. This is a very, very important thing that we have to realize. I want to thank the Bundestag for doing that, and I hope Germany will follow up on that decision. For example, it will be my hope that Germany will designate Hezbollah in all its forms as a terrorist organization.
Q: In the United States, are there areas of priority when it comes to sources or venues of anti-Semitism?
A: I’m very careful not to rank them. Because of the political climate we’re in, in terms of polarization, anti-Semitism is often weaponized for political purposes. Jew-hatred is Jew-hatred, and it’s evil, and it doesn’t matter if it comes from the ethnic supremacist right, from the vicious anti-Zionist left, or from radical Islam. It’s evil regardless of where it comes from, and we need to fight all of it.
Q: How would you respond to accusations that a divisive atmosphere under President Trump empowered the gunmen at recent synagogue shootings?
A: Anti-Semitism has been rising for several years now, and President Trump, to his great credit, has made combating it a central focus. He speaks about it often. He spent considerable time in his State of the Union talking about anti-Semitism. Every time he mentions anti-Semitism, he refers to it as a “vile poison.” He talks of the need to remove it from our midst, and he made what many have said is an unprecedented statement by any non-Jewish leader in history, right after the Pittsburgh shooting: “If you seek the destruction of the Jews, we will seek your destruction.”
And then look at the people around him: Vice President [Mike] Pence couldn’t be stronger on this issue. My boss, U.S. Secretary of State [Mike] Pompeo, this is a central focus of his: combating anti-Semitism … You could not possibly put together a team that feels this more deeply. I think that that accusation reflects a political bias.
Q: What specific actions are being taken on the ground?
A: There’ve been increases to budgets at the federal and state level to provide security to Jewish communities.
Second, I have been given a very broad mandate and incredible support. My team is larger than that of any of my predecessors. I’ve been given the green light to really pursue this.
Third, we have made requests of our [foreign] allies on specific issues regarding Jewish communities, and these are not minor requests, and some of my requests have already been complied with.
There is increasing focus on college campuses. This is something that also is unprecedented. The Department of Education issued a formal definition of the Jewish people as an ethnic group. One would think: “Well, what’s new in that? Of course the Jewish people are an ethnic group.” But it had not been defined as such by the Department of Education. That is a prerequisite for triggering the Civil Rights Act in terms of obligating universities to create a fair and welcoming educational environment. Now that Jews are defined as an ethnic minority, the Department of Education has lined up the legal requirements to force campuses to end [hostility] for Jewish and pro-Israel students.
Q: Do you work with Israeli leaders?
A: I’ve made more than one trip to Israel since I was appointed. We meet, and we have full cooperation with a number of ministries that monitor and focus on anti-Semitism. Of course, that includes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but also the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. Those three ministries do enormous work on global anti-Semitism, and we work with them very closely. And that’s another example of the great partnership between the United States and Israel.
When I spoke about policies, I focused on Jewish communities, but, of course, what this administration has done to support and strengthen and protect the State of Israel is also unprecedented. I’m grateful every day that I have the chance to represent the United States of America in the fight against anti-Semitism and the fight to protect the Jewish people throughout the world.