JERUSALEM — The State Department’s new envoy on anti-Semitism addressed American Jewish leaders gathered for a conference here, and praised President Donald Trump for his commitment to fighting that bias.
Elan Carr appeared to charm delegates of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who hosted him toward the end of their annual four-day trip here.
But a number of leaders remained skeptical of Trump and his commitment to battling anti-Semitism, despite the applause Carr received when he spoke of the administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and declared that anti-Zionism is a form of contemporary anti-Semitism. Trump remains divisive in the wider Jewish community.
Carr, 50, a Hebrew-speaking former Los Angeles prosecutor who served with the U.S. Army in Iraq, was named as the special envoy for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism earlier this month. The post, held by Ira Forman under President Barack Obama, sat empty for the first two years of the Trump presidency despite protests from lawmakers and Jewish groups.
“My office was created by law and designed to protect the Jewish people throughout the world. Think about that,” Carr said Thursday. “The world’s greatest power is focused, by law and design, on protecting the Jews. It’s something not to be taken for granted.”
Carr said Trump “could not be more passionate about the issue” of fighting anti-Semitism. Carr, who was in Israel to meet with officials, also praised Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“Pompeo speaks about this at every opportunity and is passionate about it,” Carr said. “It’s the business of this administration and of the United States to fight anti-Semitism.”
Carr was adamant that the White House would “not ignore any part of the ideological spectrum” and would go after anti-Semitism “regardless of the ideological clothing in which it dresses itself,” from ultranationalism on the right to left-wing anti-Zionism. Some Jewish groups have been concerned that a Department of Homeland Security program on countering violent extremism was shifted during the Trump administration to focus solely on Muslim extremism and not white nationalism.
Among the threats Carr cited were traditional forms of anti-Semitism such as “statements of government officials who call us internationalist outsiders who subvert society” and attacks by those who say that Jewish advocacy for immigrants is a threat to America. The gunman charged in the Pittsburgh shooting railed against Jewish support for immigrants’ rights.
“Anti-Semitism is a human sickness and rots to the core every society that embraces it,” Carr said.
Several high-profile American Jewish leaders lauded the new envoy even as they expressed reservations regarding the president who appointed him. Given the sensitivity of the matter, none of them agreed to speak on the record.
“You have to give credit where credit is due,” one prominent figure told JTA. “This is a good appointment and the Jewish community has and will support it. It’s unfortunate it took two years.”
One well-known national Jewish official told JTA that the early days of the Trump administration were marked by chaos that saw few positions being filled. There are still countries to which the United States has not sent ambassadors. Moreover, he said, Pompeo made the issue a priority, as opposed to his predecessor, Rex Tillerson, Trump’s first secretary of state.
The official, intimating inside knowledge, also said that another candidate had strung along the State Department for months before backing out and forcing it to relaunch the process.
Another Jewish official said Carr had fans in the community, but there were reservations about the Trump administration’s approach.
“He’s a decorated veteran, a committed Jewish leader and a real mensch,” the official said. “However, many of us are very concerned about Carr’s appointment being used as a diversion to excuse or distract from over two years of President Trump’s anti-Semitic dog whistles.”
Asked about the concerns regarding the hiatus between anti-Semitism envoys, Carr said he believed that there were “a number of reasons.”
“There were a number of candidates that were looked at and a number of internal adjustments at the State Department that Secretary Tillerson made, and then when Secretary Pompeo came aboard he’s made this a huge focus of his,” Carr told JTA. “I just couldn’t be more impressed with his determination and I’m thrilled that I was chosen to carry the banner of the United States while fighting for the safety of the Jewish people.”