By ORIT ARFA
(JNS) – Elan Carr, a Jew of Iraqi descent, was appointed 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 served as the Los Angeles deputy district attorney before making an unsuccessful 2014 bid on the Republican ticket for Congress in the Democrat-heavy L.A 33rd district. His wife, Dahlia, is a physician, and he flies every weekend from Washington, D.C., to spend Shabbat with his family, for whom he sometimes cooks the Iraqi specialties from his childhood. Carr also served as the international president of Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), the Jewish fraternity that under his leadership fought anti-Semitism on college campuses in North America and Europe.
JNS caught up with him over the phone while he was in London in early July to find out about his work.
Q: What kind of work do you do with your European partners?
A: I do a lot of work with our European partners because anti-Semitism is a global problem. It’s increasing everywhere in the world, certainly in Europe, but also in the United States and Latin America and elsewhere, 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 and is standing with 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. So, that is the message to the Jewish community.
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. The history of anti-Semitism is that it destroys every society that embraces it. That’s why U.S. President Donald Trump always calls it a “vile poison.”
Q: In Germany, Felix Klein said that Jews should be advised not to wear their kipahs everywhere in Germany. What is your reaction?
A: Well, 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 ever be the hiding of the Jewish community or the advice to Jews that they hide who they are. If that’s what Jews have to do in the face of anti-Semitism, then we’ve lost the fight. And so, I think Jews have every right to express themselves Jewishly, and that means do it in a public way.
If observant Jews want to wear a kipah in public, they should wear a kipah in public, and it’s the job of the society to keep them safe.
Q: What do you think about the German Bundestag branding BDS as anti-Semitism?
A: Movements that seek to suffocate the one Jewish country out of existence through economic boycotts—that is anti-Semitism in its unvarnished manifestation. And this is a very, very important thing that we have to realize. I want to compliment and thank the Bundestag for doing that, and I hope Germany will follow up on that decision and take the actions necessary when it sees examples of BDS and examples of anti-Israel hatred.
For example, the designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, it will be my hope that Germany will designate Hezbollah in all its forms as a terrorist organization.
Q: What are priorities in the U.S,?
A: First of all, when it comes to the sources of anti-Semitism, I’m very careful not to rank them. The reason I don’t rank them in importance is because of the political climate we’re in, in terms of polarization, and anti-Semitism is often weaponized for political purposes. I think that hurts the fight.
I say this at every opportunity I can: 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. Jew-hatred in all its forms needs to be combated, and it’s my job to combat it.
But I will say that in the United States the place that is, I think, an urgent location is the college campus. College campuses have boiled over in anti-Semitic vitriol. Many, and by no means all, U.S. college campuses have become hostile learning environments for Jewish students. That is not only morally wrong and unpleasant; it’s also illegal—a violation of the Civil Rights Act.
Q: How would you respond to accusations that a divisive atmosphere under President Trump and some of his rhetoric may have empowered the gunmen of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and at Chabad of Poway, Calif.?
A: I don’t think there’s any basis to that at all. Anti-Semitism has been rising for several years now, and President Trump, to his great credit and to my great pride, has made combating anti-Semitism a central focus of his. He speaks about it often.
He spent considerable time in his State of the Union Address, which is—my goodness, the most prominent, visible speech the president makes all year—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 leader any time in history—a non-Jewish leader, that is—and he made this statement right after the Pittsburgh shooting at a “Make America Great Again” rally in Illinois: “If you seek the destruction of the Jews, we will seek your destruction.” And that promise by a leader, by a world leader, I had people who follow this tell me that this has never been said in history.
So that’s President Trump, 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. He spent his AIPAC speech talking about anti-Semitism. Also saying, and I quote: “Let me go on the record: Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism,” which no previous administration has said.
You could not possibly put together a team that feels this more deeply, and that has taken steps in favor of the Jewish community or has been stronger. So, I just think that that accusation reflects a political bias.
Q: Can you tell us about specific actions/ policies?
A: Sure. There’ve been increases to budgets at the federal and state level to provide security to Jewish communities.
Second, I have been appointed, and I’ve been given a very broad mandate and incredible support. I’ll tell you that my team is larger by an order of magnitude than that any of my predecessors’ in this role. So, I’ve been given the green light to really pursue this with the full force of the administration.
Third, we have made requests of our allies and partners on specific issues regarding the Jewish communities and their countries, and these are not minor requests. That’s my job.
When I represent the United States on this issue, I sit down with foreign governments, and I compliment them on all the great things they’re doing, and very often, there are great things they’re doing, and I say: “Well, on these issues, can we fix this?” And I’ll tell you that some of my requests have already been complied with.
And so, there is an absolute mandate that we should not only contain anti-Semitism, but roll it back. It’s not sufficient to stop its growth. The idea is we want to roll this back, and we’re focusing on every region in the world, as I was asked to do.
There is increasing focus on college campuses. And this is something that also is unprecedented. The Department of Education issued a formal definition of the Jewish people as an ethnic group. Of course, one would think: “Well, what’s new in that? Of course, the Jewish people are an ethnic group.”
Yes, the Jewish people are an ethnic group, but it had not been defined as such by the Department of Education. That definition and issuing that definition is the prerequisite for triggering federal law and the Civil Rights Act in terms of obligating universities to create a fair and welcoming educational environment for ethnic minorities. Now that Jews are defined as an ethnic minority, the Department of Education has lined up all the legal requirements to force campuses to end what is going on, which is really to create a hostile educational environment for Jewish and pro-Israel students.
Q: Do you have close ties with Israel?
A: I work with Israeli leaders all the time. 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.
And 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, and that’s also part of the fight against anti-Semitism because the hatred of Israel is the hatred of the Jewish people.