Swastikas at State // The current problem and its historical echoes

Secretary of State Antony Blinken

Last Monday, some pathetic little bigot cut a big Nazi swastika into the wooden paneling of elevator 36 at the US Department of State.

Elevator 36 isn’t a service elevator open to any passing tradesman, nor is it open to the public. It’s not even in one of the corridors used for the VIP tours—which are wonderful, by the way. There are rooms in the State Department that make the White House look shabby.

Russian media quickly spotted something unusual about the location of elevator 36; it was in a security area behind a screening gate. Only credentialed employees could have had access to it. Whoever was responsible worked in a nearby office.
The closest office to the elevator was that of the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. Russian media lost no time suggesting that it was the work of a hypocritical employee who was encouraging anti-Semitism instead of combating it. Russia Today said that in view of the many security cameras in this off-limits area, they would have no difficulty in quickly identifying the culprit.

I emailed the special envoy contact person to ask if this was true and still haven’t heard back. This awkward silence suggests that maybe the Russians already know that the answer could be embarrassing. So do employees of the State Department.
“A person familiar with the incident told BuzzFeed News that State Department personnel were discussing it over text messages and chat Tuesday, and that some expressed concern that people with anti-Semitic beliefs may be in the ranks of diplomats who work to combat hate around the world.”
That suggestion brought a prompt retort from the new secretary of state, who was traveling overseas:

Dear Team:
Late yesterday, I learned that a swastika was found carved in an elevator at the Harry S Truman building. The hateful graffiti has been removed and this incident will be investigated. And I want to take the opportunity to speak with you.
As this painfully reminds us, anti-Semitism isn’t a relic of the past. It’s still a force in the world, including close to home. And it’s abhorrent. It has no place in the United States, at the State Department, or anywhere else. And we must be relentless in standing up and rejecting it.

We also know from our own history and from the histories of other nations that anti-Semitism often goes hand in hand with racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and other hatreds. None of these ideologies should have a home in our workplace or our nation.

To our Jewish colleagues: Please know how grateful we are for your service and how proud we are to be your colleagues.

And that goes for our entire diverse and dedicated team in Washington and around the world. I know I can speak for the deputy secretaries and senior leaders across the Department when I say that it’s an honor to serve alongside you on behalf of the American people.

Antony J. Blinken

If the surveillance tapes around elevator 36 turn out to have been erased, the new secretary of state will probably be more than a bit perturbed. Since Blinken is Jewish and his father-in-law survived two Nazi concentration camps, Secretary Blinken and his family have the right to take this personally.

Like most Democratic appointees, Blinken does not have a clue how widespread or how entrenched the problem of anti-Semitism is inside the State Department. He thought it would be enough to email all State employees to remind them that “hate has no room.” However, there is actually a room for the State’s hate against Jews, and it’s a lot bigger than an elevator. I have been there. There is an underground bank vault in the locked basement complex where the top-secret records of the Foreign Affairs Information Management Center are kept. And it ain’t pretty.

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