Most people recognize the name Deborah Lipstadt from the libel lawsuit brought against her in 2000 in the UK by David Irving, a fellow historian, whom she called a Holocaust denier for, among other things, his claim that the Nazis hadn’t gassed Jews. Ms. Lipstadt proved her accusation true and won the case.
“History has had its day in court and scored a crushing victory,” was the London daily The Times’ comment after the lawsuit’s dismissal.
Ms. Lipstadt is back in the news. This past summer, President Biden nominated the Emory University professor, who has written several books and served two terms in the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, to head the administration’s Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, an ambassador-level position that has been vacant since the beginning of the Trump administration.
Eminently qualified and highly respected, Ms. Lipstadt would seem a shoo-in for the post. More than 20 Jewish organizations cheered her nomination, leading The Atlantic’s Yair Rosenberg to joke, “These diverse Jewish groups can barely agree on where to set the thermostat, yet they agree on Lipstadt.”
But some Senate Republicans are preventing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from scheduling the nominee’s confirmation hearing—because she has tweeted criticism of members of their party for various reasons, including her judgment that some had co-opted the Holocaust for political purposes.
“The minority has refused to grant her a hearing,” observed New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “apparently because there is some concern about her tweets calling out the use of anti-Semitic tropes.”
“Let’s think about that [for] a minute,” he continued. “We don’t want the person nominated to advance our global efforts against anti-Semitism to call out anti-Semitism?”
Ms. Lipstadt has tweeted about other things, too. In a particularly acerbic comment last spring, she called out Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson for tweeting that he “wasn’t concerned” during the January 6 Capitol riot, but would have been concerned had the participants been “Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters.”
“This is white supremacy/nationalism. Pure and simple,” was Ms. Lipstadt’s take.
Partisan, though, she’s not. In 2019, she charged that some of Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s comments about Jews’ support for Israel were “textbook anti-Semitism.”
“I am like an umpire,” she told Jewish Insider. “I call balls and strikes as I see them.”
In 2016, in Forward, she called a foul against then-candidate Donald Trump. She denied that he was an anti-Semite, noting that “This is a man who is exceptionally proud of his daughter, a traditional Jew who is giving her children a solid Jewish education. His son-in-law… is an Orthodox Jew. This is not the profile of an anti-Semite.”
But, she continued, Mr. Trump “may, in fact, represent something far more dangerous. He may be what I call ‘the inadvertent anti-Semite’—the person who, while not a hater of Jews, has internalized some of the most pernicious stereotypes about Jews.”
And last year, Ms. Lipstadt defended a 30-second ad from the Jewish Democratic Council of America that juxtaposed imagery from 1930s Germany with images of neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville, Virginia, former President Donald Trump speaking at a rally and the massacre of 11 Jews in the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting; a shul defaced with graffiti was presented alongside photos of 1930s graffitied Jewish shops.
She explained that she was not comparing the former administration to Nazis. “Had the ad contained imagery of the Shoah,” she said, she would not have defended it. But, she averred, “I would say in the attacks we’re seeing on the press, the courts, academic institutions, elected officials and even, and most chillingly, the electoral process, that this deserves comparison. It’s again showing how the public’s hatred can be whipped up against Jews.”
Her defense of the ad was not shared by the ADL, the American Jewish Committee or the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which all condemned it. The ad was a bit much for me, too, for whatever that might be worth.
But in the end, we are left with an amusing irony: Ms. Lipstadt’s confirmation is being held up because of her sharp tweets… by legislators for whom hundreds of decidedly demeaning ones by a former president they lionize seem of no consequence at all.
To read more, subscribe to Ami