Letter of intent

Tom Lantos is feeling the love tonight.

Disturbed by the rising tide of global anti-Semitism, the Democratic congressman from San Mateo wrote H.R. 4230 (dubbed the Global Anti-Semitism Awareness Act) which would require the State Department to institute a permanent anti-Semitism watchdog office.

To Lantos’ delight, an ad hoc group launched by former Rep. Stephen Solarz and the David Wyman Institute recently sent a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell urging support for the Lantos bill.

The State Department has up until now opposed the bill on the grounds that it would “open the department to charges of favoritism” to one particular ethnic group.

But 100 prominent Americans from all walks of civic and political life signed the letter. Among them, former vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, former U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, former CIA Director James Woolsey, writer Cynthia Ozick, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Garry Wills, Catholic theologian Eugene Gorski, University of Judaism Professor Michael Berenbaum and singer Neshama Carlebach.

The letter read in part: “We are deeply disappointed to learn of the State Department’s opposition … the State Department does already have a number of offices that extend ‘exclusive status’ to groups or issues of concern, among them offices on Tibet, Human Trafficking and women’s rights.”

The group was formed without Lantos’ prior knowledge. “We are delighted to see this,” the congressman said. “I had nothing to do with it, but I strongly welcome their support. It’s an enormously broad-based group of people: Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Republicans and Democrats.”

Lantos is now conferring with Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-New Jersey), who together wrote a similar bill already passed by the Senate. “My hope is that my legislation will get the approval of Smith and Voinovich,” said Lantos. “Then we will have a united front, and we’ll see if the State Department opposes it.”

Lantos recently met with Powell to discuss the two bills. “It was very cordial,” noted Lantos. “We are good friends. He just felt that Smith-Voinovich was the proper approach.”

The chief difference between the two bills: Lantos requires a special envoy and permanent office with annual presence in the International Religious Freedom Report from the State Department. The Smith-Voinovich bill currently requires only a one-time report. But Lantos expects to have the Senate bill and his own House bill reconciled soon to send a message that the U.S. government takes seriously the threat of global anti-Semitism.

“My chief legal counsel is in the process of making a paragraph-by-paragraph comparison” of the two bills. “We have made no changes in my legislation, not one comma, but my understanding is that Smith and Voinovich have come dramatically closer to our bill. Once we have the legal analysis completed I will make a decision as to where to go.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.