Interview with Ellie Cohanim, US Assistant Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism
Thank you for having me Avi
A brief introduction Ellie Cohanim serves as US Assistant Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism at the U S the state. Assistant Special Envoy Cohanim helps inform and carry up policies and related initiatives that aim to counter global Antisemitism at the U S department of state. I have to add that Ms Cohanim is also, and he has been involved very much in the Jewish community, particularly in broadcasting, and has a very long history of defending in advocating for the Jewish people. So really thank you very much. A Ellie for joining me today.
It's a pleasure to have you on this program, and I love to just jump in and ask you a whole bunch of interesting questions.
That sounds great.
Okay. Well, thank you. So 'cause you deal with Antisemitism and you're in the us state department, what would you say are the issues that concern you in your daily job?
Sure. Avi so what I would tell you is that the office to monitor and combat Antisemitism at the state department was created back in 2004 by an act of Congress in the United States. And we focused on global Antisemitism all over the world. And I will tell you, our priorities are as follows. We focus first and foremost on the safety and security of Jewish communities in every corner of the globe. So what that means in reality, it is that we worked very closely with Jewish community's on the ground, but also with our counterparts in foreign governments, we advocate very much in bilateral meetings and multilateral meetings for the safety and security of Jewish communities.
And our belief on that subject is that it is every government's responsibility to ensure the safety of its Jewish population. And that it's not a favor that they do, but, but truly a responsibility. So, so that's our, you know, one of our top top priorities in terms of a Jewish communities. The second part of our work is our focus on hate crimes legislation. So we try to make sure that that every country really should have hate crimes legislation. And then secondly, that they are enforcing what they have, which again means that the Jews on the ground have avenues for reporting and for making sure that the legal systems are there to ensure their well-being.
The third item that we advocate for a lot is commissioners to combat antisemitism. So in CA in a lot of countries in Europe, you will see that they do have a formal commissioner's people like Felix Klein in Germany and others. And so with that, does his, you know, first of all, I think it broadcasts a, government's a true commitment to fighting. Antisemitism it also, again, gives you an address to the Jewish community so that if God forbid there is an incident or an attack, they know exactly who to go to. And there's someone who is held accountable for dealing with these incidents. So those are some of our top priorities.
We also w we advocate with every single country for adopting the international Hollis Holocaust remembrance Alliance, IRA, a working definition of Antisemitism. And I hope that's something we'll talk about it a little bit more. We also advocate for countries to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and its entirety. So that's, that's some of our priorities.
Well, I, I like, especially the last two, very important to designate Hezbollah and that's, that's been gaining some very serious momentum internationally. I'm very thrilled to see. So I'm glad you're doing that. I wanted to as well ask you and lets for one second, cause I know one of these items will be Iran, but for one second, let's leave it ran off the table. What would you say other than Iran might be the biggest threat to the Jewish community today?
Well, I'll tell you something. Avi what we have seen. And what study after study has shown is that there are three threat sources of anti-Semitism in the world today. So the hatred towards Jews is coming from the radical far, right? The kind of classical, a Neo Nazi Jew hatred, and then we're seeing the radical far left. So this is a, is a, his, what a lot of people are turning to the new Antisemitism write, which is that it's the Antisemitism that disguises itself under the guise of Antisemitism and the hatred of, of the Jewish state. And finally it's radical Islam.
So Avi what I would tell you is that the biggest threat to choose in every corner of the world today is the combination of those three sources of hate. And, and so it's a very important for, for everyone to be clear that this is unfortunately a trilateral hate coming at Jews from every direction.
Yes. And, you know, we see the same thing happening in Canada where, you know, you've got issues on university campuses from the radical left, and you've got events like the old codes day from radical Islamists. And then of course you've got the traditional Neo Nazi groups. So a very similar items that are happening here, you know, going, and I know you've spoken very vocally about this issue, and I'm really interested to, to know what you have to say about this. You know, we can both, both probably agree that the biggest state sponsor of Holocaust denial today is Iran just the other day, of course, the Ayatollah Khamenei tweeted, once again, questioning the existence of the Holocaust.
How is your office dealing with this problem? Especially given the, the problem with Twitter, allowing him to continuously tweet sight hatred against the Jewish people as a state leader and call in fact for genocide to the Jews, how are you dealing with that? And especially I would, I would just add, especially given that Twitter is an American company,
Right? Right. So on the, on the Iran issue, I think we should, we should M kind of unpack it piece by piece. So first of all, we, we eat in indeed at the state department have over an hour and again, a designated Iran as a number one state sponsor of anti-Semitism in the world. So not only are they the number one state sponsor of terrorism in the world, but also Antisemitism. And I think that's very important for your audience to understand, yes, the Iranian regime has consistently denied the Holocaust as a state policy. So this is not a situation where you have some crazy fringe actors in, in any given country who might try to deny the Holocaust.
This is the actual governing body, the Regime in Iran Over. And again, tried to deny the Holocaust ever took place that 6 million Jews ever were murdered in, in the Holocaust. And, and so that, you know, one part of their Antisemitism, but what I've actually a called the Iranian Regime is that they have an obsessive Antisemitism. And what I mean by that Avi is that there Antisemitism is really part and parcel of the entire Regime ideology and it motivates everything that they do so that if you look at something like the, the IRG C a N that's they're they're they're they're like shadow army, right.
And it's, and there are a special ops force it's called the Ellie goods force. So Al good's in Arabic means Jerusalem right. And so what is the meaning of that? Why are they calling their special ops force outputs? Well, it's because they believe in the quote unquote, you know, liberation of Jerusalem, right? So, so their entire operation is about the, they want to do one day to take over Jerusalem. And so, you know, in their fantasy free Israel from the Jews, right? And so that goes along with their daily calling for death to Israel, but also deaths to America. And so this Antisemitism that they have is truly obsessive in nature. It, it, it, it motivates everything that they do. So their, their proxy activity has Bola in the middle East, but also in South America, Hamas in Gaza, the Hutus in Yemen, whose slogan is very similar to the Iranians calling also for a death upon juice.
This, this is what motivates so much of what this Regime is about. And so that is the reason why they are indeed the number one state sponsor of anti-Semitism in the world today. Now regarding what our administration is doing on that. I would tell you that president Trump and secretary of state Mike Pompeo has taken a leadership stance, bold action against the Iranian regime that no one in history has done in, in the fact that our administration has launched the strongest sanctions campaign against Iran in history.
And I think that for those of your listeners who are tracking events and Iran, I think everyone sees that every day, practically our administration is unleashing further sanctions on the Iranians because you know what, we're not going to let them get away with their malign behavior in the region. They're destabilizing behavior in the region and also their Antisemitism. So that has been the administration's policy on Iran. It's the max the maximum pressure campaign. And I think if you look at developments in Iran right now, they're is just such ample evidence in terms of their economy being in, in tatters, in terms of their currency, being valueless, their inability to sell their oil, our policy is working, and we are holding that.
Iranian accountable. Now to your question on Twitter is still look, you know, we are rolling the country founded on free speech, and I have to tell you that that that's something I, myself value and treasure, you know, Avi I was born in Iran myself. And so if there was some passion, you hear it all on that subject. It's because I, as a child with my family, I had to flee the country after the 1979 Islamic revolution, where we saw a rise in Antisemitism. We saw the execution of the president of the Jewish community, mr. Hobby Bell's on ion. And a, and so at that time, there were a a hundred thousand Jews, the Jews of, of Iran or indigenous to the region.
You're talking about one of the most ancient Jewish communities dating back to ancient Persia from the first temple period. So this is a people who, for thousands of years, we lasted in Persia to Iran in the 1979. This Revolution caused us to flee for our lives. And a, a, a community of 100,000 Jews is now only 10,000 left to any Iran. If that, and I, you know, I understand the threat of Antisemitism, it's something that, that, you know, affected my very life. And I am so blessed and fortunate to have come to the United States and to live in the land of freedom and Liberty.
And so, you know, free speech is something that I think is important to all Americans. I think the question of Twitter and the social media giants is, is a big question for our society right now, as you know, there are a few there's a lot of what's happened in the last couple of weeks where the social media giants have not allowed information to get out, that they seem to just personally, not like, and there's a big debate going on right now in American society on what next. And I think that w over the next months and years, we are going to, we're going to be grappling with that very issue of what next and how do we, how do we handle social media giants?
Yeah. And social media is, as we all are, I'm sure can agree, demonstrated that they are controlling the speech and they are controlling what is being said and what is not being said. And that is a concern for, for us, you know, in, in Canada, we actually have hate speech laws. And so, you know, Canadian parliamentarians are wondering, well, how it is, how is it that we can control these big, a social network giants who are allowing this feeling of, of hatred and its filtering into our borders. And that is, you know, one of the primary concerns and on that note, Elliot, thank you very much for that response and that a passionate response on 'em on the Iran, you know, you, you ran a, you and your team at the state department ran a wonderful conference just two weeks ago, and it was held on a zoom.
It was very well done. It was hell the subject matter was of course anti-Semitism. And, you know, I wonder sometimes if you find that we are just speaking to each other, perhaps as civil society as intellectuals, or do you think this is filtering down into the world and is the world listening about the dangerous spot that we're in once again, with the rising tide of Antisemitism and with that, the host of, of social problems that it brings?
Well, Avi first of all on the conference, thank you for all your kind words. Let me just clarify that to the conference was hosted by secretary of state Mike Pompeo, our Special Envoy my boss, ah, Ilan Carr, and my colleagues in our office. So, you know, they all deserve all the credit for, for this conference. And it was the first, it was the first US government conference on online. And so that was our focus. Our focus was the spread of hate on social media or media and online, and a, you know, I'll be able to tell you on that note, I think it's, it's, it's a true concern for all of us in terms of the next generation, right?
Because it's the young people are all about social media. That's where they're getting the news from. That's how they interact with each other. And so to see this disturbing trend of tick-tock and Twitter and Facebook, you know, all Instagram, every single one of these platforms has this, this rising and, and disturbing a trend of, of the most horrific Antisemitism on, on these social media platforms. So it's something that is that it really is incumbent on all of us to a two, first of all, be aware of, to bring knowledge to our children on these issues and, and something that we really, again, I think have to tackle as a next, next level, next level challenge to our societies.
And so, and so those are, you know, those are, I think some of the challenges Now now it's interesting what you said, are we talking to each other, you know, is this preaching to the choir? Yeah. I'll tell you, I'll tell you if you look, I do think that all good people in the world are noticing this rise in Antisemitism and we have a lot of allies out. There are people who don't want to see their societies kind of descend into, into the horror that that Antisemitism is. And I think if you look back at history, every society that has descended into Antisemitism winds up falling apart themselves, it's something in the rabbi sacks, I believe has said, which is that the hatred that starts with Jews never ends with Jews.
And so it's, you know, it really there's something in it for everyone to fight this hatred back. I'll tell you that. I think, I think what's what reaches the young people in the next generation is very different from what reaches the adults. So I don't know that any, any teens and twenties, I would have necessarily found inspiration in an hour conference, but, you know, they find inspiration and sports athletes. And I'll tell you, like, for example, the Chelsea football club, In out of the UK owned by mr. Roman Abramovich, they have done so much and bringing attention to the fight against anti-Semitism and the, they are just, you know, a tremendous role model of what the people who resonate with young people can do.
So again, these sports athletes have millions of followers on their Instagram accounts and so on, and they, you know, with one post can influence millions of young people. So I do think that those are other partners that we all have to try and to seek out the people who can reach, reach to the young people best.
Yes, no. I agree on it's the young people and we have to worry about the young generation. And that is an excellent point. Thank you for making a point to Ellie. I wanted to change the, the subject a little bit to maybe this is something that is, you know, just days, days away, and it's on all of our minds and I don't want to put you in any kind of political position. So answer it in any way that you feel a fit and appropriate. But I guess, you know, in my mind, the U S elections are just days away. And even though we're here in Canada, we're watching them and you know, this, this impact the entire world. And so, you know, we're wondering if you see a consistency, should the administration change in the department.
In other words, I'm asking you really, how you do you think that the fight might change under a new administration if there was one or if it will even strengthen under the current administration, you know, should it continue depending on the results of the election.
Right, right. Avi well, thanks for this question. And, and it is very, its difficult for me because I have not, I am not to opine on politics. What I can tell you is specifically on the issues of anti-Semitism. I just actually just today, a Newsweek published in an opinion piece that I wrote. And in this opinion piece, I, I laid out just some of the Presidents track record, combating antisemitism, and also strengthening the Jewish state of Israel. And so, you know, on that list of the Presidents accomplished, I wrote about his executive order of this last December of combating antisemitism.
And so what that executive order did was for the first time in us history, give Jews title six protection. And that has been a game changer for our students on college campuses, which you described in Canada, they're beleaguered in the us are Jewish. Students are beleaguered are too. And we finally given them a legal Avenue so that they can hold the universities responsible. If in fact, the university's are found to have a, have a aloud Antisemitism to take place on our campuses. The President it also has a track record on strengthening the state of Israel, which I am convinced with everything of the president has done. It will put him down in history as the most phylo semetic President In in us history.
I'm convinced of that. I'm sure that that's how history is going to look back upon him. And so, you know, among those, among those moves, it was the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state. It was the moving of the us embassy to Jerusalem was the recognition of Golan Heights as being under Israeli sovereignty. Just yesterday, you saw an announcement out of the embassy and Israel the U S embassy in Israel ambassador, David Friedman that people who are born in Jerusalem well now for the first time on American passport is to be able to write Israel as the country of birth in, on their passports, where it is in past administrations. You couldn't do that.
President Trump broke a peace w you know, something that all of the naysayers and the foreign policy quote, unquote experts said not possible, right? President Trump brokered peace between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. This was the first piece you were saying in the region and twenty-six years, and it's a warm piece. And I've been seeing this on, on social media, myself, the embrace between the, the Arab world and Israel is just something so historic. I did not, I don't think many of us thought we'd see this in our lifetimes. And here we are seeing it in our lifetimes because of the leadership of president Donald Trump. I also want to share something that just happened this week.
We, our office, I myself, reached out to a group called the global IE moms council. So now this is 1000 of the moms all around the world. And I reached out to them some weeks ago and asked if they would consider adopting the IRA definition of Antisemitism. Well, guess what are the, they had a vote on Wednesday. You know, they unanimously adopted the IRA definition. This is the global in mom's council. I suggest everyone looked them up. What's fascinating. Fascinating about them is that
They are very, very much, she loves them, sorry, my dog is barking. She said, okay, go ahead.
Globally. Most council predominantly, She a Muslim, a moms from around the world. And so you have to understand about this group, and there are exceptional courage in adopting the IRA definition, which just, just so your audience understand the significance of the IRA. Is that not only does it address a classic Antisemitism, but in the examples underneath, it goes into de-legitimizing section of the state of Israel. And so this is a mom's group has now adopted the Iran definition. They've they've put it into their constitution. There's no they've created the mechanism so that there's no way for that to change into the future.
And, and so this is, this is such groundbreaking work coming out of the Muslim world. You know, it is it's the warmest embrace and true peaceful coexistence. And I would tell you, all of this is about the leadership of president Donald Trump and, and the team.
Well, there's definitely a, a shift within the Muslim world. There's absolutely no question about that. And it's, it's all of this work that is a bit behind it, a lot of civil society a over the years, and I'm really thrilled to, to see it a, to see, you know, that your team is behind that. And certainly the council of a mom's, I think that's a significant, significant step for the Jewish world. And in turn, you know, I also wonder, should we be making the same statements about them? And that's a, that's something that's important. I think it needs to, to go both ways. So it was just a thought I wanted to get to a little bit back a little bit into the political Reena, to an extent which was, do you think that the momentum behind the Abraham Accord's and these peace agreement will continue beyond NOV?
The third is, is, is, is now, is there a momentum now, regardless of what happens, perhaps for Saudi Arabia and Morocco and a, you know, who knows Oman to, to come to the table and sign peace deals with Israel, what's your perspective?
Well, I'll tell you, I'll tell you that that Abraham Accords happened again, do to president Trump's leadership. An and the way that that happened is because when president Trump ripped up, that Iran deal, right? The JCPO a witch, which had, you know, under the previous administration put Iran on the passageway to nuclear weapons. Umm, when the president, when president Trump ripped up that deal, it walked away from that deal. What he signaled to our Gulf Arab friends is that he understood that he Iran is the, is the number one threat and the region to the safety and security of the entire region. And so what happened was that, whereas in the previous administration, our Gulf Arab friends felt betrayed by America Now they understood that the trust was back between them and US.
And so only because they have this trust with, with our Gulf Arab friends, could we move them towards the direction of normalization of tides with Israel? And so, you know, in the United Arab Emirates, in the kingdom of Bahrain, they exhibited tremendous courage. It's always hardest to be the first and they did that. And, and it's, and I think that what they've seen is only positive. It's been only positive. You know, what's interesting about if you look at the Abraham Accord's and what it crystallized in the region is that there are those who are pro-peace and then there are those who are anti.
And when you look at who those people are, well, guess what the anti-people are Iran and the terrorist that's who's anti, those are the ones who immediately started the saber rattling and, and, and S and you know, the threat's and so on and so forth. But then you look at the rest of the world and everyone else has been encouraging of it. So I do believe that, you know, continued leadership of president Trump and our vice president, Mike Pence. I believe that under that continued leadership, you will continue to see more and more good news coming out of the middle East.
Amen. To that in today's edition of Newsweek, you wrote a M a piece of very interesting peace. And you said, you know, the Ellie that many to choose to ignore actual antisemitic incidents that are mostly emanating from the left. Can you elaborate on what you see as going on in the US with respect to the left?
Sure. Avi look, you know, I think that there's been some disturbing trends that we're seeing any honest individual looking at. What's some what's going on the United States. We'll see some, some disturbing trends coming out of the left. And so what's, what's not okay is for the fight against anti-Semitism to be politicized in any way. And so when people try to deny these disturbing trends or events coming out of the left, purely because they, I guess, would think that that's on how it reflects badly on the left. It's a big problem. You know, we cannot, we cannot ignore Antisemitism coming from any, any, any of the political spectrum.
And so that's when we spoke earlier and you asked me, what's the number one threat against Jews. I told you that the number one threat is the combination is coming from every direction, the far right, the far left and radical Islam of BLM. And, and I'll tell you Avi I wanna stay on this for one minute. What happened in the BLM riots in Los Angeles was really almost a, I was almost akin to some, some people in the Jewish community, there are calling it a modern day, pogrom. You had three Jewish schools and five synagogues were attacked during the day those riots, they were, one of the synagogues was defaced with the words F Israel free Palestine, numerous Jewish stores were, were looted and ride it.
And it took place in the Fairfax neighborhood of Los Angeles, which is traditionally historically a very Jewish area. So I can tell you that the Jews in LA have told us over and over again, the day felt truly under siege at the height of the, of the writing and moving, and they felt targeted. So, you know, this is an important conversation for us in America to have, we cannot sweep these issues on the LA the rug, because we support, you know, one side or, or the other, because we believe in, in, you know, whatever other issues are, are taking place in the country and whatever else it is that we support, you know, what Jewish blood is not cheap.
Jews are not expendable. And we can't, you know, and we're not going to allow Jews things to happen in a tax to happen against Jews and look at it as well. This is just a by-product of whatever else is occurring and the country, you know, that's not acceptable. And that's why I felt that I had to write this opinion piece and go on the record and call attention to these incidents.
Ellie Cohanim, US Assistant Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism. This has been a really, eye-opening a dialogue. Thank you so much for taking the time. I know that you're, you're busy, fighting the good fight for all of us around the world. So thank you so much for doing this. Thank you for speaking to me and to the audience a today, and we wish you continued success.
A V. Thank you. It's my pleasure. Thank you.