WIN EXCLUSIVE: US deputy anti-Semitism czar on Trump’s track record and some advice for Biden

Cohanim says she could not have imagined something like the Abraham Accords before she entered the Trump administration.

By Joseph Wolkin, World Israel News

Ellie Cohanim understands anti-Semitism. She grew up in Tehran where Jews were accepted as equal members of society until the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

As tensions grew in Iran, her family was one of many which fled to America, where she blossomed into a first-class journalist. Cohanim worked her way up to become senior vice president of the Jewish Broadcasting Service.

In 2019, she was named the Deputy Special Envoy to Combat Anti-Semitism.

In her year-and-a-half at the post, Cohanim succeeded, together with Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating anti-Semitism Elan Carr, in contributing to a number of ground-breaking accomplishments.

Cohanim spoke with World Israel News about the ongoing fight against anti-Semitism and offered a little advice for the incoming president.

Q: What’s the latest news out of the office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism?

“We had a virtual MOU signing with a NGO in Morocco named Association Mimouna. The memorandum is to combat anti-Semitism, as well as the delegitimization of Israel.

“It’s truly a ground-breaking agreement. The organization was started by a group of Muslim college students in Morocco, who at the time, became interested in the history of Jews in Morocco. They created a student club and they explored Jewish history. The history of Jews in Morocco actually dates back to antiquity. In 1492, during the Inquisition when Jews needed to flee Spain, Morocco became a haven and there was an influx of Jews.

“Over the years, most of the Jews ended up leaving, so much so that these college students had not met any Jews. Since their founding, they created the first Arabic language Holocaust curriculum. They were also the first Arab country to take a student delegation to Israel in 2018.

“It’s a changed Middle East and North Africa that exists today. It’s really a different region with tremendous thanks to people like King Mohammed VI, President Donald Trump and the vision of peace and prosperity that he held for the region.

“The warm embrace I’ve been observing myself between Israelis and Jews with Arabs and Muslims is something we’ve all dreamt about. We thought our children and grandchildren would one day experience peace, and it is quite the historic moment that we’re seeing this warm embrace of Jews and Israelis by their Arab neighbors today in our lifetime.”

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Q: When you entered this position, did you imagine something as important and life-changing as the Abraham Accords?

“Before I joined the administration, I did not. My imagination did not stretch that far. I have to say that once I joined the administration, I quickly gained new guidance from the incredible people we were so fortunate to work with in the administration like senior advisor Jared Kushner and Avi Berkowitz [assistant to the president and special representative for international negotiations]. This team truly moved mountains and did what everyone said was impossible.”

Q: Did you ever think you’d personally have the opportunity to work with a sitting president and fight against anti-Semitism on such a large scale?

“I was tapped for the position and when I was approached, I felt instantly that it’s truly an honor and a privilege. This was the honor and privilege of a lifetime — to serve under this administration and to have the opportunity to give back to the country that gave me refuge as a child.”

Q: How did your childhood upbringing help you succeed in this role?

“I was born in Iran and, as a young child, we saw the Islamic Revolution of 1979 unfold before us. The Persian Jews are one of the most ancient Jewish communities in the world, dating back to the story of Purim with Queen Esther. You’re talking about one of the most ancient peoples in the world.

“In 1979, you had this radical Islamic regime come in and take control. My family and the majority of Jews felt we were at risk and under threat, and we fled our ancient home. That personal history has given me a perspective that’s been with me since my childhood in the sense that I understood that anti-Semitism is a threat you can never underestimate.

“Societies can flip overnight. Iran, under the Shah prior to 1979, was a very hospitable place for the Jews. There were formal relationships between Iran and Israel. This was a country that was looked upon as a golden beacon of the Middle East. I understand that we have to be committed to fighting and combating hatred against Jews and understand that in many parts of the world today there are Jewish populations that find themselves in a vulnerable place.”

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Q: What is your greatest achievement as part of this administration?

“My personal greatest achievements have been to negotiate and close two MOUs with the Arab world. The first was with Bahrain’s King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence in October. The second was last week’s signing with Association Mimouna. For someone who is from the Middle East, there is no greater accomplishment than to help. In some way, this is a rectification of history because most of the individuals in the Middle East and North Africa carry in them a desire for peace and a better world. We’ve come together to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. We’re building a better future that all children deserve.”

Q: The work of the Special Envoy has been so impactful that it’s been elevated to an ambassador level. What does that mean to you?

“It’s a very important move because what we are seeing is — what the statistics show — is anti-Semitism is rising, unfortunately. The position that the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism has to serve as the voice of the United States of America and bring the power of the United States in combating anti-Semitism is a deeply important mission. We know there’s a lot of work to be done. Elevating this position to an ambassadorship is the right thing to do.”

Q: What advice do you have for the upcoming administration of Joe Biden to fight against anti-Semitism?

“The first piece of advice I would give the Biden administration is starting with the Middle East and North Africa. The Trump administration is leaving the region as a changed region. It’s a new paradigm, where you’re seeing Muslims and Jews as friendly neighbors with warm relations, diplomatic ties and business ties.

“The Biden administration would be well-served to continue on that effort of the Abraham Accords and to create more peace deals and normalization between the Arab countries and the Jewish State of Israel. What we have observed already is that with the normalization of ties with Israel comes a correlating decrease of anti-Semitism in the region.

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“Understanding that so much of the hatred against Jews is fueled from the hatred in the Middle East, it’s really one of the key ways the Biden administration can advance the fight against anti-Semitism. Continue our efforts and successes in creating peace in the Middle East.

“The second piece of advice is that the issue of anti-Semitism should not be politicized. There are too many voices that are only concerned when there is an anti-Semitism incident or attack. They focus on where on the political spectrum does the perpetrator fall. Then, they turn this fact into a political football. This leaves Jews more vulnerable. Anti-Semitism should not be politicized. Let’s focus on policies that will work and will combat anti-Semitism no matter the politics.”

Q: Over the past few years, people call President Trump an anti-Semite, a Nazi and even compare him to Hitler. How hateful is that for you to hear and see personally based on your position?

“I can tell you that President Trump is going to go down in history as the most philo-Semitic U.S. president.

“The reason why is the policies that he set and the historic moves the president made, those facts speak for themselves. Whether it is the president recognizing that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish state, moving the embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing the Golan Heights as being under Israeli sovereignty, the understanding that the settlements in the West Bank are not against international law, stepping up against the United Nations and their incredible bias against Israel, these are the steps that President Trump took.

“He also issued an executive order combating anti-Semitism in December 2019. What kind of anti-Semite would do that? This offers Title VI protection to American Jews. No president had done it and the United States Congress was not able to pass legislation that the executive order did. President Donald Trump’s track record speaks for itself.”