Elan Carr, recently appointed by the Trump administration as the U.S. anti-Semitism envoy, spoke to a largely student audience at the UC Berkeley Chabad last weekend about the current wave of global anti-Semitism.
Carr’s visit was a homecoming of sorts. He is a Cal graduate, class of 1990, and counts Berkeley Chabad’s Rabbi Gil Leeds as a good friend. He was in the East Bay for the Feb. 22-24 West Coast conclave of Alpha Epsilon Pi, the Jewish fraternity for which he served as Cal chapter president and later as international president, and was able to add the Chabad talk to his schedule.
Until his Feb. 5 appointment as the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, a position that had been vacant for almost two years, the 50-year-old envoy was a deputy district attorney in L.A. He also served in the Army as an anti-terrorism officer in Iraq — the country where his mother was born, and where he famously lit Hanukkah candles in Saddam Hussein’s former palace.
At the Feb. 22 Shabbat event, Carr discussed his new role representing the U.S. on the fight against anti-Semitism around the world and dialogued with students about everything from global trends to campus activity.
UC Berkeley has a very present Jewish and Zionist student community, with active student organizations such as Berkeley Hillel and Bears for Israel. However, strains of anti-Semitism occasionally surface on campus. Carr said this trend is not unique to Berkeley and happens at colleges across the nation. Zionism has turned into a “dirty word,” he said.
In a recent interview, Carr recalled that during his student days at Cal during the 1980s, he saw many anti-apartheid and anti-Israel rallies. “There wasn’t a single protest or public expression on any issue that didn’t turn anti-Semitic,” he told the Times of Israel.
Zionism isn’t an extrinsic feature of Judaism. It’s an essential part of Judaism, a central tenet.
A few students at the Berkeley Chabad event recounted being targets of harassment and hate speech. One asked Carr, “What can students do on campus to combat anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Zionism?”
Carr, who in the Times of Israel called anti-Semitism “a corrosive disease” and “a human pathology that rots to the core every society that embraces it,” advised the students to take action by calling out others on bigotry.
“Zionism isn’t an extrinsic feature of Judaism,” he said. “It’s an essential part of Judaism, a central tenet” of the culture and religion. He cited the Talmud’s emphasis on the importance of the land of Israel. Despite internal rifts within the Jewish community over Israel, Carr said, it is imperative that all Jews work together to push back against anti-Semitism. “Jewish unity isn’t a luxury, but a requirement,” he said.
Although only a few weeks into his new post, Carr already has crisscrossed the globe, where he has observed a growing movement to combat hate speech. Some European countries, he said, are taking active steps. For example, Slovakia’s first action leading the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe was to hold a conference on combating anti-Semitism. British Prime Minister Theresa May made anti-Semitism a central issue in her campaign, calling out Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition Labour Party leader, for his anti-Zionist remarks.
“Anti-Semitism is on the rise around the world in virtually every region in the world, and it’s been on the rise in the United States as well,” Carr told the Times of Israel. “On the other hand, this isn’t the 1930s and we have cause for optimism.”