By Matthew Pinzur
Deborah E. Lipstadt, the Dorot Associate Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies, was appointed two weeks ago by the U.S. Secretary of State to a newly formed Special Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad.
In the group of approximately 20 members, Lipstadt will be one of only three members selected for a strong academic background in the study of religion. The other members were all selected for knowledge and expertise of a specific religion, ranging from Judaism and Christianity to Bahai.
The committee, which will report to Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor John Shattuck, will study religious persecution abroad and make recommendations to the State Department.
"The Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad represents a wide spectrum of beliefs and knowledge on human rights among its 20 members, and its creation demonstrates the State Department's expanding outreach to the non-governmental community and its recognition of the positive role religious communities can play in promoting human rights," Shattuck told the Emory Report.
"I am tremendously honored to be in ... a group of people who take religious freedom so seriously," said Lipstadt, a widely published authority on the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and American Jewish history.
Lipstadt said this committee, like any group, could have been formed either for serious consideration or as a public relations maneuver. She seemed optimistic, saying a group of very talented and high-profile representatives were chosen. "We're not the so rt of people to be used as window-dressing," she said.
She said her biggest concern was the potential discrepancy between recommendations made by the committee and current American foreign policy, but she said she had high hopes for the new committee's potential to influence matters of international concern.
Lipstadt cited her years of work with survivors of the Holocaust as best preparing her for this new position, saying they are a group of people who are living proof of the damage religious persecution can cause.
She further said situations which may seem remote can become more far-reaching, since religious persecution tends to grow beyond attacks on a single group over time. "Haters are haters," she said, citing terror wreaked on a wide range of groups by the Naz is during World War II.
She received widespread publicity for her 1993 book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. Lipstadt is a consultant on America and the Holocaust to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.; a member of the board of directors of the Association for Jewish Studies; senior contributing editor to Jewish Spectator; a member of the Academic Council of the American Jewish Historical Society; a reviewer for the National Endowment for the Humanities Research Resources Program; and a member of the editorial advisory board of Holocaust Annual.
The committee has not yet held its first meeting, but Lipstadt said it will be held in the near future.