January 19, 2020

Meet Elan Carr, The New Anti-Semitism Envoy

President Donald Trump chose Elan Carr as Anti-Semitism Envoy

On Feb. 5, President Donald Trump’s administration announced that it had filled the two-year vacant position of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. The appointee is Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Elan Carr, who is Jewish.

The 50-year-old former GOP congressional candidate and Iraq War veteran has spent most of his career prosecuting criminal and terrorist suspects. In his role as deputy district attorney, a position he has held since 2005, Carr’s work also has focused on prosecuting hate crimes as well as cases of domestic violence, sexual assault and child molestation.

In his new position, Carr will spearhead the fight against anti-Semitism. 

The post was established when then-President George W. Bush signed the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004 into law. According to the State Department’s website, the anti-Semitism envoy “develops and implements policies and projects to support efforts to combat anti-Semitism.”

“I see this fight as a big challenge that we’re going to be dealing with 24/7,” Carr told the Journal in a phone interview. “We’re going to hit the ground running and we’re going to fight anti-Semitism in a full-court press from every angle and every form anti-Semitism takes.”

Carr said his desire to fight for the Jewish people stems from being the son of Iraqi Jewish refugees who experienced anti-Semitism firsthand.

“In 1948, my mother was a young girl. She watched her father [being] arrested. There was a knock at the door. It was early in the morning; he still had shaving cream on his face. He answered the door and Iraqi soldiers dragged him away.”

“My career has been about two things: fighting evil and keeping people safe.”

Carr said his grandfather was a victim of the Iraqi government’s roundup of Jews as part of its war on Israel. His mother was forced to watch her father “be paraded through the streets in leg irons like a slave.”

Carr’s family initially stayed in Iraq as his grandfather languished in prison, but in 1950 the family fled to Iran, where Jews were then safe under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Later that same year, they moved to Israel.  Carr’s grandfather joined the family in Israel in 1951 after completing his three-year prison sentence. 

Carr’s wife’s family members are also no strangers to anti-Semitism. The maternal grandparents of his wife, Dahlia, survived Auschwitz. 

“My family has lived through anti-Semitism and seen it, and that has really informed my entire life, and my passion for public service,” Carr said. “One of the reasons I became an Army officer and one of the reasons I became a criminal prosecutor was because I understand what it means to have one’s safety taken away.”

Carr said he views his new position as “extremely important” in fighting increasing global anti-Semitism. “It is a hatred that crosses geographical boundaries, ethnic boundaries, boundaries of economic development,” he said. “It has been a ubiquitous pathology in human history.”

He also thanked Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for filling the vacancy. “I want to stress that the administration could not possibly be more serious about this issue,” Carr said. “President Trump and Secretary Pompeo are passionate about this. They are making clear that this is going to be a serious position and they are investing me with the full backing of the administration and the state department to confront this issue in all its forms and from every place it emanates.” 

Asked about the Anti-Defamation League’s recent report that right-wing extremism was responsible for almost all hate-related killings in 2018, Carr said, “Hatred of the Jewish people or of the Jewish state is despicable whether it comes from the right or from the left, and I intend to fight anti-Semitism in all its forms, regardless of the ideological clothing in which it dresses itself.”

That, he said, includes anti-Zionism. “Zionism, which I define as the national aspirations of the Jewish people to express themselves Jewishly in the land of Israel, is a basic, fundamental tenet of Judaism,” he said. “Anyone who seeks to deny the Jewish people that form of expression is seeking to deny the Jewish people the ability to express themselves as Jews, and that is anti-Semitic.”

Carr conceded that while certain criticisms of the Israeli government are not anti-Semitic, he said he believes it is anti-Semitic “to deny the Jewish people one of the basic aspects of our self-definition, namely that we are an ethnic people, a nation.” 

Carr said he developed a greater understanding of the daily existential threats that Israel faces when he worked as a legal adviser to the Israeli Ministry of Justice in 1996 during the implementation of the Oslo II Accord.

“There was a rash of suicide bombings throughout the country and the anguish and the torment and the pain that all of Israel experienced was something that I was there to live through,” he said.

 “Hatred of the Jewish people or of the Jewish state is despicable whether it comes from the right or from the left, and I intend to fight anti-Semitism in all its forms, regardless of the ideological clothing in which it dresses itself.”

It was also in April that year that Operation Grapes of Wrath — Israel’s war with Hezbollah — saw thousands of people from the north of the country evacuated to cities like Tel Aviv, where Carr was living at the time. 

“I went to one soccer game and it was announced that all these children from up north didn’t have a home and they were brought to the soccer game so they could have some entertainment,” Carr said. “It was incredibly informative to me to see that despite its modernity and marvelous achievements, Israel labors truly under existential threats.”

Carr also said he views the worldwide boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel as anti-Semitic. “The idea that Israel should be singled out for disparate treatment and should be subjected to boycotts and to demonization is anti-Semitism,” he said. “An obsessive hatred of the Jewish state is nothing more than an obsessive hate for the Jewish people.”

He equates hostility to the State of Israel as the anti-Semitism of today, particularly when it comes to Jewish and pro-Israel students on college campuses. 

“[There’s] an effort to marginalize [those students], to subject them to open hostility, to limit their ability to express themselves and even conduct their ordinary activity as students on campus, and it’s a grave challenge,” he said.

He also spoke of how he fought these very issues when he was a member of the Council of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and on the National Council of AIPAC from 2013-14. And as the president of Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) International from 2012-14, he and the fraternity leadership team established several leadership programs to train college students to defend Israel on campuses. 

One of those programs was Israel Amplified, which formed the Israel Engagement Chair for AEPi chapters worldwide. There are now annual summits for these chairs usually held in Washington, D.C. 

Another was the Civic Engagement Program that teaches students (including non-AEPi members) how to run for student government on campus as advocates of Israel. 

“That program has had a staggeringly high success rate in terms of election victories on campus,” Carr said, “and what we saw after that program is a change in the outcome of these anti-Israel votes, because we would win the elections, and those [anti-Israel] votes would be doomed from the first day that the new elected officers took office.” 

Other programs that Carr helped establish included the Michael A. Leven Leadership Institute, which gives students the opportunity to develop better leadership skills, and the three-day Hineni Jewish Identity Enrichment Conference.

These programs, Carr said, have made a dramatic impact on AEPi’s presence on 190 campuses around the country. “That’s not just my opinion. That’s what the AIPAC campus leadership division would say. That’s what StandWithUs says, and that’s what [all 14] organizations we partnered with would say.” 

He added that many of the Israeli emissaries who visited Israel told him they relied heavily on AEPi to get things done. “That’s not by accident, that’s by design and that’s by policy,” he said. “Those are the policies that we instituted, to be pro-Israel, to work with the Israeli government, to work with many organizations to make the defense of Israel and protection of the Jewish people a matter of international policy in AEPi. I’m very proud of that record, and that passion and lifelong record of fighting for the Jewish people is the same passion I’m going to bring to my new role as special envoy.”

Carr’s experience in the field, however, extends beyond college campuses.  During his second assignment in Iraq in 2004, he worked to preserve Jewish artifacts and helped lead Hanukkah services in Saddam Hussein’s former presidential palace. Despite being advised to avoid leading any Jewish services over fears of it drawing possible terror attacks, Carr said, “I thought about it, and I did it anyway because I said, ‘This is the history of our people. We have to stand up and lead.’ ”  

Carr said that he was generally “discreet” about his Jewish identity during his time in Iraq from 2003-04, but leading a Jewish service in Hussein’s former presidential palace was “an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.” It was, he said, the first time the observance of a Jewish holiday had ever been held in that building. He recalled the experience as “very moving.”

In a 2004 op-ed he wrote for the Miami Herald headlined “Hanukkah in Baghdad,” Carr drew parallels between Saddam Hussein and Hellinist King Antiochus IV.

He equates hostility to the State of Israel as the anti-Semitism of today, particularly when it comes to Jewish and pro-Israel students on college campuses.

“Like Antiochus, Saddam thought himself to be like a god, or at least like those demigods of Mesopotamian history, Nebuchadnezzar and Hammurabi, with whom his boundless vanity inclined him regularly to equate himself,” Carr wrote. “Epiphanes’ indeed — Saddam dispensed licentious pleasure and horrible pain, life and death, with the nonchalance of one who thought himself above humanity itself …. By lighting the Menorah, the Jews in Iraq, civilians and servicemen alike, symbolized the same defeat of darkness that the Maccabee Jews did in beating Antiochus’ army.”

Carr told the Journal that everyone who participated in that Hanukkah event at the palace felt their lives had been changed by the experience. “There’s something that being in Iraq and being in a war zone and having the sensitivity to one’s mortality that prompted them to want to come together with their fellow Jews.”

The event, he added, was the beginning of a trend of more frequent Jewish observance in the building. Every week he would lead Shabbat services in Hussein’s former presidential palaces, which were attended by a combination of civilians and service members.

“It was a great privilege for me to lead Jewish services in a place that had been a place of evil and anti-Semitism and now was a building of tolerance,” he said. 

The services eventually prompted other regular Jewish services to occur around the country, including in Camp Victory, which was the headquarters for the Multi-National Corps–Iraq, where a rabbi led the services. The services continued after Carr’s assignment ended. 

“My career has been about two things,” Carr concluded, “fighting evil and keeping people safe. I became a U.S. Army officer to keep my country safe and fight the kind of evil that we see threatening our country and our safety. I became a criminal prosecutor to keep my community safe to fight the kind of evil that we see on the streets of Los Angeles, the violent gangs and the sexual predators and all of the horrific people that I’ve prosecuted and helped put away.”

“And now,” he said, “I’m honored to take up this mantle — to fight the evil of anti-Semitism and keep the Jewish people safe throughout the world.”