Q&A with Rep. Ted Lieu on Combating Anti-Semitism

This month, Congressman Ted Lieu (D-CA) was named co-chair of the House Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism, which, according to a statement, will work with the Biden administration, civil society partners, foreign leaders and other members of Congress to “root out anti-Semitism and memorialize the Holocaust.”

The task force has eight co-chairs, including Lieu, as well as Representatives Ted Deutch (D-FL), Chris Smith (R-NJ), Marc Veasey (D-TX), Kay Granger (R-TX), Grace Meng (D-NY), Randy Weber (R-TX) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA). It has 100 members from the U.S. House of Representatives.

Lieu, who represents California’s 33rd congressional district (a large area that includes Agoura Hills, Brentwood, Beverly Hills, the Fairfax District, Santa Monica and Rancho Palos Verdes), is the second Taiwanese American task force co-chair, in addition to Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-NY). Lieu and Meng replaced Representatives Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey, both of New York (Engel, a 16-term congressman, lost the Democratic primary last year; Lowey retired). Their departure leaves Deutch as the task force’s only Jewish co-chair.

First elected in 2014, Lieu took over Henry Waxman’s congressional seat (Waxman retired after serving 40 years). In 2015, Lieu famously broke party ranks to vote against President Barack Obama’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal.

In his third term in Congress, Lieu is sitting on the House Foreign Affairs Committee as well as the House Judiciary Committee. A former active duty officer in the U.S. Air Force, Lieu currently serves as a Colonel in the Reserves. He and his family immigrated to the United States when he was three years old.

The Jewish Journal asked Lieu about his new role on the task force and how serving the 33rd district has informed his commitment to protecting the American Jewish community.

Jewish Journal: What motivated you to serve as co-chair of the House Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism?

Congressman Ted Lieu: During a time when anti-Semitic acts of violence and discrimination are on the rise, I believe we all have a role to play in protecting our communities and condemning hatred in all its forms. I have been appalled by recent acts of anti-Semitism within my own community, such as the vandalism at Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills and anti-Semitic graffiti along the California incline off of Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica. In addition, as the coronavirus continues to surge globally, anti-Semitic, xenophobic and hateful messages and conspiracy theories are proliferating rapidly online. As members of congress, we cannot stand back and do nothing. That is why I’m pleased to serve as co-chair of the House Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism, which will work to root out anti-Semitism and promote Holocaust remembrance.

JJ: How can American leaders bypass hyperpartisanship to work together in uprooting anti-Semitism and protecting the American Jewish community?

TL: Addressing anti-Semitism is not a Democratic or Republican issue — it’s about human decency. It is an unfortunate truth that anti-Semitism is a problem in numerous communities around the country, including those represented by people across the political spectrum. Because of that, we have to be able to work together to eliminate hate speech and acts of violence toward Jewish Americans. I look forward to working with my colleagues across the aisle to protect Jewish Americans everywhere.

“Addressing anti-Semitism is not a Democratic or Republican issue — it’s about human decency.”

JJ: The task force is also committed to memorializing the Holocaust. Have you met with Holocaust survivors in your district? How have those experiences affected you?

TL: At various points in my life, I have had the honor and privilege to hear from Holocaust survivors. I am in awe of their strength and resiliency after having faced and experienced obscene inhumanity. We owe it to them and their bravery to never allow an atrocity like the Holocaust to happen again.

JJ: In a 2020 study, two-thirds of young American adults claimed they did not know that six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust (with 12% claiming they had never heard of the Holocaust). How will the task force work to ensure that younger generations of Americans are better educated about the Holocaust? 

TL: Anti-Semitism is not a thing of the past. Seventy-six years after the end of World War II, there are still those who deny and attempt to rewrite the history of the Holocaust, which took the lives of six million Jews. As the famous quote states, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” The task force will work to promote Holocaust remembrance by championing not only education efforts within Congress but [also] supporting legislation like the Never Again Education Act, which will strengthen Holocaust education efforts in the United States. 

JJ: How has representing California’s 33rd district informed and affected your commitment to protect the American Jewish community?

TL: My district is home to a large and diverse Jewish community. We have heard from a rising number of constituents who are alarmed by recent displays of Nazi symbols at synagogues, hate-filled rhetoric and assaults on Jews. There is a heightened awareness in my district, and certainly many of my constituents share my concern about the rise in anti-Semitism in our country and community.

JJ: Hate crimes against Asian Americans are on the rise. As a Taiwanese American, how do you think the American Asian and Jewish communities can strengthen their bonds? Are these communities currently engaged enough with one another?

TL: There are many commonalities in the histories of Jewish and Asian communities in the United States. I believe that shared understanding creates a wonderful foundation for collaboration in a number of ways, including addressing rising violence and discrimination against each group. I look forward to using my position as co-chair of the task force to further facilitate relationships between Asian American and Jewish American communities.

JJ: Anti-Zionism, including elements of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, is the latest form of anti-Semitism. How can Congress fight against this form of anti-Semitism without infringing on free speech rights to express criticism of policy?

TL: In order for Congress to effectively combat anti-Semitism, we must address the issue in all its forms. We cannot tolerate when anti-Zionism is used as a euphemism to disguise anti-Semitic sentiment. Congress must reaffirm the United States’ commitment to supporting its strongest ally in the Middle East, Israel, and resist antisemitic dog whistles.

JJ: The task force is committed to educating House members about anti-Semitism. Will this include informing members of Congress about the anti-Semitic activities of foreign states such as Iran, which continues to deny the Holocaust while hosting Holocaust cartoon conferences (and whose leaders continue to call Israel a “cancerous tumor that must be removed from the Earth”)?

TL: One of the goals of the task force is to collaborate with foreign leaders, the Biden Administration, civil society organizations and other members to root out this systemic problem across the globe. Our efforts will include educating members of Congress on threats to Jewish communities everywhere.


Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer, speaker and activist. Follow her on Twitter @RefaelTabby

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