US to rate its allies on their treatment of Jews
By David Rennie in Washington
In another test of America's frayed relations with France, Russia and other allies, the US Congress has ordered the State Department to start rating governments throughout the world on their treatment of Jewish citizens.
The resulting report cards on anti-Semitism would be published in annual US surveys of human rights abuses around the world.
The proposed law was passed by the House of Representatives on Monday, in response to what its sponsors called an alarming surge in anti-Semitism, especially in Europe. It has already been passed by the Senate.
Congress overruled strong opposition from diplomats at the State Department who complained in an internal memo that a special focus on Judaism, "opens us to charges of favouritism and challenges the credibility of our reporting".
There is little doubt that the new law will create diplomatic waves.
France, Russia, Malaysia, Egypt, Canada and Australia were singled out by congressional sponsors of the law as countries that had witnessed disturbing outbreaks of discrimination against Jews in the past year.
The law, the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act, also ordered the establishment of an office at the State Department dedicated to monitoring anti-Semitism, again over the department's protests.
The resulting internal row must now be resolved by President George W Bush as the legislation heads to his desk from Congress. With the act overwhelmingly backed by both parties, officials in Congress said they expected he would sign it into law.
A three-page State Department memorandum, leaked to The Telegraph yesterday, complained that congressional plans would throw US human rights reporting "out of balance", and "erode our credibility by being interpreted as favouritism in human rights reporting".
In a sign of the diplomatic anxieties, the State Department argued for anti-Semitism monitoring to remain a task conducted behind closed doors, by the department's existing "special envoy for holocaust issues".
At the moment, US diplomats discreetly gather data on anti-Semitism from other governments, in multilateral conferences held in Europe and an annual international religious freedom round table sponsored by Washington.
"There is no need for the special envoy to hold public hearings, take testimony or receive evidence to effectively monitor and combat anti-Semitism," said the memo, which was sent to congressional sponsors of the new law.
Tom Lantos, a California Democrat and Holocaust survivor who was one of the sponsors, denounced State Department talk of "favouritism" as an alarming nod to "the worst stereotypes of Jews perpetrated in anti-Semitic tracts throughout modern history".
Mr Lantos said the objections from diplomats overlooked existing offices at the State Department dedicated to promoting religious freedom, women's rights, and Tibetan rights.
He did not touch directly on the risk of offending French or other allied sensibilities.
Lynne Weil, his communications director, said: "It's unclear why anyone would be offended by this.
"If a government takes offence at this, that government should be offended by the acts of its own citizens, if they are hateful."