Hannah Rosenthal

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Hannah Rosenthal
United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
In office
June 17, 2014 – 2015
Appointed byNancy Pelosi
Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism
U.S. Special Envoy
In office
November 23, 2009 – October 5, 2012
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byGregg Rickman
Succeeded byIra Forman
Personal details
Born1951 (age 66–67)
Alma materUniversity of Wisconsin–Madison

Hannah Rosenthal (born 1951) served as a Special Envoy and as the head of the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism in the Obama Administration for three years, since she was sworn into office on November 23, 2009[1] until October 5, 2012.[2] She also has been a commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.[3] Rosenthal is currently president and CEO of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.[4]


Rosenthal served as the founding executive director of the Wisconsin Women's Council, 1985-1992.[5] She is featured in the Council's 25th Anniversary Tribute video.[6] She also is the former head of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), and former executive director of the Chicago Foundation for Women.[7] She was the vice president for community relations for the not-for-profit WPS Health Insurance Corporation. Rosenthal served on the advisory council of J Street and J Street PAC. In the 2008 presidential election, she supported and contributed to Hillary Clinton.[8] She served on the board of Americans for Peace Now.

In 1995, Rosenthal was appointed by the Clinton Administration to serve as Midwest regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. From August 2000 to 2005, she headed the JCPA.[9] In 2005, she was named one of the Forward 50, a list of the most influential Jews selected by The Forward newspaper.

According to Jewish Standard, Rosenthal did not want to become the Special Envoy and "was advocating for someone else in the role", but the State Department Official Michael Posner "was very insistent.”[10] In the same article she described her views on antisemitism: “Some of the criticism Israel sees and its isolation in the United Nations clearly comes from a place of anti-Semitism, but not all of it does. We need to call out anti-Semitism when it’s there.”

Rosenthal's father was a Holocaust survivor, a former prisoner at the Buchenwald concentration camp, and a Reform rabbi.[11] She attended Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts through her sophomore year and then transferred to, and holds a BA from, University of Wisconsin. She then studied for the rabbinate at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem and Los Angeles, but quit in 1975.[12] Rosenthal is open about how she survived uterine cancer.[13]

Hannah Rosenthal, U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, recognizes the work of Father Patrick Desbois, President of the Yahad-In Unum Association of France, with a Tribute of Appreciation certificate, May 12, 2011.

Work as a Special Envoy[edit]

Together with Farah Pandith, U.S. Special Representative to Muslim Communities, Rosenthal launched the Acceptance, Respect and Tolerance Initiative to promote inter-faith and inter-ethnic understanding.[14] This initiative was criticized by Gregg Rickman, her predessesor in the George W. Bush Administration.[15]

During her work, Rosenthal and her staff overcame bureaucratic obstacles to establish a mandatory 90-minute course on antisemitism at the Foreign Service Institute, which is the training school for diplomats, along with a 341-word definition of antisemitism, which includes newer forms of antisemitism, including Holocaust denial. The United States State Department human rights reports have been reporting anti-Semitism with more frequency, which Rosenthal has been praised, and she said that "our reporting has improved many times over — 300 percent in the three years I’ve been here."[2]

Rosenthal has met with a number of foreign officials regarding antisemitism. She met with Ilmar Reepalu in April 2012, the then mayor of Malmö, Sweden to discuss claims about rise in antisemitism in the city.[16] Reepalu has been criticized for his comments about antisemitism and Jews but he has responded by saying that "antisemitism is an abomination" and that Jews in Malmö have nothing to do with Israel's actions and should not be called to account for that.[17] After the meeting, Rosenthal said that Reepalu's language is antisemitic.[17] Rosental also met with the Swedish Minister for Integration, Erik Ullenhag. Ullenhag released a statement after the meeting, saying that Reepalu's comments "obstructs the fight against antisemitism".[17]

Rosenthal has also confronted Saudi Arabian officials regarding antisemitism in their textbooks and has requested that Jordanian officials teach about the Holocaust in their schools, which they refuse to do.[2]

Political controversies[edit]

Rosenthal was criticized by ADL president Abraham Foxman in an open letter, for saying that the speakers of the Israel solidarity rally "espoused narrow, ultra-conservative views of what it means to be pro-Israel".[18] The list of speakers included Harry Reid, Dick Gephardt, and Natan Sharansky.[19] In response to Foxman's letter, in an interview to The Tablet Magazine, Rosenthal said "I have worked with Abe in the past and I consider Abe a friend of mine" and that "we mostly agree".[20] Foxman was supportive of Rosenthal's appointment; in a statement issued by the Anti-Defamation League, Foxman wrote: "We look forward to working with Hannah Rosenthal [...]" [21]

Foxman has also criticized Rosenthal for organizing and accompanying a trip by eight American imams and Muslim leaders to the Dachau and Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps, saying that the involvement of the State Department in an intercommunal affair was unwarranted. He explained that "having Muslims speaking out about anti-Semitism, that's our job" and not that of the State Department. However, since then, Foxman and Rosenthal settled their differences, and Foxman has praised Rosenthal for her work, as well as for establishing a mandatory course on antisemitism for diplomats.[2]

In December 2009 Rosenthal criticized Israel's ambassador to the United States Michael Oren for his "most unfortunate" remarks regarding J Street, namely, that they support positions that "impair Israel’s interest" and that they are "fooling around with the lives of 7 million people."[22] This caused the Israeli Embassy in Washington to request clarification from the Obama administration.[23] Alan Solow, one of the earliest Obama supporters[24] and current chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, called this criticism "inappropriate" and "could threaten to limit her effectiveness in the area for which she is actually responsible".[25] Rounding up the response from other political observers, Shmuel Rosner writes in Jerusalem Post that Rosenthal was "a problematic pick for this job to begin with," is "definitely not smart," and that she became "an unnecessary and unwelcome distraction".[26]

In a follow up to the Michael Oren controversy, in an interview to the Jewish Chronicle, Rosenthal said: "The quote was completely accurate but the headlines were crazy. Then the bloggers picked it up and went nuts." She continued: "I have relationships with some of those who wrote the blogs - we're more than acquaintances. I expect to have a civil discourse. If you have a problem with me, pick up the phone and tell me - don't print it in a newspaper."[27]


  1. ^ "Rosenthal, Hannah". U.S. Department of State. Archived from the original on 2011-03-11.
  2. ^ a b c d Kampeas, Ron (October 18, 2012). "American anti-Semitism czar hails her 'breakthrough' definition of the oldest hatred". Jewish Telegraph Agency. The Times of Israel. Retrieved October 21, 2012.
  3. ^ "Hannah Rosenthal, Commissioner". United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. 2014-06-19. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  4. ^ "Hannah Rosenthal - Milwaukee Jewish Federation". www.milwaukeejewish.org. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  5. ^ "Wisconsin Womens Council: History". womenscouncil.wi.gov. Retrieved 2018-03-15.
  6. ^ Video on YouTube
  7. ^ Obama expected to name envoy to combat global anti-Semitism, Salon magazine, November 11, 2009.
  8. ^ "Hannah Rosenthal - $2,620 in Political Contributions for 2008". www.campaignmoney.com. Retrieved 2018-03-15.
  9. ^ Advancing women in the Jewish world
  10. ^ New anti-semitism monitor sees role as reactive, proactive, Jewish Standard, 29 November 2009.
  11. ^ Menachem Z. Rosensaft, Defending Hannah Rosenthal At State Department, Baltimore Jewish Times, January 22, 2010.
  12. ^ Hannah Rosenthal, Jewish Woman Magazine, Fall 2005 issue.
  13. ^ Authority, University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics. "Beating Cancer: Hannah Rosenthal's Story". UW Health. Retrieved 2018-03-15.
  14. ^ Hillary Clinton, Remarks At a Reception Hosted for the Jewish Community and Hannah Rosenthal, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, July 13, 2010.
  15. ^ Rickman, Gregg (2010-07-05). "Our Confused Special Envoy on Anti-Semitism". www.thecuttingedgenews.com. Retrieved 2018-03-15.
  16. ^ "Reepalu träffade Rosenthal" (in Swedish). Sydsvenskan. 24 April 2012. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  17. ^ a b c "Reepalus språk är antisemitiskt" (in Swedish). Sydsvenskan. 27 April 2012. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  18. ^ An Open Letter To Hannah Rosenthal, by Abraham Foxman.
  19. ^ Goldfarb, Michael (2009-11-12). "Obama's Likely Anti-Semitism Chief Was Criticized by the ADL". Weekly Standard. Retrieved 2018-03-15.
  20. ^ Hoffmann, Allison (2009-11-20). "The Anti-Anti-Semite". Tablet Magazine. Retrieved 2018-03-15.
  21. ^ ADL Welcomes Appointment Of State Department Envoy On Anti-Semitism
  22. ^ U.S. official blasts Israel envoy's 'unfortunate' J-Street remarks, Haaretz, 24 December 2009.
  23. ^ U.S. official's criticism of Israel ambassador sparks furor, Haaretz, 27 December 2009.
  24. ^ Key Obama backer, confidante Alan Solow tipped to head U.S. Jewry's top body, Haaretz, 22 December 2008.
  25. ^ Smith, Ben (2009-12-24). "Envoy-on-envoy criticism over Jewish group". POLITICO. Retrieved 2018-03-15.
  26. ^ Shmuel Rosner, Rosner's Domain: Hannah Rosenthal is officially a burden, Jerusalem Post, December 25, 2009.
  27. ^ Interview: Hannah Rosenthal, Jewish Chronicle, March 4, 2010.

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