US Ambassador to UN Thomas-Greenfield: promoting human rights and democracy globally requires allies at home

U.S. Representative to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield is as humble as she is courageous.

Speaking at the Anti-Defamation League National Leadership Summit in New York on Sunday, she said that at ten years-old, she could never have imagined representing “the U.S. to the world at the UN” – let alone leave her home in southeast Louisiana.

But as anti-Semitism, discrimination, and disinformation run rampant in the U.S., and “adversaries” stoke the country’s divisions, she affirmed to the ADL, an organization that has fought for over a century for equal justice for all, that she would be its “stalwart ally at the UN.” She added that, “together, we will advocate for truth, peace, and mutual respect here and around the world.”

For Thomas-Greenfield, this domestic- international partnership between diplomats and the ADL is essential to U.S. leadership at the UN. To make progress on human rights and democracy globally, the U.S. must demonstrate an ability to address its own problems and live out its values at home. The advocacy of the ADL, she said, is “vital” to achieving both.

The ADL’s “work to combat hate, lies, and antisemitism,” Thomas-Greenfield said, “is as necessary as ever,” as the U.S. experiences “an alarming increase in white supremacist propaganda” and ethnic and religious groups, and immigrants experience  “more bullying and discrimination, as well as hate speech and hate crimes.” For example, the ADL reported just over 2,000 anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. in 2020. This comes after 2019 saw the highest level of anti-Semitic harassment, vandalism, and assault since records began in 1979.

The Biden-Harris administration and its allies, she affirmed, are ‘in the battle for the soul of our nation,’ as President Biden has said. She commended the work of President Biden and Vice President Harris to integrate a whole-of-government approach to “advancing racial equity, eliminating discrimination, and opposing intolerance” – “including here at the UN.”

At the UN, this has meant returning to the “table”: “reengaging in every part of the UN system, from the Security Council, to the General Assembly, and to the Human Rights Council,” Thomas-Greenfield said. When the U.S. is absent or is not “consistent and persistent” in its advocacy, “it allows others to fill the void and have their views go unchallenged,” she said. She is confident, however, that “when America shows up…the United Nations can be an indispensable institution for advancing peace and combating extremism.”

U.S. presence at the UN is also needed, she said, to stand up against “one-sided resolutions and actions” that in the Administration’s view, “unfairly and disproportionately target Israel.” – The Trump administration had pulled the U.S. out of the UN Human Rights Council citing “chronic bias against Israel.” In a broader sense, U.S. presence at the UN is needed to move the needle on reforms, according to the Biden-Harris administration.

Ultimately, a few public servants in the Biden-Harris administration and a storied advocacy group won’t cut it. The challenges to U.S. leadership on human rights and democracy at home and abroad require every American “to make a concerted effort” and truly have “the moral courage to confront hate at home.” Thomas-Greenfield said this was a view she shared with Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL.

In the meantime, “if we want to lead, showing up is a good start,” Thomas-Greenfield said. And the Biden-Harris administration’s speaking “out against racism, antisemitism, sexism,” and condemning “bad actors and their enablers” in its first 100 days shows promise; so does the ADL’s “continuing to fight the spread of hate” after 100 years.

Despite where the country is now, it all comes down to America’s “ability as a society to make progress.” After all, it was this ability Thomas-Greenfield thanked for her job as U.S. Representative to the UN. “My being here is a testament to our ability as a society to make progress,” she said.

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