A group of senators called on Wednesday for the U.S. State Department to counter anti-Semitic Russian propaganda, train diplomats to recognize disinformation and collaborate with U.S. allies to advance a unified response on Wednesday.
In a letter to U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, the senators cited the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia pays social media users to carry out “covert divisive” influence campaigns, and the Anti-Defamation League’s identification of “a startling volume” of anti-Semitic harassment during the 2016 presidential election.
“Data disclosed to the Senate Judiciary Committee by Twitter and other social media platforms demonstrates that Russia amplifies hate speech and promotes nativist extremist ideologies in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere,” the letter stated. “You must also forcefully condemn President Putin’s recent defamatory denial of responsibility for these attacks, in which he malignly suggested were conducted by Jews and other Russian minorities.”
The senators also cited reports that the State Department has delayed appropriating funds to the Global Engagement Center (GEC) and hiring well-trained staff. They called on Sullivan to ensure that that GEC leads “a whole-of-government response to the serious political and social threats posed by Russian propaganda,” as Congress intended.
“These activities should be coordinated with the Bureau of Public Affairs and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, which have experts and regional staff well placed to identify emerging trends and provide grants to local NGOs,” the letter stated. “A critical component of this effort must be understanding Russia’s use of anti-Semitism and protecting the threatened journalists both at home and abroad that can mitigate the harm of Russian hate speech.”
The letter also cited a recent State Department human rights report that concluded “anti-Semitic rhetoric in Russia is primarily manifested on state television channels and the broadcast abroad.”
“We strongly encourage you to act to ensure that the United States is a leader and effective advocate for protecting minority Jewish communities around the world at a time when their rights and safety are increasingly threatened,” the letter stated. “You should ensure that State Department personnel stationed abroad are aware and able to respond to these attacks.”
The senators also called on the State Department to cooperate with Sweden, NATO countries and other allies to develop a unified response to Russian attempts to “push propaganda that promotes its interests and aims to divide democracies.”
The letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Edward Markey (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Richard Durbin (D-IL).