Jul 27, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Swastika found etched into State Department elevator

A swastika is seen etched into the wall of a State Department elevator.
A swastika on the wall of Elevator 36 at the State Department. Photo: Obtained by Axios.

A swastika was found on Monday etched into the wall of a State Department elevator near the office of its special envoy to monitor and combat anti-semitism, according to a person familiar with the discovery and a picture obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The defacement raises troubling questions about security inside the nation's foreign policy nerve center, and the potential for antisemitism within an outward-facing element of the United States government.

  • Secretary of State Tony Blinken sent an email Tuesday to the entire department that condemned the vandalism. "The hateful graffiti has been removed and this incident will be investigated."
  • "​As this painfully reminds us, anti-semitism isn't a relic of the past. It's still a force in the world, including close to home. And it's abhorrent. It has no place in the United States, at the State Department or anywhere else. And we must be relentless in standing up and rejecting it."
  • "To our Jewish colleagues: please know how grateful we are for your service and how proud we are to be your colleagues."
  • Blinken is on a trip to India and Kuwait.

Between the lines: The State Department has a worldwide workforce of 70,000, stationed at roughly 285 posts in most capitals and major cities around the globe.

  • Most employees have been working from home during the pandemic, although an increasing number has been returning to the department headquarters and other outposts.
  • All of elevators within "Main State" are within a secure perimeter, and security cameras — and, in many cases, uniformed guards – cover entrances to all secure areas.
  • Besides employees, the building is traversed by outside contractors who have been vetted by security officers.

The big picture: President Biden plans to nominate an ambassador-at-large to combat and monitor antisemitism, officials said earlier this month.

  • The office handling antisemitism is currently headed by Kara McDonald, deputy assistant secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

Go deeper: In May, administration officials met with Jewish advocacy groups amid pressure to respond more forcefully to an increase in antisemitic attacks in the U.S, Axios reported.

  • Advocates have asked for more grant funding to boost security around synagogues and other houses of worship or nonprofit organizations.
  • They're also pressing the administration to fill two posts to combat antisemitism, after rising attacks and threats following the violence in Israel and Gaza.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with Secretary Blinken's department-wide notice. And earlier version updated with a comment from a department official and the secretary's current travels.

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