Trump Signs Order To Fight Anti-Semitism On College Campuses, Sparks Criticism
President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday defining the Jewish people as a nationality under federal civil rights law. The order is intended to make it easier to fight anti-Semitism on college campuses.
Under the new order, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—which bans discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin by any school that receives federal money—could also be used to combat anti-Semitism. The act does not cover discrimination on the basis of religion.
The Education Department, which enforces Title VI, could then encourage schools to stop anti-Semitism by threatening to pull federal funding. The new order uses the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, which adopts language from the International Holocaust Remembrance.
This definition broadly describes anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” Examples include “claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
Many see the order as hypocritical, especially after Trump was criticized for using Jewish stereotypes while giving a speech to Jewish voters this weekend. Critics on the left and right have also argued that the order will inhibit free speech and valid criticisms of Israel, and lead to self-censoring by students and professors.
“This executive order, like the stalled congressional legislation it is based on, appears designed less to combat anti-Semitism than to have a chilling effect on free speech and to crack down on campus critics of Israel,” said lobbying group J Street’s president Jeremy Ben-Ami in a statement.
The order comes as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movements against Israel are growing on college campuses across the country. While the BDS movement is often accused of anti-Semitism, critics of Trump’s order argue that the BDS movement is intended simply to protect the rights of Palestinians, and that the order equates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.
“It’s not about protecting Jews. It’s about suppressing discussion and debate and it is, if anything, intended to marginalize and deprecate the Palestinian cause,” Hasia Diner, an NYU Professor of American Jewish History, told Scriberr News.
Diner also sees the government’s decision to define Judaism as a nationality as over-reaching, and potentially harmful.
“To have the power of the government stand behind a particular definition is very dangerous. And, you know, that’s what was done in Nazi Germany, that’s what the Nuremburg laws were, and it was done in the Soviet Union when people who were Jews had a J stamped on their passport,” said Diner. “It’s pretty shocking that this is happening in the United States.”
But some applauded Trump’s order as an important step in combatting anti-Semitism and providing legal protections to Jewish students.
The Orthodox Union, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, commended the order. “We are grateful to President Trump for taking this important action that not only recognizes but also provides a course of legal action against the scourge of anti-Semitism that has for too long been festering on our nation’s college campuses,” said the Orthodox Union’s president, Mark Bane in a statement.
Trump’s order comes just one day after a shooting in a kosher grocery store in Jersey City that is being investigated as an anti-Semitic act of “domestic terrorism.”
Anti-Semitic incidents rose 13% worldwide in 2018, and though episodes of anti-Semitism went down in the U.S., the number of assaults rose from 21 to 59, according to Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry. The report found that a growing climate of anti-Semitism was contributing to feelings of insecurity and alienation among Jews.
“[Jews] do not feel an integral part of society anymore and sometimes they even sense a state of emergency,” the report stated. “Antisemitism is mainstreaming, even normalized as a constant presence, in the public as well as in the private sphere.”
WHAT THE RIGHT IS SAYING: Director of Strategic Communications for Trump 2020 Campaign Marc Lotter: “This is a truly historic and important moment for Jewish Americans. President Donald Trump has extended to Jewish students very strong, meaningful legal protection from antisemitic discrimination.”
"This is a truly historic and important moment for Jewish Americans. President @realDonaldTrump has extended to Jewish students very strong, meaningful legal protection from antisemitic discrimination.” https://t.co/LCtokXDjJ0
— Marc Lotter (@marc_lotter) December 11, 2019
WHAT THE LEFT IS SAYING: Hawaii State Senator Brian Schatz: “My nationality is American.”
My nationality is American. https://t.co/RezgcK4IZd
— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) December 11, 2019