“ On Wednesday, a day after a deadly shooting at a kosher supermarket in New Jersey, President Trump signed an executive order advising the Department of Education to consider controversial definitions of anti-Semitism when “vigorously” enforcing anti-discrimination law in schools and on college campuses.
If you happened to be scrolling through Twitter on Tuesday, you might have read that the order reclassifies Judaism as a nationality — but that’s not correct.
The details: At issue is Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination in programs and activities receiving federal aid on the basis of race, color or national origin — but not religion. Nonetheless, the law has for many years been interpreted to protect against religious discrimination when based on a person’s actual or perceived citizenship of a country whose residents share a dominant religious identity.
For example, Zack Beauchamp and Ian Millhiser write in Vox:
Suppose that a group of bullies falsely believe that all Jews are also Israeli. If those bullies harass a group of Jewish students because the bullies are bigoted against people from Israel, that is a form of national origin discrimination — even if the targets of this bullying are not Israeli citizens.
What’s new with this executive order are the definitions of anti-Semitism the Education Department might use in applying the law. In an Op-Ed for The New York Times, Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, explains that the order recommends language put forth in 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. He writes:
For example, the alliance defines “the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity,” and those who deny “the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavor” or those who compare “contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” as examples of anti-Semitism.
The Remembrance Alliance definition makes clear what our administration has stated publicly and on the record: Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. The inclusion of this language with contemporary examples gives critical guidance to agencies enforcing Title VI provisions.
This last claim of Mr. Kushner’s — that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism — is a deeply contested one, in general and among many Jews.
Worth noting: In 2016, the author of the Remembrance Alliance language defining anti-Semitism himself wrote in The Times that the Education Department should not adopt it, contending, “Students and faculty members will be scared into silence, and administrators will err on the side of suppressing or censuring speech.”
“An important step”
The Anti-Defamation League:
Today’s announcement that the U.S. will adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism is an important step acknowledging the growing concern about anti-Semitism on American college campuses. The Executive Order includes Jews in Title VI protections, something ADL and previous administrations have supported for years.
The American Jewish Committee:
Responses to anti-Semitism on many campuses have often fallen short, leaving Jewish students vulnerable. Existing federal policy has not been fully enforced and today’s order merely gives Jews what other groups have long enjoyed — the right not to be subject to a hostile environment on campus. There is nothing inconsistent with protecting freedom of expression and providing Jews the same protections accorded other minorities.
“Would threaten freedom of expression on campus”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an organization that advocates free speech on campus:
While the order is couched in language intended to paper over the readily evident threat to expressive rights, its ambiguous directive and fundamental reliance on the IHRA definition and its examples will cause institutions to investigate and censor protected speech on their campuses. Having spent 20 years defending speakers from across the political spectrum, FIRE knows all too well that colleges and universities will rush to punish student and faculty speakers in an attempt to avoid federal investigation and enforcement.
Marjorie N. Feld, professor of history at Babson College:
As a professor of U.S. history and a scholar of American Jewish life, I have traced the history of attempts to silence debate over Israel/Palestine, and it is clear that this EO will not fight the growth of anti-Semitism or make Jewish students safer on campus. Instead, it will prevent essential collaborations and will, without question, have a chilling effect on our freedom of speech.
“Does little to target the larger source of violent anti-Semitism”
The New York Times editorial board:
“The larger threat to American Jews goes beyond college students sparring over Israeli policy. Violent anti-Semitism is being fomented most significantly by white nationalists and the far right. … The threads tying much of the anti-Semitic violence to white nationalist ideology are impossible to ignore.
“President Trump does not care about anti-Semitism”
Paul Waldman in The Washington Post:
Trump regularly asserts that Jews do and ought to have unquestioning loyalty to Israel (he refers to Benjamin Netanyahu as “your prime minister” when talking to Jewish audiences) and describes Jews as greedy, money-grubbing, conniving schemers who only want to horde [sic] wealth and power. … It’s no coincidence that Trump’s election was celebrated by neo-Nazis everywhere. That doesn’t necessarily mean that any action he takes on anti-Semitism is by definition bad. But it does mean we should be deeply suspicious.
Part of a campaign “to silence Palestinian rights activism”
Peter Beinart, a writer and professor at the City University of New York: “So according to Trump, ‘denying the Jewish people self-determination’ is now bigotry, which loses a college government funds. Denying Palestinians the right to self-determination, by contrast, is US + Israeli policy.”
Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights and a Palestinian citizen of Israel: “Israeli apartheid is a very hard product to sell in America, especially in progressive spaces, and realizing this, many Israeli apartheid apologists, Trump included, are looking to silence a debate they know they can’t win.”
“Won’t change much at all”
Mark Joseph Stern in Slate:
It’s unclear whether Wednesday’s order will have any impact, given that it mostly just reaffirms the current law. … It raises the faint possibility that, in some case down the road, a student’s sharp criticism of Israel may be used as evidence of anti-Semitic intent after he has been accused of targeting Jews because of their perceived race or nationality. Is this order red meat for Republicans who believe colleges are increasingly hostile to Jews? Probably. Will it quash the pro-Palestine movement on campuses or impose an unwanted classification on American Jews? Absolutely not.”