- President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday with the goal of combatting anti-Semitism on college campus.
- Three administration officials told The New York Times that the order would threaten to withhold federal funding for colleges and universities that fail to combat discrimination on their campuses.
- Critics of the executive order included many Jewish people, who took umbrage with the order for several reasons.
- On Wednesday, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a White House senior adviser, published an op-ed in The New York Times about the executive order, which was signed by Trump.
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President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday with the goal of combatting anti-Semitism on college campus.
However, The New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing three administration officials, that the executive order would classify Judaism as a race or nationality instead of just a religion – setting off a firestorm.
According to The Times’ report, the order would threaten to withhold federal funding for colleges or universities that fail to combat discrimination of minority students on their campuses.
The Times described the logic of the order this way:
“Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the department can withhold funding from any college or educational program that discriminates ‘on the ground of race, color, or national origin.’ Religion was not included among the protected categories, so Mr. Trump’s order will have the effect of embracing an argument that Jews are a people or a race with a collective national origin in the Middle East, like Italian Americans or Polish Americans.”
The move appears to be targeting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, which encourages various forms of boycott against Israel for what it deems violations of international law. The group, which has become popular on college campuses, holds annual events like “Israeli Apartheid Week” to push for Palestinian rights.
Though not all Jews are Israeli citizens and not all Israeli citizens are Jewish, some Jewish groups argue that BDS activism fosters harassment or intimidation of Jews and Israel supporters on campus.
Some critics suggested that Trump might use the order to pander to Jewish constituents or as a goodwill gesture toward Israel, a close ally, as the country’s government tries to combat anti-Semitism and the BDS movement around the world. Others worried about the broadened definition of anti-Semitism would infringe on free speech.
Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, told The Times that the move would “silence Palestinian rights activism.”
“Many Israeli apartheid apologists, Trump included, are looking to silence a debate they know they can’t win,” Munayyer said.
On Wednesday, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a White House senior adviser, published an op-ed in The New York Times clarifying the executive order.
“When news of the impending executive order leaked, many rushed to criticize it without understanding its purpose. The executive order does not define Jews as a nationality. It merely says that to the extent that Jews are discriminated against for ethnic, racial or national characteristics, they are entitled to protection by the anti-discrimination law.”
But notably, the group most vocally against the measure reported in The Times appears to be Jewish people themselves
Halie Soifer, the executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said on Tuesday that Trump’s executive order represented “the height of hypocrisy.”
“If President Trump truly wanted to address the scourge of anti-Semitism he helped to create, he would accept responsibility for his role emboldening white nationalism, perpetuating anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and repeating stereotypes that have led to violence targeting Jews,” she said in a statement. “Instead, President Trump continues to view Israel and anti-Semitism solely through a political lens, which he attempts to use to his political advantage.”
She added: “President Trump is more interested in symbolic gestures that politicize Israel and use Jews as political pawns than actually doing something meaningful to ensure our security and that of Israel. The timing of this signing reveals this is a PR stunt, plain and simple.”
Others, including Jews, expressed similar outrage on social media.
The actress and former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Michaela Watkins said on Twitter that Trump’s reclassification of Judaism mirrored sentiments used by white nationalists and Nazi Germany.
“This is antisemitism of the highest order,” she said.
WHAT THE F*****************CK?
Uh no. No. This is antisemitism of the highest order. No. No no no no no no NO. You, stupid crook president do not get to decide this so your white nationalist pals get to stick me in a concentration camp. https://t.co/PnQTxO5Cxg
— Michaela Watkins (@michaelaWat) December 11, 2019
Some said the order appeared to question whether Jews are really American.
Kelly Weill, a journalist for The Daily Beast, tweeted that it “gestures at ethno-nationalizing American Jews right out of their country.”
Leah Litman, an assistant professor of law at the University of Michigan, tweeted that the order questioned the nationality of American Jews.
“Is this what we’re calling an executive order that purports to define american jews as … some nationality other than american?” Litman said.
So this makes American Jews citizens of which nation, then? https://t.co/ms5feeDTue
— Michael Weiss (@michaeldweiss) December 11, 2019
Other people on social media said the move would put them in danger of anti-Semitic backlash.
all us formerly “American” Jews rn pic.twitter.com/RmimMaf6YI
— danielle weisberg (@danielleweisber) December 11, 2019
This order will not protect our community from Trump’s white nationalism or the violent threats we face. It will be used to target and silence human rights advocates and, in particular, Palestinian and Muslim college students.
— IfNotNow🔥 (@IfNotNowOrg) December 11, 2019
Still others on social media, including Jews and non-Jews, said the order itself was anti-Semitic.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Violent anti-Semitic attacks have spiked to levels unseen in decades. Researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel said in May that attacks targeting Jews worldwide rose by 13% in 2018, to nearly 400 cases. About one in four took place in the US.
The Anti-Defamation League said it found 1,879 anti-Semitic incidents reported throughout the US in 2018.
Update 12/11/2019: This story was updated with Jared Kushner’s response and more information about the order signed on Wednesday.