Trump's anti-Semitism executive order sparks rights groups' criticism

President Donald Trump speaks at the Israeli American Council’s annual conference in Hollywood Fla. Dec. 7 2019. getty images

Initial reporting indicated that the order would include language defining Judaism as a "national origin", setting off a frenzy among major Jewish organizations, activists and lawmakers.

Yair Rosenberg, an expert on anti-Semitism who writes for The Tablet, said in a blog post that the order expanded an Obama-era initiative for protecting Jews under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which guides federally funded education programs.

Trump said the order was to "combat anti-Semitism" and "applies to institutions that traffic in anti-Semitic hate".

According to J Street, it is "a cynical, harmful measure created to suppress free speech on college campuses, not fight anti-Semitism".

The movement criticizes Israel's policies towards Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and claims to work to "end global support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with worldwide law". The movement in recent years has gained momentum in the United States.

It has also urged allies to hold back the boycott movement, whose supporters deny anti-Semitism charges and describe themselves as critical of Israeli policies, not the Jewish people. "Anti-Semitic incidents have increased since 2013, and students, in particular, continue to face anti-Semitic harassment in schools and on university and college campuses", the order states.

The Anti-Defamation League's (ADL) Center on Extremism found white supremacist propaganda on campuses up 7 percent from the last academic year, which ended this May.

"Discrimination against Jews may give rise to a Title VI violation when the discrimination is based on an individual's race, color, or national origin".


In a statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu countered that free speech was not limitless.

So by the official position of the Trump administration's two predecessors, the federal government already includes anti-Semitism within the purview of Title VI.

The ADL and the Academic Engagement Network released model guidelines for faculty in November after two instructors at the University of MI declined to write letters of recommendation for students seeking to study overseas in Israel.

"This executive order is a clear instrument of oppression, targeting activism for freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinian people on campuses and it is just disguised as anti-discrimination policy", said Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights.

"This is not about keeping Jews safe", tweeted If Not Now, a movement against the Israeli occupation. "Donald Trump can not be trusted to define antisemitism for Jews. He calls us disloyal when speaking to American Jews, he refers to Israel as "your country" because he believes we do not really belong here".

Criticism of religion is shielded under the First Amendment, and the order was apparently created to close a loophole that was exploited by those spreading anti-Jewish hate speech under the guise of criticizing religion.

Trump, who calls himself the most pro-Israeli US president in history, used the annual event to reinforce his determined effort to win over traditionally pro-Democratic American Jewish voters ahead of next year's presidential election.

The global movement has gained traction on some college campuses across the U.S., which critics say has led to Jewish students feeling targeted. "The rise of anti-Semitic incidents is not theoretical, it's empirical".

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