On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that President Trump is on the verge of signing an executive order that purportedly cracks down on antisemitism at college campuses. The move would apparently allow the government to withhold funding from schools that failed to effectively crack down on discrimination. Trump’s move is undoubtedly being implemented to strengthen the fight against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
According to the New York Times report, the government will begin interpreting Judaism as a nationality. This would allow the government to rely on a part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits schools from receiving federal funding if they discriminate based on national origin. The Trump administration will work off the State Department’s definition of antisemitism, which was originally formulated by International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. This definition classifies certain criticisms of Israel as antisemitic.
However, Jewish Insider obtained a copy of the order and has reported that it doesn’t include any references to Judaism as a “national origin.”
The Jewish Insider (JI) points out that the executive order is the conclusion of a multi-year push led by Jewish Democrats and pro-Israel advocates. “Five years ago, Apollo Global Management co-founder Marc Rowan visited then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Washington to discuss the rise of antisemitism,” JI reported, “Attendees at the meeting included Reid’s chief of staff, David Krone, and super-lobbyist Norm Brownstein, a longtime Jewish community leader from Denver. Reid proposed the idea of pushing a wider adoption of the State Department’s definition [of antiSemitism] and Rowan, Krone and Brownstein spent the next five years building a coalition of organizations to push legislation through Congress. Reid himself continued to work on the issue even after leaving the Senate, including hosting a town hall on antisemitism in Las Vegas earlier this year.”
Trump’s move was blasted online by advocates for Palestinian self-determination. “As a recent Jewish college grad who engaged in campus anti occupation activism, I’m disgusted by this executive order—but most fear how it will be used to criminalize & silence Palestinian, Muslim, & Arab student,” tweeted Jews United for Justice organizer Rakhel Silverman.
as a recent Jewish college grad who engaged in campus anti occupation activism, I’m disgusted by this executive order—but most fear how it will be used to criminalize & silence Palestinian, Muslim, & Arab students https://t.co/4AmFt23Pbi
— Rakhel Silverman רחל (@rachbsilverman) December 11, 2019
“As a Palestinian citizen of Israel let me tell you, this thing where states create separate categories for Nationals and Citizens….yeah, it doesn’t work out well,” tweeted US Campaign for Palestinian Rights Executive Director Yousef Munayyer.
As a Palestinian citizen of Israel let me tell you, this thing where states create separate categories for Nationals and Citizens….yeah, it doesn't work out well.
— (((YousefMunayyer))) (@YousefMunayyer) December 11, 2019
Earlier this year, the Department of Education (DOE) concluded an investigation into Duke-University of North Carolina’s Consortium for Middle East Studies and determined that the program must be revised in order to continue receiving Title VI funding. The DOE declared that, in the future, the program must provide “a description demonstrating how each activity promotes foreign language learning and advances the national security interests and economic stability of the United States.”
That investigation was initiated by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at the behest of Rep. George Holding (R-NC). Holding chose to contact the DOE after a pro-Israel blogger made a deceptive post criticizing a conference that the program had hosted.
A number faculty members at Duke published a letter condemning the actions of the DOE. “The Federal investigation is the culmination of a decades-long campaign by anti-Palestinian organizations against academic programing and curricular offerings that are deemed insufficiently ‘pro-Israel’,” it reads, “This investigation targeted a Middle East center, but should concern all of us. Today, all teachers and scholars are at risk when not aligned with national policy and national security priorities.”
That certainly wasn’t the first time that the alarm had been sounded over the Trump administration targeting pro-Palestinian speech on campus. Last year, the Senate approved the nomination of Kenneth Marcus for assistant secretary for civil rights. After Trump had originally nominated him for the position, a number groups and activists pointed to Marcus’s history of pro-Israel advocacy. As the founder and president of the pro-Israel Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights, Marcus fought to quash BDS activity at universities and lobbied to expand the definition of antisemitism to include criticism of Israel.
After his confirmation, Peace Now legislative director Debra Shushan asked, “When Marcus uses charge of ‘antisemitism’ to quell free speech on Israel-Palestine on campus, where will senators be then?”
Trump’s executive order comes just days after he made remarks at the Israeli American Council that were widely criticized for being antisemitic. Trump suggested that Jews would back him for the financial incentive, while mocking presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren. “A lot of you are in the real estate business because I know you very well. You’re brutal killers,” Trump told the audience, “Not nice people at all. But you have to vote for me; you have no choice. You’re not going to vote for Pocahontas, I can tell you that. You’re not going to vote for the wealth tax.”
New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “This is outright and atrocious antisemitism coming from the President, and it is dangerous.”
This is outright and atrocious antisemitism coming from the President, and it is dangerous. https://t.co/E21xMrqSsP
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) December 9, 2019
“This is a baldfaced attempt to silence the movement for Palestinian rights on college campuses – something that has been at the top of the Trump administration’s agenda,” said Palestine Legal director Dima Khalidi in a statement after news of the executive order broke, “We’ve already seen how defining antisemitism to include criticism of Israel serves only to violate the free speech of students and professors who stand for equality and justice for all people by challenging Israel’s apartheid policies and decades of human rights violations. Rather than providing any new protections to Jewish students against the rampant and deadly antisemitism of a resurgent white nationalism, the order described in news reports aims to define the contours of what we can say about Palestine and Israel. We won’t abide, and it will be challenged.”