Donald Trump to sign executive order protecting students against anti-Semitism

Clay Curtis
December 12, 2019

President Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order focused on anti-Semitism on college campuses, drawing praise from some quarters and concerns from others about implications for free speech on campuses.

The order "just explains if an incident is anti-Semitic it could fall into a Title 6 violation", the official said, referring to Title 6 of the law which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.

First reported by the New York Times, the policy would broaden the federal definition of antisemitism, according to administration officials who spoke to various news outlets on condition of anonymity.

The effort to expand the definition of anti-Semitism to include criticism of Israel is supported by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Advocates of campus free speech rights argued that instructing federal agencies to adopt the IHRA definition to aid in their enforcement of Title VI could chill speech critical of Israel.

According to the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, Trump's action will lead to an abuse of federal funding "to bully universities into suppressing academic freedom and freedom of speech in support of Palestinian rights under worldwide law", something the group called "anti-democratic and anti-Palestinian". While religion is not a protected category under the statute, guidance from the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights issued in 2010 noted that harassment against members of a religious group "triggers a school's Title VI responsibilities when the harassment is based on the group's actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, rather than exclusively on its members' religious practices".

Trump's executive order tweaks existing civil rights legislation so that the government can intervene in BDS cases, because Judaism will now be classified not only as a national entity.

Trump's order reiterates that general sentiment.

The order will broaden the federal government's definition of anti-Semitism and instruct it to be used in enforcing laws against discrimination on college campuses, according to unnamed sources speaking to USA media.

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Supporters have said it is vital for combating growing anti-Semitic expressions that have created a hostile environment for Jews and Israelis in many American universities.

"President Trump has zero credibility to take meaningful action to combat the scourge of anti-Semitism for which he is partially responsible", stated Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America.

Anti-Semitism is pernicious and risky wherever it appears, including on college campuses.

The seemingly academic change will have the important legal effect of allowing the government to clamp down on a boycott movement spreading on university campuses against Israel over its treatment of Palestinians.

"I'm a fan of the definition because I think its educational value is real and I think it helps comprehension; I think that it helps you understand contemporary anti-Semitism", he said.

The executive order triggers an element of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

"It is game changer", said Harvard Law School professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz, called on by Trump to speak at the Hanukkah event.

The Trump administration has previously acted to constrain perceived campus antisemitism, a year ago reopening a case of alleged discrimination against Jewish students at Rutgers University in New Jersey. "They already have a lot of right-wing pressures and attacks coming on them from donors and anti-Palestinian advocacy groups".

Under the executive measure, "US institutions of higher education risk federal funding if they fail to act against antisemitic discrimination on their campuses", stated leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, whose members include the principal bodies of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Judaism in the US.

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