Trump to target anti-Semitism on US college campuses

Critics call the order, which will reportedly redefine Judaism as a nationality, anti-Semitic and attack on free speech.

    Trump speaks at the Israeli-American Council Summit in Hollywood, Florida [Maria Alejandra Cardona/Reuters]
    Trump speaks at the Israeli-American Council Summit in Hollywood, Florida [Maria Alejandra Cardona/Reuters]

    US President Donald Trump will sign an executive order on Wednesday targeting anti-Semitism on college campuses, the White House said, a move that critics called anti-Semitic and a violation of free speech rights.

    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 US media. The order was first reported by the New York Times, which said the move would effectively redefine Judaism as a race or nationality. 

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    Trump has been accused of trafficking in anti-Semitic tropes, including comments about Jewish people and money and insisting that Jews were disloyal if they voted for Democrats. But he has also closely aligned himself with Israel, including moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and reversing decades of US policy that considered Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank illegal under international law. 

    In the order, Trump is expected to tell the Department of Education to consider the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which can include criticism of Israel, when evaluating discrimination complaints under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

    Title VI bars discrimination on the basis of race, colour and national origin at colleges and universities that receive federal funding. One official said Trump's order would make it clear that Title VI will apply to anti-Semitism as defined by the IHRA. That definition says anti-Semitism may include "targeting of the state of Israel". 

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    Still, an official speaking to the Associated Press news agency on condition of anonymity, insisted the order was not intended to limit freedom of expression and was not aimed at suppressing the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement, known as BDS, that aims to support Palestinian aspirations for statehood by refusing to buy Israeli products or invest in Israeli companies. The movement in recent years has gained momentum in the United States.

    The Israeli government has urged allies to rein in the boycott movement, while its backers deny anti-Semitism charges and describe themselves as critical of Israeli decision-making, not Jewish people.

    Another official said the order was a response to an alarming rise in the number of anti-Semitic incidents on campuses and would mean that Jewish students who are discriminated against for their religion have the same kind of recourse as black students who are victimised by racism.

    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.

    Previous attempts to clarify and codify the application of Title VI to anti-Semitic acts have become bogged down in debates over whether Judaism should be seen as race or is indicative of a national origin. Free-speech advocates have also expressed concerns that a broader definition of anti-Semitism might be used to limit criticism of Israeli government actions. 

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    The Trump administration has previously acted to constrain perceived campus anti-Semitism - last year reopening a case of alleged discrimination against Jewish students at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

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

    'Outrageous' 

    Palestinian Americans, rights groups, free speech advocates, some Jewish groups and movements against Israeli occupation called the expected order "outrageous", "ant-Semitic" and "insane".

    "OUTRAGEOUS: The White Supremacist in Chief is now taking executive action aimed at silencing dissent against Israel's human rights abuses on college campuses," tweeted Yousef Munayyer, 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. "It's just more antisemitism," the movement added. "Donald Trump cannot be trusted to define antisemitism for Jews. He incites deadly white nationalist violence against our community. 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."

    Emily Mayer, an organiser with If Not Now, added on Twitter: "The order's move to define Judaism as a 'nationality' promotes the classically bigoted idea that American Jews are not American."

    Omar Baddar, the deputy director of the Arab American Institute, tweeted that if Trump goes through with the order it would be "the most depraved and far-reaching attempt to brand criticism of Israel, by definition, as anti-Semitism, because Israel = Judaism. INSANE!"

    The Republican Jewish Coalition, however, applauded the move, with the group's chairman, former Senator Norm Coleman, calling it "a truly historic and important moment for Jewish Americans" and hailing Trump as "the most pro-Jewish President" in the nation's history.

    ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt told the New York Times that he hopes the order would be implemented fairly, but "the fact of the matter is we see Jewish students on college campuses and Jewish people all over being marginalised. The rise of anti-Semitic incidents is not theoretical, it's empirical."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies