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Jewish and Israel-related groups beforehand expressed mixed reactions to U.S. President Donald Trump signing an executive order that requires the U.S. government to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism in responding to “prohibited forms of discrimination rooted in anti-Semitism as vigorously as against all other forms of discrimination prohibited by Title VI” of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
It mandates that the U.S. Department of Education investigate anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses in accordance with Title VI of that law.
The White House announced the move in a call with members of the media on Tuesday. The executive order was signed at the first White House Hanukkah party on Wednesday.
Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan said, “I commend President Trump for his significant decision against anti-Semitism and BDS. Such legislation will severely hamper boycott organizations’ ongoing efforts to threaten Jews and pro-Israel activists on and off campus.”
The alarming spike in anti-Semitism and violence against Jews around the world demands dramatic steps be taken,” he continued. “I will continue to work with other countries in increasing awareness regarding BDS and hatred towards the Jewish state for their key role in instigating anti-Semitism.”
Organizations, including pro-Israel ones on campus, joined Erdan in applauding the upcoming move.
“StandWithUs supports both free speech and appropriate action against discrimination on campus,” the group’s co-founder and CEO Roz Rothstein told JNS. “With anti-Semitism on the rise, ensuring that Jewish students are protected by Title VI is crucial. In light of the recent Title VI complaint we filed on behalf of a UCLA student, we believe applying the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is equally vital.
“This definition captures various types of hate Jewish people are experiencing and acknowledges that anti-Semitism is often cloaked in hostility towards Israel, which for most Jews is an important part of their identity,” she continued. “We encourage Jewish students to stand up for their rights, and we urge university administrations to use this change as a tool to stop the spread of anti-Semitism on campus.”
Alums for Campus Fairness executive director Avi Gordon told JNS, “This executive order reflects the thinking of past bipartisan efforts to stem the rising tide of anti-Semitism. We believe it’s time to act now to safeguard these Jewish students on and off campus.”
Combat Anti-Semitism noted that a recent bipartisan U.S. House of Representatives resolution noted BDS “leads to the intimidation and harassment of Jewish students and others who support Israel. Pro-BDS activists across the country are demanding that Jewish students shed their Zionism, which is an important part of their Jewish identity. Today, for the first time, Jewish students will be offered the same legal protections as every other minority on college campuses.”
Pro-Israel students celebrate in March 2018 after a referendum on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign student ballot calling for divestment from companies that do business with Israel was defeated for the second year in a row. The Maccabee Task Force says anti-Israel resolutions were passed on only three of the 40 campuses it worked on during the 2017-18 academic year. Credit: Maccabee Task Force.
Asaf Romirowsky, executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, told JNS: “It is gratifying on many fronts given that this executive order is a culmination of many years of work by many individuals and organizations, including SPME, which aimed to create clear red lines when colleges and universities under federal anti-discrimination laws tolerate anti-Semitic activities. All and all, this is welcome addition to the tools we have to combat anti-Semitism on campus and underscores that anti-Semitism should not be tolerated in any shape or form.”
Club Z executive director Masha Merkulova told JNS that the executive order is important in “granting Jewish students the same protections from discrimination afforded to other minority groups.”
She said that “by directing federal agencies to consider the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, Jewish students will receive greater protection from hate—and in particular new and rising forms of anti-Semitism, which masquerade as anti-Zionism.”
“We appreciate @realDonaldTrump’s decision to give the @usedgov the authority to counter discrimination against Jewish students. For far too long, Jewish students have been targeted, harassed and silenced on campus for supporting the Jewish state,” tweeted AIPAC.
“This is a truly historic and important moment for Jewish Americans,” said RJC national chairman and former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman in a statement. “President Trump has extended to Jewish students very strong, meaningful legal protection from anti-Semitic discrimination.”
‘Jewish students on campus fear for their safety’
At the Israeli-American Council’s annual summit on Saturday, Trump addressed the issue of anti-Semitism, which he called a “vile poison.”
“My administration is committed to aggressively challenging and confronting anti-Semitic bigotry in every resource, and using every single weapon at our disposal,” he said.
“One cannot defeat that which they are unwilling to define. As such, advancing the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act has been CUFI’s top policy priority of the year,” said CUFI founder and Chairman Pastor John Hagee. “Through this executive order, President Trump will achieve what Congress could not bring themselves to do: take an important first step in combating the scourge of anti-Semitism that has spread across our nation.”
The House has stalled on the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, introduced in July by Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) that would require the U.S. Department of Education to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance definition of anti-Semitismin evaluating incidents on college campuses and at other educational institutions.
The Senate version was reintroduced in March by Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Bob Casey (D-Penn.).
In the past, while pro-Israel groups have supported the measure, organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union have opposed it, citing First Amendment concerns.
More than 80 students from 70 different campuses attended the 2018 CAMERA Conference to learn tools on addressing anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses. Credit: CAMERA on Campus.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the American Jewish Committee, the Endowment for Middle East Truth and B’nai B’rith International also supported the pending presidential action.
“With a dramatic rise in anti-Semitism at home and abroad in recent years, particularly on college campuses, the Jewish community has persistently advocated for the protections this measure provides against Jew-hatred,” said the Conference of Presidents in a statement, adding that the executive order “will abate the increasingly virulent Jew-hatred on display at some colleges and universities across the country.”
In a statement, AJC CEO David Harris said his organization “welcomes President Trump’s Executive Order to strengthen efforts to combat anti-Semitism on college and university campuses. We trust that a careful application of this directive will enable university administrators to avoid running afoul of free-speech protections as they seek to root out anti-Semitism on their campuses.”
CAMERA told JNS that the new measure “will enable Jewish students to enjoy the same protections as others.”
“The rising incidence of harassment, intimidation, discrimination and defamation of Jewish students on campus makes clear that this effort needs to be strengthened, as the Trump administration’s new executive order will do,” stated the group. “It seems obvious that federal funds should not be used to underwrite the mistreatment of Jewish students and clarifying this is a very positive move in efforts to roll back the surge of bigoted activity.”
The American Jewish Congress said what the president did was “the right decision.”
“Hate, in the form of extreme anti-Israel rhetoric, has flourished on campuses across the country, making Jewish students feel unsafe and unwelcome while setting the stage for other forms of anti-Jewish hate,” said the organization in a statement. “In particular, the BDS movement—a deeply anti-Semitic movement that has been linked to terror organizations—is widespread at universities and has led to the targeting of Jewish students.”
In a statement, Agudath Israel said: “It is no secret that Jewish students on campus fear for their safety. The rise in anti-Semitic incidents and the increasingly poisonous atmosphere towards Jews at our institutions of higher education have been widely reported upon and acutely felt in our community.
“Jewish students on too many campuses face the reality of verbal and even physical attacks by other students, and of hostile demagoguery spouted by extremists, and sometimes condoned by faculty and university officials. When that happens, a line has been crossed. It is not the ‘academic freedom’ and ‘open political discussion’ that Americans cherish; it is the bias and hatred that Americans abhor, and that our government should pursue.”
The Zionist Organization of America called the executive order a “Hanukkah gift to beleaguered Jewish students.”
San Francisco State University, where the director of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diaspora program is being accused of spreading anti-Semitism and false propaganda against Israel. Credit: Screenshot via Google.
‘A cynical harmful measure designed to suppress free speech’
On the hand, groups including the Jewish Democratic Council of America and J Street saw a downside to the measure.
“This is truly the arsonist attempting to serve as the firefighter, and we’d prefer Trump stop inciting the flames of hatred against Jews as opposed to feigning his concern with a political stunt timed to correspond with a Republican-only Hanukkah party,” said JDCA executive director Halie Soifer. “American Jews and Israel are not pawns to be used in Trump’s re-election bid. It’s not up to Donald Trump to define, stereotype or use Jews for his own political advantage, and we reject his attempts to do so.”
J Street slammed what it called “a cynical harmful measure designed to suppress free speech on college campuses.”
“This executive order, like the stalled congressional legislation it is based on, appears designed less to combat anti-Semitism than to have a chilling effect on free speech and to crack down on campus critics of Israel,” said the group’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami. “J Street is committed to fighting all forms of anti-Semitism—and we feel it is misguided and harmful for the White House to unilaterally declare a broad range of nonviolent campus criticism of Israel to be anti-Semitic, especially at a time when the prime driver of anti-Semitism in this country is the xenophobic, white nationalist far-right.”
Stosh Cotler, CEO of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, said “time and time again, this president and his administration have undermined the civil rights and attacked the dignity of communities protected by the Civil Rights Act, from black people to Muslim Americans to LGBTQ folks.”
“Now, the administration is perverting the Civil Rights Act for political ends,” she continued. “This president continues to endanger Jews through his embrace of white nationalism, his anti-Semitic comments and his spreading of conspiracy theories that incite violence. Jews across America see through his hypocrisy and reject his efforts to define who we are or what we should believe.”
In a statement, Zioness Movement said“with anti-Semitism rising around the globe and from every corner of social and political life, American Jews are feeling increasingly afraid—not just of the attacks on our bodily integrity, well-being and peoplehood, but of the disproportionate attention and focus on ‘the Jews.’
“Attempts to define us in certain ways or as members of certain categories or classes of people do not end well for the Jewish people, and it is difficult for us to find comfort in any action by an American president who singles out marginalized group after marginalized group, consistently propagates classical anti-Semitic tropes and cozies up to white nationalists, including within the senior ranks of his own administration.”