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Trump Signs Order Interpreting Judaism as a Nationality and Race

This will effectively stifle all constitutionally-protected boycotts, protests or any criticism of Israel on campus.

(NBC Screenshot)

UPDATE: With his son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner hovering inches behind him, President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that interprets Judaism as a nationality or race and religion so that the federal government can threaten to withhold funds from schools deemed to be fostering anti-semitism in school activities, programs, curricula and classrooms. What it really will do is put a chill on speech, as skittish administrations shut down protests, screen speakers, and monitor classrooms for unsanctioned criticisms against Israel.

“It is a game changer,” said Trump legal advisor Alan Dershowitz who along with Kushner promoted the plan to Trump. “One of the most important events in the 2,000-year battle against anti-Semitism.”

12/11/19, 11:42 A.M.: President Trump is expected to sign an executive order that will effectively put a chill on BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanction) campaigns or any other campus protests against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, illegal settlements, or U.S.-Israel foreign policy.

As The New York Times reported last night:

The order will effectively interpret Judaism as a race or nationality, not just a religion, to prompt a federal law penalizing colleges and universities deemed to be shirking their responsibility to foster an open climate for minority students. 

Currently, Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin. By declaring Judaism a nationality rather than religion, it puts it under the rubric of federal protection, unlocking all sorts of tools for the school to shut down speech. As of this writing, however,  Jewish Insider  claims to have a copy of the executive order and says, contra to the NYT,  there is no mention of national origin in it.

Nevertheless, the order as being reported will allow the federal government to force schools to restrict protests and monitor speech and curriculum in the classroom. For example, if there is an active BDS organization on campus or ongoing protest against the lockdown of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, it might be deemed anti-Semitic and the Department of Education could threaten a withdrawal of financial assistance to the school. This goes, perhaps more importantly, to courses and professors that are accused of being “anti-Semitic.”  We can see where this is going. From the Jerusalem Post:

A senior administration official said on Tuesday that antisemitism on campuses is often hidden in an anti-Israel agenda. If campuses that receive money from the government adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism in cases of discrimination, students who will feel that they are being bullied on college campuses would be able to complain to their institution’s administration, who will then need to decide if the incident is considered antisemitic.

Trump’s order would make the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of anti-Semitism the official guideline for Title VI. But the IHRA is hotly disputed. The State Department has adopted it but critics say it is too vague and all-encompassing, and can be a trap for honest critics of Israel’s domestic and foreign policies. For example, it describes as anti-Semitic “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” under some circumstances, and offers as an example of such behavior “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

The White House’s latest move, if fulfilled, is a huge victory for pro-Israel organizations here in the United States that, according to Forward magazine has been funneling tens of millions of dollars into combating constitutionally protected boycotts on school campuses and in American states. 

Not only well-funded by groups like AIPAC, according to Forward, these pro-Israel campaigns use social media bird-dogging and rapid response strikes against student governments and planned demonstrations and other measures to cast the pro-Palestinian protests as anti-Semitic. In the states, they’ve convinced lawmakers and governments to pass laws that would require any companies and individuals working for the government to sign “contracts” or other affidavits declaring that they would never boycott Israeli companies or be denied work. These laws have been overturned by multiple courts as unconstitutional. 

Nevertheless, afraid of the “anti-Semitic” taint, federal and state elected officials have not only continued to pass these laws, but have proposed criminal charges against offenders. The issue has riven the Democratic party, with pro-Palestinian and free speech proponents on one side, and pro-Israeli advocates (joining all but a few Republicans) on the other. The often raucous BDS debate has quieted down from earlier this year, when Rep. Ilhan Omar was forced to apologize for her own comments when criticizing the anti-boycott laws, but Trump is sure to re-invigorate things now.

Meanwhile, a slow-burn smear campaign has begun against 2020 candidate Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, and who has also spoken out against what he calls are attacks against BDS and free speech. In this outrageous Federalist piece yesterday,Melissa Langsam Braunstein, “a former U.S. Department of State speechwriter,” suggests Sanders is “associating with antisemites,” ignoring “far-left” and “Islamist” anti-Semitism, and employing secret anti-Semites on his staff. Again, criticism of Israel’s Palestinian policies and supporting people who support the boycotts seem to be the core definition of Bernie’s burgeoning anti-Semitism here.

This is should be an alarming sign for anyone, but it may be worse for Bernie. He is up in the polls, which makes him a target. He is also an avowed socialist who has been openly against the anti-boycott movement on Capitol Hill. In addition, he could suffer the same slings and arrows that his compatriot Jeremy Corbyn is taking across the pond. The Labor Party leader and candidate for prime minister has been accused of being personally anti-Semitic for his criticism of Israel and his entire party criticized for fostering a  “culture of anti-Semitism” and not taking serious various formal complaints against it. Read this whole Atlantic piece for the details, but the money passage for our purposes is here:

Disproportionate hatred of Israel is one strand of left-wing anti-Semitism. The other is the conspiracist turn, turbocharged by social media, which gains succor from attacks on “the elite,” “the 1 percent,” “the mainstream media,” and “billionaires.” Corbyn has made such attacks a key part of Labour’s appeal, adopting the slogan “For the many, not the few.” The trouble is that while all of these are superficially innocent phrases—as well as useful ways of describing a world in which wealth and opportunities are unequally distributed—it is clear that some supporters hear them as a dog whistle

This is Sanders’ platform, too. Heck it is a critical part of Elizabeth Warren’s and President Trump’s appeal. If this kind of populism–and to be sure I am not talking about the Reddit “turbo charged” racist conspiracy driven memes that we all know are out there—is to be deemed “a dog whistle,” we may all be accused of anti-Semitism before the year is done.

 

about the author

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, executive editor, has been writing for TAC for the last decade, focusing on national security, foreign policy, civil liberties and domestic politics. She served for 15 years as a Washington bureau reporter for FoxNews.com, and at WTOP News in Washington from 2013-2017 as a writer, digital editor and social media strategist. She has also worked as a beat reporter at Bridge News financial wire (now part of Reuters) and Homeland Security Today, and as a regular contributor at Antiwar.com. A native Nutmegger, she got her start in Connecticut newspapers, but now resides with her family in Arlington, Va.

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