President Trump plans to sign an executive order Wednesday that defines Judaism as a nationality and not just a religion — in an effort to combat anti-Semitism on college campuses, according to the White House.
In the order, the president is expected to tell the Department of Education to consider the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism when evaluating discrimination complaints under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
That definition says anti-Semitism may include “targeting of the state of Israel.”
Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin at colleges and universities that receive federal funding.
Defining Jewish people also as an ethnic group allows the government to consider discrimination against them as a violation of a key civil rights law, which means schools could lose federal funding if they fail to fight discrimination against Jewish students.
“There’s been a lot of unclarity surrounding the application of Title VI to Jewishness, basically, because of a question of about whether Jewishness is primarily a religion — in which case Title VI would not apply to anti-Semitic discrimination — or whether it’s a race or national origin,” a senior administration official told reporters, the Washington Post reported.
“This EO will clarify that Title VI applies to anti-Semitism,” the official added.
Another official 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, which aims to “end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians” and boycott Israel for its activities in the West Bank and Gaza.
The Israeli government has urged allies to rein in the boycott movement, while its supporters deny anti-Semitism charges and describe themselves as critical of Israeli decision-making, not Jews.
A third official said the order is a response to a rise in the number of anti-Semitic incidents on campuses and would mean that Jewish students who face religious discrimination have the same kind of recourse as black students who face racism.
Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a senior White House adviser, pushed for the executive order, according to the New York Times, which first reported about the executive order.
Reports of the order drew widespread reaction from Jewish groups.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center welcomed the order, tweeting that it “sends a global message at a time of surging #antisemitism on both sides of Atlantic.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz called on other countries to follow the Trump administration’s lead, according to CNN.
“These are significant steps in the ongoing fight against antisemitism and the BDS movement on college campuses,” Katz said in a statement.
But Jeremy Ben-Ami, who heads the progressive Jewish advocacy group J Street, argued that the order was designed to have a “chilling effect on free speech and to crack down on campus critics of Israel” rather than fight anti-Semitism.
“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,” he said in a statement.