President Donald Trump will sign an executive order on Wednesday extending the protections of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to cover Jews — particularly Jewish students on college campuses, who have faced discrimination in recent years.
Title VI prohibits discrimination within “federally assisted programs on ground of race, color, or national origin.” Judaism is a religion, but Jews also think of themselves as a cultural or ethnic group.
In 2010, then-Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez, who is now the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, wrote a letter declaring that President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice would extend the protections of Title VI to religious minorities. Obama’s Department of Education also agreed, Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) news service has noted.
The New York Times erroneously tweeted that Trump’s executive order would be aimed at “defining Judaism as a nationality.”
President Trump will sign an executive order defining Judaism as a nationality, not just a religion, thus bolstering the Education Department's efforts to stamp out "Boycott Israel" movements on college campuses https://t.co/0avw7eseMc
— NYT Politics (@nytpolitics) December 10, 2019
The underlying article was more accurate, reporting that the executive order “will effectively interpret Judaism as a race or nationality, not just a religion.”
However, the Times also alleged, erroneously, that the president’s executive order was aimed at helping pro-Israel advocates fight the “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” (BDS) movement on campus.
Senior administration officials, speaking on background, said that was not the case, and that BDS was a separate issue.
The officials noted that the executive order would adopt the definition of antisemitism suggested by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). It states: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
The State Department has already adopted that definition of antisemitism. And there is bipartisan support in Congress for legislation to adopt that definition of antisemitism as well, Kampeas notes.
However, pro-Palestinian groups have argued that the IHRA definition is too broad, and defines opposition to Israel as antisemitic.
In fat, the IHRA states specifically: “Manifestations [of antisemitism] might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”
Senior administration officials, speaking on background said that the executive order would also include a statement upholding First Amendment rights.
Antisemitism on campus is sometimes associated with left-wing anti-Israel movements like BDS, but has transcended that issue to become a more general concern.
In 2015, for example, a Jewish student was initially excluded from a student government office solely because of her religion; faculty had to intervene to allow her to stand as a candidate.
Jewish students also face discrimination from left-wing peers who view opposition to Israel as a litmus test for acceptance — a test applied uniquely to Jews.
The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) issued a statement welcoming the executive order. RJC Chairman Norm Coleman said: “This is a truly historic and important moment for Jewish Americans. President Trump has extended to Jewish students very strong, meaningful legal protection from anti-Semitic discrimination.
“Sadly, every day, Jewish students on college campuses face outrageous attacks on their Jewish identity and beliefs. The rapid increase in such incidents in recent years is of great concern.”
RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks added: “Hatred must be fought every day and everywhere it is found. President Trump has pledged to do that, and today is another example of him keeping his promises to the American people.”
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.