US President Donald Trump speaks at the Israeli American Council National Summit in Hollywood, Fla., on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. (The New York Times: T.J. Kirkpatrick)
On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order that will prohibit federal funding for colleges and universities that allow anti-semitism. One of the reasons that Trump’s move to sign the executive order has received criticism is because of its implications on free speech rights.
The order is being seen as a threat to those college and university campuses that tolerate anti-Israel movements such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that describes itself as working towards ending international support for Israel’s “oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law.”
Explained: What is the anti-semitism executive order?
Essentially, the order extends the protections against discrimination under the 1964 Civil Rights Act to people who are subjected to anti-Sentimism, which is described as having feelings of hostility or discrimination against Jews, either as a religious group or as a race. “My Administration is committed to combating the rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic incidents in the United States and around the world. Anti-Semitic incidents have increased since 2013, and students, in particular, continue to face anti-Semitic harassment in schools and on university and college campuses,” the executive order begins.
As per the order, Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act, 1964 will be applicable to people who face anti-semitic discrimination based on race, colour or national origin. Furthermore, the order mentions that to execute it, the non-legally binding definition of anti-semitism as adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) be used. According to IHRA’s definition, “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,”.
What are some examples of contemporary anti-Semitism?
According to the executive order, all executive departments and agencies that are charged with enforcing Title 6 will need to consider “Contemporary Examples of Anti-Semitism” as identified by the IHRA. These include targeting the state of Israel, which is considered to be a Jewish collectivity. “However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic,” according to the website of the US Department of State. “Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits,” it says.
Other examples include calling for, aiding or justifying the killing of Jews in the name of “radical ideology”, making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising or stereotypical allegations against Jews, using symbols and images associated with “classic” anti-Semitism and holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the state of Israel among others.
What are the criticisms faced by the executive order?
Since Trump signed the order, free speech advocates and some liberal Jewish organisations have criticised it on the grounds that it goes against the tenets of the right to free speech as put forth by the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
J Street, a pro-Israel NGO said in a statement published on its website on December 11, “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.” The statement also said, “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.”
The editorial board of The New York Times wrote, “The president’s campus intervention ignores the bigger threat of anti-Semitism and threatens speech.”
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