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News > U.S.

Trump Redefines Anti-Semitism in Bid Against Critics of Israel

  • A participant wears a Trump

    A participant wears a Trump "Make America Great Again" yarmulke as they attend a White House Hanukkah reception where U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on anti-semitism in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., December 11, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 11 December 2019

Trump stated clearly that the decision targets the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) calling it an “anti-Semitic campaign against Israel.”

United States President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that would effectively allow the government to interpret Judaism as both a race or nationality and religion under federal law so that the Education Department can take direct action against what he views as “anti-Semitism on college campuses.”

This is What Solidarity Looks Like: Major BDS Victories in 2018

The order will trigger Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that requires educational institutions receiving federal funding to not discriminate based on national origin; meaning the government can now withhold federal funding from any college or educational program that is deemed to allow or endorse “anti-Semitism.”

However, on Wednesday, Trump stated clearly that the decision targets the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) calling it an “anti-Semitic campaign against Israel.” This comes as BDS has gained notoriety in college campuses across the U.S. with more people understanding and backing the Palestinian struggle. 

The non-violent BDS movement, founded in 2005 by 170 Palestinian unions, political parties, refugee networks, and women organizations, among others, has gained such renown that it was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. 

Inspired by South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, BDS calls for non-violent pressure on Israel through boycotting any organization linked to the state of Israel, withdrawing investment from Israeli companies, and sanctioning the county until Israel recognizes the right of Palestinian refugees to return, ends the illegal military occupation of Palestine, and ends the apartheid regime by recognizing Palestinian's equal rights and stops human rights abuses.

"The executive order will have a chilling effect on college campuses, both on student advocates for justice and on university administrations who may proactively seek to silence Palestinian rights activism to maintain federal funding," the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights said in a statement.

With the order, it is expected the Education Department will implement the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which includes criticism of Israel.

The IHRA definition "provides valuable guidance on anti-Semitism, giving law enforcement and campus officials an important tool to help identify and fight this hate," Jonathan Greenblatt, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish-U.S. pro-Israel group, tweeted.

Although many organizations have decried the move as a direct violation of the Constitution’s first amendment, which includes freedom of expression and speech. 

"We are talking about the president being positioned directly against the First Amendment of the Constitution, which protects the most cherished value that Americans hold, which is the right to free expression," Arab American Institute’s Deputy Director Omar Baddar told Middle East Eye.

Wednesday's executive order is similar to the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2018, which stalled in Congress and the "Strengthening America's Security in the Middle East Act," which was struck down in January 2019; both targeted BDS as well. 

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