FOR THE WEEK OF DEC. 16, 2019
Trump action to combat anti-Jewish bias at colleges stirs praise and concern
Read other news from Washington and share a quote or surprising fact.
Now look for a dispatch from Israel or the Middle East. What's it about?
Lastly, summarize a college-related article. (Sports is OK.)
A new executive order from President Trump lets the government interpret Judaism as both a race or nationality and a religion under federal law so that the Education Department can respond to anti-Jewish bias on college campuses. "The vile, hate-filled poison of anti-Semitism must be condemned and confronted everywhere and anywhere it appears," the president said at last week's signing ceremony (video below). He acted in response to "a disturbing trend of rising anti-Semitism in the United States," a White House statement says. "Anti-Semitic incidents have increased in America since 2013, particularly in schools and on college campuses. These incidents include horrific acts of violence against Jewish Americans and synagogues in the United States."
The Education Department now can withhold money from college or educational programs it believes discriminate in anti-Semitic ways. It's a response to a movement called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, which encourages economic actions against Israel for what it calls violations of international law. The crusade, which is active at colleges, holds pushes for Palestinian rights. Its activities make some Jewish students feel targeted for abuse, even if they don't support all Israeli policies.
Mainstream Jewish organizations generally applaud the move. The Anti-Defamation League, an influential anti-bias group, praises it as "an important step acknowledging the growing concern about anti-Semitism on American college campuses." The league documented nearly 1,900 anti-Semitic incidents throughout the U.S, in 2018. Another major group, the American Jewish Committee, says the "order merely gives Jews what other groups have long enjoyed — the right not to be subject to a hostile environment on campus. There is nothing inconsistent with protecting freedom of expression and providing Jews the same protections accorded other minorities."
Critics feel the presidential order equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. They fear it could be used to stifle free speech and opposition to Israel's government. "This is a PR stunt, plain and simple," says the director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America. Yousef Munayyer, head of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, says the move will "silence Palestinian rights activism."
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner responds by saying the order "does not define Jews as a nationality." In a New York Times guest commentary, he adds that "discrimination, harassment and intimidation of Jewish [college] students has become commonplace and is routinely, but wrongly, justified" as political free speech. "Anti-Semites have grown increasingly brazen in claiming that attacks on Israel — and even on Jewish students who may or may not support Israel — are not anti-Semitic. It has become fashionable among Jew haters to characterize any discriminatory behavior — no matter how loathsome — not as criticism of Jews, but of Israel. This is a lie."
Trump son-in-law says: "The executive order . . . merely says that to the extent that Jews are discriminated against for ethnic, racial or national characteristics, they are entitled to protection by the anti-discrimination law." – Jared Kushner, senior adviser
Rabbi says: "Trump may think that by defending Israel on college campuses, he’s standing up for American Jews. But in equating America Jews with Israel, he confuses categories in a way that protects neither Jews nor Israel." – Jill Jacobs of New York City
Jewish group leader says: "President Trump continues to view Israel and anti-Semitism solely through a political lens, which he attempts to use to his political advantage." -- Halie Soifer, director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America
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