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Trump’s Title VI executive order confuses anti-Jewish bigotry with criticism of Israel

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There shouldn’t be any question about whether Trump is anti-Semitic,” writes Joel Reinstein in an oped. “He’s galvanized the white supremacist far right, the source of two synagogue shootings and numerous acts of anti-Semitic vandalism.”


According to the author, this column was originally submitted to the Jewish Rhode Island newspaper in December. After initially expressing interest, the paper became uncommunicative with the author:

In December, President Donald Trump introduced an executive order to apply Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to alleged cases of discrimination against Jews on college campuses. Using a definition of anti-Semitism that confuses anti-Jewish bigotry with criticism of Israel, the clear target of Trump’s order isn’t actually anti-Semitism, but the movement of Palestinian students and their supporters calling for equality and freedom.

Trump made his announcement at a White House Hanukkah dinner where attendees included the evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress, who’s on the record stating that Jews are going to hell. The order met with mixed reactions from American Jews. Since Title VI of the Civil Rights Act only applies to discrimination based on “race, color or national origin,” many Jews were uncomfortable with the implication that they belong to a separate nationality. Many also objected to the order threatening free speech on campus.

The Anti-Defamation League, however, praised the move. “In a climate of rising anti-Semitism, this Executive Order provides valuable guidance on anti-Semitism,” said ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.

There certainly is a climate of rising anti-Semitism. Only days earlier, the third anti-Semitic shooting in little over a year had taken place in Jersey City, with attackers killing four people at a Jewish grocer. Since then we’ve seen a rash of attacks in New York City. Earlier in December, Trump was widely criticized for telling an audience of Jews in Florida that they were “brutal killers” who would vote for him to protect their wealth. In August, he declared that Jews who vote Democratic are “disloyal” to Israel. Trump’s administration initially included notorious anti-Semites Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka.


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There shouldn’t be any question about whether Trump is anti-Semitic. He’s galvanized the white supremacist far right, the source of two synagogue shootings and numerous acts of anti-Semitic vandalism. When Jonathan Greenblatt says that Trump “provides valuable guidance on anti-Semitism,” one can’t help wondering what kind of guidance he’s providing, and to whom.

Trump has also allied with right-wing governments around the world, like that of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Orbán is widely recognized as a virulent anti-Semite, having vilified the Jewish philanthropist George Soros in his right-populist rhetoric. Orbán’s smears center on Soros funding organizations that aid refugees from the Middle East, another target of Orbán and the European right. He’s described Muslim refugees fleeing for their lives as a “virus bringing terrorism,” for which “money men” like Soros are to blame.

Orbán shows in practice how anti-Semitism is inseparable from nativism and anti-Muslim bigotry. Our right-wing, anti-Semitic president opened up his tenure with a travel ban targeting Muslims; the Poway Synagogue shooter explicitly stated that he took inspiration from the white supremacist massacre of Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand; even French legislation against Muslim headscarves extends to kippahs.

The right’s Islamophobia is also deployed by Israel against Palestinians, and against their movement for freedom on United States’ campuses. Students supporting Palestinian rights are routinely slandered as violent, accused of having connections to terrorism and, of course, of being anti-Semitic.

Sheer volume of accusations substitutes for credible evidence in making the smears stick, as pro-Israel groups like the ADL try to connect Palestinian activists to the real rise in anti-Semitic violence. But the shootings at the Tree of Life and Poway Synagogues were carried out by white supremacists, the kind of people who chanted “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville before one of them murdered a left-wing counterprotester. These dangerous bigots revile student activism: Trump’s executive order is fully in line with their priority of attacking the campus left.

Wherever the right tries to spread their hate on campus, student Palestine activists – Jewish and gentile – are always at the front of protests against them, letting white supremacists know they’re not welcome. Now those activists are under threat as an anti-Semitic, anti-Palestinian president lionized by the right tries to suppress their movement, cheered on by pro-Israel groups. Does that sound like part of the fight against anti-Semitism?

Often lost in this discussion is the actual impetus for Palestine activism: that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is itself racist, and extremely violent. Some two hundred unarmed Palestinians were shot and killed by Israeli forces in the 2018-2019 Gaza protests for Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their homes in Israel – a right Israel denies them solely because they are Palestinian. For such a blatant, large-scale massacre of protesters to go without any accountability is mind-numbing.

That’s only one facet of Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights, violations that have proven impossible to deny. As the Palestinian freedom movement has grown, pro-Israel groups’ only recourse is to silence a debate they can’t win, to accept alliances with the Trumps and Orbáns of the world in attacking campus activists. Towards what kind of future are they leading us?

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