As I sat at my son’s JCC swim practice the other night in my “Everyone Loves a Disloyal Jew” t-shirt, a shocking news story flashed across my Facebook feed: President Donald J. Trump was scheduled to sign an Executive Order defining Jews as a race or nationality to provide us protection under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
At first, I thought it was a fake news post. The New York Times report that broke the news read, “The order will effectively interpret Judaism as a race or nationality, not just a religion, to prompt a federal law penalizing colleges and universities deemed to be shirking their responsibility to foster an open climate for minority students.”
But that isn’t what the final EO says. Rather, it provides a circuitous argument about how Jews were entitled to protections under Title VI. In short, it states that “when the discrimination is based on an individual [Jew]’s race, color, or national origin,” that action could be seen as a violation of Title VI. Well, no kidding. The law was written to stop discrimination based on race, color, or national origin of individuals by institutions that receive federal funding.
There is no language found in the EO that defines Jews as any category in the eyes of the law — religion, nationality or otherwise. But that was never the problem.
Found deeper in the EO, the federal government adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, which includes a very broad interpretation of acts critical of Israel as anti-Semitic acts.
The administration and its allies will use this order to target those critical of Israel’s ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories. One day after the EO was signed, Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va., issued a press release and a letter to Education Secretary Betsey DeVos concerning Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, accusing it of “biased, anti-American, pro-BDS” scholarship. The release calls for “Georgetown’s actions be scrutinized” for possible violations of the law.
There is no doubt that the “disloyal” among federally funded academia will continue to find themselves violating civil rights regulations by advocating for Palestinian civil rights. The two-state solution, until recently a mainstream position, could be lumped in with more extreme positions calling for the dismantling of the State of Israel, and treated the same way, as a violation of Title VI.
Taken to the extreme, any criticism of Israel — including its approach to liberal denominations of Judaism, its treatment of women at the Western Wall, or its criminally indicted prime minister — could be seen as anti-Semitism and could lead to the defunding of educational or other federally funded institutions.
This EO will not protect us from men with guns coming into our communities, our sanctuaries, our supermarkets, and killing us for being Jews.
No, the Trump administration has laid the groundwork to protect conservatives from being offended. The United States will now protect you from hearing a different point of view about Israel. I hope you feel safer.