Budapest Jews are open, proud
Regarding Tom Weidlinger’s op-ed “Xenophobia in Hungary: Is the past becoming the present?,” I recently had the opportunity to work for a year on a startup in Budapest, Hungary. Before my travels, I was warned multiple times to be careful about the anti-Semitism present in the country and in the government. I am glad to report that my experience completely contradicted these warnings.
What I found was a cultured city of Mittel-Europa re-establishing its place among the grand cities of Europe. Moreover, I found a vibrant and proud Jewish community unafraid to locate its main offices fronting the main city square, unafraid to block a city street and stage an annual cholent cookoff and, with government assistance, unafraid to open new shuls and restaurants.
The reality I found was a city with more kosher restaurants than the Bay Area, a city with probably more Israeli tourists, a city in which my young non-Jewish business colleagues wanted to hear about Shabbat and Jewish holidays and learn some Yiddish.
There is a risk of allowing our political biases to color our assessments of the rise of anti-Semitism. I have experienced far more anti-Semitic bias in the cities of London, Paris and Berkeley than I did in Budapest (and, I might add, than in the backwoods counties of Georgia and Alabama).
Trump’s intent misrepresented
The op-ed by Donald Cutler (“Trump’s Title VI order merely protects pro-Israel conservatives from being offended”) correctly noted that the executive order (EO) on anti-Semitism issued by President Trump doesn’t categorize Jews as a nationality. However, after that, he misrepresents many aspects of the EO. While this order does not legally adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, it codified a September 2018 decision by the Department of Education to utilize this definition when examining Title VI issues, as the Obama administration had previously done as well.
The key example related to Israel in the IHRA definition is “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” while also stating that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.” That entirely excludes, despite Mr. Cutler’s claims, “any criticism of Israel or even advocating for Palestinian civil rights.”
Mr. Cutler is correct that this order won’t stop people with guns. That’s an entirely different problem. What it will do is give our college students the same protections against discrimination enjoyed by African American, Hispanic American, Chinese American and Arab American students. It’s long overdue.
Executive order is a shell game
Do not be fooled by President Trump’s recent executive order that would allegedly protect Jewish students on university campuses. It is just a shell game. Jewish students are already protected under the federal education code because it has been interpreted to protect students who are, or appear to be, members of an ethnic group, even though they are also members of a religious group.
This interpretation cites Jews, Muslims and Sikhs as examples, and the Department of Education’s Office of Civil rights says it already investigates claims of discrimination against these groups.
So, Trump has not created anything new with his executive order. He is just playing Jews, hoping to garner our support in the upcoming election.
For decades, our community has sounded the alarm against anti-Semitism on local campuses, as Jewish students are threatened and harassed because they wear a kippah, because they support Israel or simply because they are Jews. While campus policies properly called out black and gay and sexual harassment, anti-Semitism protections were often conspicuous by their absence.
I’m not a Trumper, but I recognize and appreciate needed policy protections when I see them We should all wholeheartedly appreciate the recent executive order expressly protecting students from anti-Semitism on campus. The prohibition raises no new First Amendment issues, as campuses must already distinguish between protected free speech and unlawful discrimination and harassment. Never has the. J opined that sexual harassment or gay-bashing prohibitions run afoul of free speech guarantees, so it should not be “troubled” by this similar protection of our own student community on campus.
Free speech is an important, fundamental civil right. Unlawful anti-Semitism on campus or elsewhere is a scourge we should never accept. Those two principles can coexist in harmony. In the interest of good policy and protection of beleaguered Jewish students on campus, our community should thank the administration for stating the correct rule, that campuses must attack discrimination and harassment “rooted in anti-Semitism as vigorously as against all other forms of discrimination.”
Finally, students will be safe
Jewish groups in the U.S. are divided about the value of the Trump executive order targeting college anti-Semitism. Those who view it as a cynical attempt to garner votes should ask a college student, who personally bears the brunt of Jew hatred on campus, if it’s a good idea.
Jewish students have long been buffeted on college campuses by anti-Zionist (i.e., anti-Semitic) groups with physical and verbal violence and obstructionism to harass and intimidate them when they show support for Israel, or merely identify as Jews. Along comes Trump, the devil incarnate to some, and actually does something about it.
Should this generate a sense of relief among the victims, or is it appropriate that his detractors engage in a debate about his real motives? Do these pathetic armchair warriors who criticize Trump’s move truly understand what it’s like to be bullied and humiliated about any aspect of their Jewish identity?
I suspect people who support groups like the Amcha Initiative are breathing a sigh of relief that finally, something meaningful is being done to reverse the wave of hatred crashing over them in places where free speech is supposed to promote education, rather than intimidation.