Today is January 17, 2020 -

Executive Order

Wednesday morning, my day started with a request for a Federation position on the New York Times article on President Trump’s Executive Order. As my day progressed, it didn’t get much better.

Our mission is to build a strong and united Jewish community, and issuing statements tends to polarize a community rather than unite it. Judging by my Facebook feed, it appears that our Jewish community is already completely polarized on this Executive Order.

So rather than issue a statement, I want to share with you what the executive order is about, why it is controversial, and the positions that other national organizations have taken. Therefore, I’ve spent the past two days studying the order in depth on your behalf. I’ve read opinions from the left and the right. (I would have read articles from the middle, but I couldn’t find any.) 

One of the best articles that I’ve seen comes from the Israel Action Network.  Explaining the Executive Order, they write:

“The Executive Order on Combating Anti-Semitism, in essence, reaffirms 15 years of United States policy implemented by Democratic and Republican administrations. The policy states that protections covered under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act can apply to the Jewish people. While the act specifically protects against discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin, a 1987 court case extended this protection to Jews because they have long faced discrimination based on shared characteristics. This determination was enhanced by clarifications from Department of Labor during the G.W. Bush administration and by the Department of Justice under President Obama.

The new — and vital — additional ground that this Executive Order covers is the official adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism. This definition provides thorough guidelines to identify antisemitism, including instances of derogatory rhetoric, the use of conspiracy theories, and instances of anti-Zionism. The definition explicitly notes that criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. Jewish organizations, including our own, sought adoption of this definition through the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which has had bipartisan support. In fact, the Executive Order is very similar to the act in many ways.

Antisemitism, including insidious instances of anti-Zionism spurred on by the BDS movement, are prevalent on numerous campuses and contribute to a challenging environment for many Jewish students. The Executive Order enables federal authorities to withhold federal funding from schools where such discrimination is a problem.    

Once again, this is not necessarily new. In October 2010, the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights informed schools across the country that they would be enforcing Title VI authority for discrimination against Jews. Those schools now have guidance on what constitutes antisemitism. The adoption of the IHRA definition is an important step, giving administrators the ability to identify antisemitism when it occurs.”

Explaining the controversy, the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco writes:

“At the same time, the American Jewish community holds a wide range of views about how best to address this pernicious behavior on campuses. There is significant discussion on the meaning of the executive order and whether it will help address anti-Semitism. Some Jewish organizations have offered strong support, pointing out that this order offers protections that have been sought for years and is a way to rectify the fact that religion was excluded from Title VI.  Others worry that it will have a chilling effect on free speech, particularly around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, object to the perception that this order defines Jews as an ethnic group or nation and worry that it will actually increase anti-Semitism.”

The Israel Action Network concludes:

“Contrary to many reports, the Executive Order does not classify the Jewish people as a nationality. There is also little reason to think that it can be used to suppress free speech or criticism of Israel on campus. In fact, schools have for years been using Title VI to examine alleged racial or ethnic discrimination against Muslim, Sikh, and Jewish students.”

For a few national statements:

ADL

American Jewish Committee

JStreet

Jewish Federations of North America

Simon Wiesenthal Center

T’ruah

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