President Trump’s Dec. 11 executive order, ostensibly extending civil rights protections to Jewish students on college campuses, is a masterpiece of propaganda and disguised motives, actually criminalizing opposition to the expropriation of the Palestinians, making a consistent anti-racist position legally impossible—and thereby, paradoxically, abetting anti-Semitism. There’s been a lot of garbled coverage of this, so let’s review the basics. Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act outlaws discrimination on the basis of “race, color and national origin” at institutions receiving federal funds. In language that seems innocent enough, the order clarifies that expressions of anti-Semitism are similarly in violation of the law. The text states:
While Title VI does not cover discrimination based on religion, individuals who face discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin do not lose protection under Title VI for also being a member of a group that shares common religious practices. Discrimination against Jews may give rise to a Title VI violation when the discrimination is based on an individual’s race, color, or national origin.
It shall be the policy of the executive branch to enforce Title VI against prohibited forms of discrimination rooted in anti-Semitism as vigorously as against all other forms of discrimination prohibited by Title VI.
Contrary to some confused media coverage written up before the text was actually released (see here and here), which sent Jared Kushner whining on the New York Times op-ed page, the executive order does not actually define Jews as a “nationality” or a “race” (or use the annoying term “Jewishness”). So we can thankfully sidestep the whole question of whether Jewish ethnicity exists apart from Judaism per se (and yes, of course it does), or whether there is a Jewish “nationality” (questionable) or a Jewish “race” (no). Nor does it mention Israel, Zionism or the Palestinians. But it invokes another document that does.
This is the “Working Definition of Anti-Semitism” drafted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and particularly its listed “Contemporary Examples of Anti-Semitism.” On this list, officially endorsed but not actually quoted in the EO, is the following item: “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.”
OK, let’s say it plainly… The state of Israel is a racist endeavor, as it is predicated on the lie of “a land without people for a people without land,” and on expropriation of the Palestinians of their lands and rights. Israel is hardly the only state predicated on racism, but this nonetheless remains a reality. So consistent single-standard anti-racism is essentially impossible under the terms of this executive order. Opposing both Jew-hatred and the oppression and occupation of the Palestinians is now verboten. Just by way of example, this Jewish writer, who has been explicitly targeted by Jew-haters, is now labeled an anti-Semite by virtue of my opposition to a state founded on racist assumptions and practice.
And in addition to being bad for the Palestinians and their stateside advocates, which is obvious, this is also bad for the Jews. It can’t do other than play into the hands of those who would actually conflate anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, or use the guise of the former to sell us the latter. (And yes, they do exist.) Now any expression of opposition to Jew-hatred will be officially tainted by a double standard that embraces the oppression of others.
Unless Jews everywhere vocally repudiate this executive order—and now, while the ink is still wet.
Some Jews don’t take the bait
The Anti-Defamation League has, of course, given its support for the order. Hearteningly, the more progressive (if still ultimately Zionist) J-Street is appropriately appalled. In a statement, it protested that the order will “have a chilling effect on free speech” and will “crack down on campus critics of Israel.”
J Street also refreshingly notes: “It is particularly outrageous and absurd for President Trump to pretend to care about anti-Semitism during the same week in which he once again publicly spouted anti-Semitic tropes about Jews and money.”
Yup. Just days before he signed the executive order, Trump spoke to the Israeli American Council‘s national summit, where he quipped, according to the official White House transcript: “A lot of you are in the real estate business because I know you very well. You’re brutal killers. (Laughter.) Not nice people at all. But you have to vote for me; you have no choice. You’re not going to vote for Pocahontas, I can tell you that. (Laughter and applause.) You’re not going to vote for the wealth tax.”
If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. During his presidential campaign in 2015, Trump famously told the Republican Jewish Coalition: “You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money. You want to control your politicians, that’s fine.”
It’s even more perversely ironic than J-Street notes, however. At the very White House Hanukkah reception where Trump signed the order, among the assembled guests (along with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and the inevitable Alan Dershowitz) was evangelical Baptist preacher Robert Jeffress, who was one of the featured speakers. Jeffress is famous for his unrepentant statement that “you can’t be saved being a Jew.” In a 2009 sermon, he said: “Not only do religions like Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, not only do they lead people away from the true God, they lead people to an eternity of separation from God in hell. You know, Jesus was very clear. Hell is not only going to be populated by murderers and drug dealers and child abusers. Hell is going to be filled with good religious people who have rejected the truth of Christ.” (Sources: Jurist, MSNBC, The Independent, NPR, HuffPo)
Trump has blatantly played to anti-Semitism since he launched his presidential campaign four years ago, and has hardly stopped for a single solitary day—from his Soros-baiting final campaign ad in November 2016, through his open abetting of the wave of hate unleashed by neo-Nazis and their fellow travellers upon his inauguration. After 2017’s Nazi hate-fest that saw deadly violence in Charlottesville, Trump notoriously blamed “many sides” for the violence, and said there were “fine people” on the side that openly displayed the swastika, marched with torches while chanting anti-Jewish slogans, and committed an act of terror.
So if you don’t smell a rat in this guy making a show of concern about anti-Semitism… well, you need to get your nose adjusted.
He only trots out that show of concern when he wants to launder violating the rights of those other than Jews. For instance, he spewed, “We will confront the poison of anti-Semitism”—upon announcing US recognition of the illegal Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights.
This is exploiting Jewish fears and Jewish suffering.
Some American Jews get it. Ann Toback, director of the Workers Circle, New York’s venerable progressive Jewish organization, stated in response to the executive order: “We cannot look to the Trump administration in our fight against hate. Trump himself frequently traffics in anti-Semitic tropes, and much of his rhetoric and policies regularly target our brothers and sisters of other religions, ethnicities, geographic origins, genders and classes in ways all too familiar to our community. As Jews, we must call out all hate, and in particular that perpetrated by the state against those it knowingly scapegoats.”
From Jersey City to the Rhine
The same day Trump signed his order saw the deadly anti-Semitic attack in Jersey City, which left four dead at a kosher market. Trump of course invoked it in his comments at the White House reception. (USA Today) While last year’s Pittsburgh synagogue attack was the work of a white nationalist, the Jersey City perps appear to be followers of the Black Hebrew Israelites, a cult that plugs the sinister-wacky “fake Jews” theory. (CNN) But it is all ideologically linked, and it is all fueled by the Trumpian zeitgeist.
A week before Trump signed his order, more than 100 Jewish graves were defaced with Nazi swastikas in the French town of Westhoffen, near Strasbourg. (The Independent) We note with alarm that this happened one day after the French parliament passed a resolution officially adopting the same IHRA definition of anti-Semitism that Trump invoked in his executive order. It has the strong support of President Emmanuel Macron. (Haaretz)
While we have no trust whatsoever in Trump’s motives, some of these French parliamentarians may think they are helping. They’re wrong. They just made it a whole lot more difficult to oppose anti-Semitism.
Contrary to popular belief, “self-determination” does not automatically imply statehood. A dignified life in the diaspora can also be a form of Jewish self-determination, and plenty of Jews are demanding that instead of rallying around an oppressive settler state. Trump (and Macron) just made our position more untenable.