Members of the Jewish community should rest easy about President Donald Trump’s December 11 executive order on combating Anti-Semitism, despite concerns raised by Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz in his essay on Jewish identity (“Are you an American Jew or a Jewish American?” December. 25). The order does not define Jews as a race or nationality. And it will not infringe on the right to free speech.
The executive order provides that when Jews are discriminated against in federally funded programs or activities, and the discrimination is based on their actual or perceived Jewish ancestry or ethnicity, then they will be protected under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Prior to the order, the U.S. Department of Education was already interpreting Title VI to protect Jewish students at federally funded schools. The department recognized that there are groups — such as Jews, Muslims and Sikhs — that share not only religious but also ethnic characteristics. They would not be denied the protection of our civil rights law on the ground that they share a common faith.
The executive order also requires federal agencies to consider the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism when they enforce Title VI. Rabbi Schwartz cautioned that now “someone can criticize Israel’s policies but not the state itself, or its existence.” Such criticism is “discriminatory and now disqualifies the person who articulates that position from receiving federal funding.”
Not true. The order simply requires that federal agencies consider the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism when they enforce Title VI. The definition appropriately identifies contemporary examples of anti-Semitism, including when targeting Israel may be a manifestation of the problem. The definition gives federal agencies much-needed guidance on the many ways that anti-Semitism can be expressed today.
When the president issued his executive order, the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Department of Education were already using the IHRA definition. It has been adopted by approximately 30 countries around the world.
Requiring consideration of the IHRA definition will not change how Title VI will be enforced one iota. Title VI has always been enforced consistent with the First Amendment and it will continue to be. In fact, the executive order specifically commands that “agencies shall not diminish or infringe upon any right protected under Federal law or under the First Amendment.”
In the Zionist Organization of America’s many years of battling campus anti-Semitism, we have seen a troubling and unacceptable double standard: College administrators ignore the harassment and intimidation of Jewish students yet respond quickly and forcefully when other groups are targeted. Regardless of how we self-identify — as members of a religious group, an ethnic group or both — the Jewish community should applaud an executive order that will sensitize administrators to campus anti-Semitism and encourage them to finally crack down on this serious and growing problem.
Susan B. Tuchman, Esq.