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Trump to sign executive order defining Judaism as a nationality

Free speech advocates fear broader definition of antisemitism could limit criticism of Israeli government policies towards Palestinians

Samuel Osborne
Wednesday 11 December 2019 10:21 GMT
Trump signs executive order defining Judaism as a nationality

Donald Trump will sign an executive order effectively defining Judaism as a nationality, not just a religion, in what the White House has described as an order to combat antisemitism on US college campuses.

The move has already been criticised by free speech advocates, who were concerned a broader definition of antisemitism could be used to limit criticism of Israel’s government.

The order will widen the federal government’s definition of antisemitism and instruct it to be used in enforcing laws against discrimination on college campuses, several US officials told the Associated Press.

The US president himself has used antisemitic tropes, including making comments about Jews and money.

However, he has also closely aligned himself with Israel, such as by moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and reversing the government’s four-decade policy on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank by saying it no longer considers them inconsistent with international law.

Mr Trump is expected to order the Department of Education to consider the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, which can include criticism of Israel, when evaluating discrimination complaints under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

The definition says antisemitism may include “targeting of the state of Israel”. But one official told the Associated Press the order was not intended to limit freedom of expression and was not intended to suppress the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Israel’s government has urged its allies to rein in the boycott movement, which has caused tensions as it proliferates across US campuses. Backers of the movement have denied it is antisemitic and say they are critical of the Israeli government’s policies towards Palestinians, not of Jews.

Another official said the order was a response to an alarming rise in the number of antisemitic incidents on US campuses and would give Jewish students who are discriminated against on religious grounds the same recourse as black students victimised by racism.

White supremacist propaganda on US campuses has risen by 7 per cent from the last academic year, which ended in May, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.

Mr Trump was encouraged to sign the order by Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and a senior White House adviser, according to the New York Times.

The Republican Jewish Coalition has celebrated the move, with the group’s chairman, former senator Norm Coleman, describing it as “a truly historic and important moment for Jewish Americans” and saying Mr Trump was “the most pro-Jewish president” in US history.

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