'A dangerous move to silence free speech': Jewish groups react to Trump's plan to designate Judaism as a nationality

'Trump has never cared about stopping antisemitism — this executive order is about silencing Palestinians and the people who speak up with them'

Clark Mindock
New York
Wednesday 11 December 2019 18:13 GMT
Trump claims pro-Israel group will vote for him to protect their wealth

Donald Trump’s plan to designate Judaism as a “nationality” through executive order has been met with criticism by progressive Jewish organisations, who say the proposal is just another act of antisemitism from the president.

The White House has claimed the effort would help to fight antisemitism on college campuses, and would trigger a portion of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires educational institutions receiving federal funding to not discriminate based on national origin.

Those protections would, however, also allow the administration to fight back against anti-Israel divestment sentiments on college campuses across the country, by forcing schools to view those acts as discriminatory.

“Trump’s executive order is not about keeping Jews safe. After a week in which he spewed classic antisemtiic tropes about Jews and money, this is just more anti-Semitism,” wrote Emily Mayer, the political director of the Jewish advocacy group IfNotNow, in a statement. “The order’s move to define Judaism as a ‘nationality’ promotes the classically bigoted idea that American Jews are not American.”

Ms Mayer continued: “This order is a dangerous move to silence the free speech of human rights advocates and, in particular, Palestinian and Muslim college students.”

Mr Trump had come under fire for antisemitic remarks over the weekend, after delivering a speech at an Israeli American Council conference in Florida, where he told the pro-Israel attendees that they had no choice but to vote for him in 2020, because Democrats have proposed plans to increase taxes on the wealthy.

But, while Mr Trump has been met with claims of antisemitism, he has remained a steadfast ally of the current administration in Israel — and the powerful Israel lobby in Washington — taking historic steps that have included relocating the US embassy to Israel to Jerusalem.

Detractors argue that the president’s moves to designate Judaism as a nationality and other efforts only amount to an effort to curtail the powerful and growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that seeks to pressure Israel to put an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories it captured in 1967.

That movement has been championed by colleges in the United States, including, notably, institutions like Harvard University.

“Trump has never cared about stopping antisemitism — this executive order is about silencing Palestinians and the people who speak up with them,” said Alissa Wise, a rabbi and activist with the group Jewish Voice for Peace.

The president’s planned executive order did find its champions in the Jewish community, too.

Danny Ayalon, the founder of the group Truth About Israel and a former deputy foreign minister for Israel, tweeted praise following the initial reports, which were documented in The New York Times.

“Thank you @realDonaldTrump for signing this important executive order to fight #AntiSemitism on college campuses,” Mr Ayalon wrote.

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