By John Friend
On Dec. 10, despite heavy criticism, President Donald Trump signed an executive order cracking down on “anti-Semitism” on college campuses around the United States. The presidential decree recognizes Judaism as not only a religious identity but also as a national identity, allowing the federal government and Department of Education to punish colleges and universities that fail to take action against anti-Israel rhetoric and bias, which has largely been equated with anti-Semitism in recent years. The order treats Jewish people as a protected minority and creates “a federal law penalizing colleges and universities deemed to be shirking their responsibility to foster an open climate for minority students,” according to The New York Times.
The Jewish Telegraph Agency reported that the signing of the executive order would take place during a Hanukkah party hosted by the White House.
Congress has introduced similar bipartisan legislation that seeks to combat perceived anti-Semitism, anti-Israel biases, and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement on college campuses. Various local and state governments, including the state of Florida, have also introduced and passed such legislation, which essentially targets individuals and companies that criticize Israel and Zionism more generally or refuse to do business with Israeli companies.
The executive order adopts the working definition of anti-Semitism endorsed by the State Department, which was formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in May 2016. Part of the working definition includes “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” as a manifestation of anti-Semitism. Critics have long argued that such broad interpretations of anti-Semitism amount to any criticism of Israel and its treatment of the Muslim and Christian populations in the region.
“Israeli apartheid is a very hard product to sell in America, especially in progressive spaces,” Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, told the Times in response to the announcement of the executive order. “Realizing this, many Israeli apartheid apologists, Trump included, are looking to silence a debate they know they can’t win.”
Roughly one week prior to news breaking of Trump’s executive order, France’s lower house of Parliament voted to adopt the IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism and to equate “hatred” of Israel as a modern manifestation of anti-Semitism. The resolution has long been lobbied for by the pro-Israel community in both France and the U.S., as well as by Israeli officials in Jerusalem, demonstrating the incredible reach and influence of the pro-Israel lobby worldwide. Other European countries have adopted similar resolutions in recent years.
According to The Times of Israel, the French National Assembly’s resolution “believes that the operational definition used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance allows for the most precise designation of what contemporary anti-Semitism is.” The National Assembly considers the IHRA definition “an effective instrument for combating anti-Semitism in its modern and renewed form, in that it encompasses manifestations of hatred toward the state of Israel justified solely by the perception of the latter as a Jewish collective.”
The organized pro-Israel community praised Trump’s executive order as well as the recently adopted resolution in France as important steps in combating the alleged rise in “anti-Semitism” around the world.
While Trump has struggled to accomplish many of the America-first policies he campaigned on, his administration has tellingly implemented a number of initiatives important to the pro-Israel lobby, including recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, relocating the U.S. embassy there and, most recently, recognizing Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory.
John Friend is a freelance writer based in California.