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Is Donald Trump's Executive Order Defining Judaism as a Nationality Anti-Semitic? It's Complicated

By Dustin Rowles | Politics | December 11, 2019 |

By Dustin Rowles | Politics | December 11, 2019 |


One of our favorite podcasts around these parts is Reply All, a Gimlet Media podcast about the Internet. There are a lot of fascinating stories and investigations and the hosts Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt have freakishly amazing chemistry together. One of their best segments is called “Yes, Yes, No,” where Alex Blumberg — who runs Gimlet Media and is an older guy, basically asks PJ and Alex Goldman to explain a tweet to him. It’s brilliant, even if you already know what the tweet means, like the most recent YYN, “Area 51, but for going to Bret Stephens house and calling him a bedbug.”

Anyway, in an effort to try and explain Donald Trump’s latest executive order, I’m going to YYN this tweet because it tells you basically everything you need to know about the EO:

That’s a really smart tweet, but let’s unpack it. Today, Donald Trump will sign an Executive Order interpreting Judaism as a race or nationality, not just a religion. Sort of. Understanding who is behind the Executive Order — a guy who made a number of nasty anti-Semitic attacks on American Jews over the weekend in a room full of American Jews — leaves a lot Jews and liberals suspicious for obvious reasons. This is particularly true because the EO interprets Judaism as a “nationality,” and given all the accusations of dual loyalty leveled against American Jews by Trump (repeatedly), Ilhan Omar, and even California Rep. Ted Lieu, American Jews are obviously and appropriately sensitive to any suggestion that their nationality is anything other than American.

So, the executive order is anti-Semitic? Well …? It’s easy to jump to the conclusion and assume that an anti-Semitic President would sign an anti-Semitic Executive Order designed to other Jews, but that’s not exactly what’s going on here. The NYTimes jumped the gun last night with there piece and mischaracterized the language. From Slate: “The text of the order, which leaked on Wednesday, does not redefine Judaism as a race or nationality … It only deviates from past practice by suggesting that harsh criticism of Israel—specifically, the notion that it is “a racist endeavor”—may be used as evidence to prove anti-Semitic intent.”

The order’s interpretation of Title VI, as it did under Obama, affords American Jews more civil rights protections under federal law, which is good! A lot of American Jews have been pushing for legislation to this effect for years, and Democrats have lobbied for these protections in the past. In fact, when the Dems pushed it, it was called “The anti-Semitism Awareness Act,” which was approved by the Anti-Defamation League. The reality is, this is not new. The Supreme Court — with the support of liberal justices — has even classified Jews (and Arabs) as race/nationality in order to offer more civil rights protections. In fact, the EO will also endorse a definition of anti-Semitism published in 2016 by the International Holocaust Research Association.

So this is good? Well, now, wait a second. I didn’t say that, either. It’s not good, but for reasons that may not be immediately apparent. Let’s back up to the tweet above:

This is what is at the heart of the Executive Order. It is not designed to discriminate against Jews. But it’s not designed to protect Jews from discrimination, either. It’s designed to prevent pro-Palestinian groups from boycotting Israel. Basically, it’s an anti-BDS Movement Executive Order.

The billionaire referred to above is Betsy DeVos, whose family basks in the wealth of their Amway fortune. She wanted this Executive Order so that she could punish colleges that allow the BDS Movement to flourish by depriving those colleges of federal grants for discriminating against Israel.

If the EO were as the NYTimes characterized it — and that caused Twitter to explode last night — it would be anti-Semitic. But the EO is really an attack on the First Amendment, designed to prevent college students from doing to other Israeli companies what they did to Sodastream. The EO was designed to put Israeli business interests over the First Amendment interests of Americans. Now, personally, I do not agree with the BDS Movement for reasons that are too complicated to get into here, but I also do not agree with this Executive Order. No college should be punished because its students protest the actions of Israel. Besides, the civil rights protections afforded to Jews under this EO were already codified in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. This EO is just a gnarly way to drum up more support among Trump’s base of evangelicals and conservative Jews.

To be clear, the EO is not anti-Semitic — Jews supported it when it was pushed by Democrats — but it is not designed by Trump to prevent anti-Semitism, either. It’s designed to prevent anti-Israel speech. It’s not designed to prevent discrimination, so much as it is insidiously designed to attack the First Amendment under the guise of protecting Jews from discrimination. In other words, it is to anti-Semitism what Jameela Jamil is to white feminism: It claims to be against it, but it’s really interested only in itself.

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