President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order this week which would empower the Department of Education to withhold funding from any college or educational program that fails to take action the administration deems sufficient to tackle anti-Semitism on campus, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.
If it goes into effect, the order would allow a government agency the ability to interpret Jewish identity as a race or national identity, not just a religious affiliation. As the Times noted, the Education Department ― under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ― has the authority to withhold funding from colleges that discriminate “on the ground of race, color, or national origin,” but not on the basis of religion.
The order, news of which sparked backlash on social media Tuesday, would “have the effect of embracing an argument that Jews are a people or a race with a collective national origin in the Middle East, like Italian Americans or Polish Americans,” the Times reported.
Critics of the bill expressed concerns about the order being potentially too broad — and one that could encroach on free speech and silence opposition to Israel’s policies towards Palestinians.
“This executive order … appears designed less to combat anti-Semitism than to have a chilling effect on free speech and to crack down on campus critics of Israel,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of Jewish advocacy group J Street, said in a statement.
Many echoed Ben-Ami’s views on social media.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) urged Republicans to “please let Jews speak for themselves.”
″So the idea that a college campus would have its views on Israel regulated by the federal Department of Education? Oy Gevalt,” he wrote in a tweet.
Some argued that Trump was echoing an anti-Semitic argument peddled by white supremacists like David Duke who have referred to Judaism as a “nationality.”
Halie Soifer, the executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, lambasted the measure as a merely “symbolic” gesture that politicizes Israel and uses “Jews as political pawns.”
“If President Trump truly wanted to address the scourge of anti-Semitism he helped to create, he would accept responsibility for his role emboldening white nationalism, perpetuating anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and repeating stereotypes that have led to violence targeting Jews,” Soifer said in an email statement to HuffPost. “Instead, President Trump continues to view Israel and anti-Semitism solely through a political lens, which he attempts to use to his political advantage.”
Some supporters of the measure have lauded it as an important step towards battling a rising scourge of anti-Semitism on college campuses. The Times said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, was among those who applauded the move.
“Of course we hope it will be enforced in a fair manner. But the fact of the matter is we see Jewish students on college campuses and Jewish people all over being marginalized,” Greenblatt told the paper. “The rise of anti-Semitic incidents is not theoretical; it’s empirical
Some on Twitter welcomed the order as a “positive move.”
The measure is similar to legislation that’s garnered bipartisan support but has stalled in Congress that targets the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement.
BDS is an international non-violent campaign to boycott Israel in an effort to pressure its leaders to end occupation of the West Bank, recognize “full equality” to Palestinian citizens of Israel and allow Palestinian refugees to return to the homes from which they were displaced after Israel’s establishment in 1948.
Trump, who was criticized just this weekend for making anti-Semitic remarks at a Florida event, is expected to sign the executive order on Wednesday.