Trump to sign executive order that defines Judaism as a nationality, not religion

“Students and faculty members will be scared into silence, and administrators will err on the side of suppressing or censuring speech.”

“Students and faculty members will be scared into silence, and administrators will err on the side of suppressing or censuring speech.”

US President Trump is due to sign a new executive order today on Wednesday that will effectively interpret the religion of Judaism as a race or nationality, and not just a religion. This is seen as an attempt to further help a federal law that will penalize college campuses and students from supporting a boycott of Israel.

The US administration has claimed this will help curb discrimination, with some Jewish students reportedly feeling uncomfortable at the visibility of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement in many US campuses. The BDS movement is a peaceful attempt at boycotting Israeli goods and products to highlight the plight of the Palestinians as well as to help foster a discussion around restoring Palestinian statehood. The open support of BDS obviously falls under free speech.

Trump’s administration has also expressed its concern with anti-Semitism, an issue that needs serious discussion, however critics of this new executive order point towards the irrelevance of the bill and curbing anti-Semitism, By almost re-defining Judaism as a nationality and not a religion, this essentially merges the notions of being Israeli and being Jewish together – something that is not the case for a large majority of those to adhere to the religion across the world.

Yousef Munayyer, the Executive Director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, criticised the new bill as an attempt to silence the right to campaign for Palestinian human rights:

Israeli apartheid is a very hard product to sell in America, especially in progressive spaces. And realizing this, many Israeli apartheid apologists, Trump included, are looking to silence a debate they know they can’t win. [This campaign] is to silence Palestinian rights activism.”

Despite Trump’s new executive order, supported by his son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner, the President does not have an encouraging track record when it comes to supporting Jewish Americans or combating anti-Semitism. Most notably during the white supremacist riots in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, Trump turned a blind eye to the anti-Semitic remarks prevalent during the riots, which included protesters shouting “Jews will not replace us”.

Only last weekend as well, during a speech to the Israeli American Council in Florida, Trump told the mostly Jewish audience they were “not nice people” but would help his re-election because “you’re not going to vote for the wealth tax”. Trump’s blatant anti-Semitism clashes with his staunch pro-Israeli stance, however, with his close relationship with both Israel and Netanyahu a worrying example of a blatant disregard for Palestinian rights.

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Moving the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, supporting the illegal building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and recognizing the stolen lands of the Golan Heights as Israeli are only a few examples of Trump’s move towards normalizing a complete disregard for international law.

Trump’s new order will help give powers to the Education Department in withholding funding for colleges accused of anti-Semitism, which can include the support of the BDS movement. Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the department can withhold funding if a college is found guilty of discriminating based on “race, color, or national origin”. Religion was not included in the list, but with Trump’s new executive order, Judaism is now considered a national origin and colleges can therefore now be found guilty of discrimination and anti-Semitism if they are in any way anti-Israel or pro-Palestine.

The American Civil Liberties Union was just one of the groups heavily critical of Trump’s new order, stating that it may lead the country down a rabbit hole of penalizing universities and students for simply expressing a political opinion:

It cannot and must not be that our civil rights laws are used in such a way to penalize political advocacy on the basis of viewpoint. Students and faculty members will be scared into silence, and administrators will err on the side of suppressing or censuring speech.”

As Palestinian statehood and human rights continue to be disregarded and ignored, Trump’s new executive order is yet another worrying move on the part of the US when it comes to ignoring international law and human rights conventions.

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