What speech counts as anti-Semitic?

Or­der would wi­den scope of com­plaints on col­lege cam­puses

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD - By Elana Schor

NEW YORK — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s or­der to ex­pand the scope of po­ten­tial anti-Semitism com­plaints on col­lege cam­puses is rais­ing the stakes of an al­ready tense bat­tle over how to de­fine dis­crim­i­na­tion against Jews.

The ex­ec­u­tive or­der Trump signed Wed­nes­day tells the Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment, when vet­ting al­leged Civil Rights Act vi­o­la­tions that can lead to a loss of schools’ fed­eral fund­ing, to con­sider a def­i­ni­tion of an­tiSemitism that could in­clude some crit­i­cism of Is­rael. Sev­eral ma­jor Jewish Amer­i­can or­ga­ni­za­tions hailed the or­der, but more lib­eral-lean­ing groups warned it could be used to muf­fle cam­pus or­ga­niz­ing against the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment and in sup­port of Pales­tinian rights.

Be­hind that di­vide are po­lit­i­cally volatile ques­tions: When does speech about Is­rael cross the line into anti-Semitism, and who is qual­i­fied to draw that line?

For sup­port­ers of Trump’s or­der — which is aligned with bi­par­ti­san leg­is­la­tion that had stalled — the dis­tinc­tion is a clear mat­ter of rein­ing in those who would ques­tion Is­rael’s right to ex­ist as a Jewish state.

“There is no ques­tion that peo­ple have the right to crit­i­cize Is­rael. Jews, and non-Jews, do it very well,” said World Jewish Congress Pres­i­dent Ronald Lauder, who has fi­nan­cially backed the GOP but re­cently launched a $25 mil­lion project aimed at fight­ing an­tiSemitism on both sides of the aisle.

“But the fact is that when crit­i­cism goes into at­tacks on the state, the Jewish state, that goes over the line.”

The or­der does not men­tion Is­rael but cites the In­ter­na­tional Holo­caust Re­mem­brance Al­liance’s sug­gested ex­am­ples of an­tiSemitism, which in­clude “claim­ing that the ex­is­tence of a state of Is­rael is a racist en­deavor.”

Jared Kush­ner, Trump’s son-in-law and se­nior ad­viser, wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed that the or­der’s broad­ened def­i­ni­tion would con­vey the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s po­si­tion that “an­tiZion­ism

is anti-Semitism.”

Crit­ics of Trump’s or­der take a more nu­anced view, warn­ing that the new def­i­ni­tion prom­ises to blur the bound­ary be­tween le­git­i­mate op­po­si­tion to what they see as un­fair Is­raeli gov­ern­ment poli­cies and anti-Semitism.

Emily Mayer, po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tor of the lib­eral Jewish Amer­i­can group IfNotNow, de­scribed the or­der as a vic­tory for ef­forts “to dis­credit any cri­tique of Is­rael, Is­raeli poli­cies or how Jewish supremacy has been cod­i­fied within the Is­raeli state — to try to de­scribe that as anti-Semitism.”

Those con­cerned about blunt-force ap­pli­ca­tion of the or­der of­ten point to the pres­i­dent who ap­proved it. Trump has been chided for echo­ing anti-Semitic stereo­types, and lib­eral Jewish Amer­i­cans say his ad­min­is­tra­tion is ill-equipped to en­force a new stan­dard for on-cam­pus anti-Semitism.

The or­der “can’t be viewed solely in the vac­uum of the words on the page,” said Halie Soifer, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Jewish Demo­cratic Coun­cil of Amer­ica.

Soifer called for a greater fo­cus by the ad­min­is­tra­tion on the rise of vi­o­lent white na­tion­al­ism, not­ing that “while anti-Semitism is a prob­lem on col­lege cam­puses, it’s not solely a prob­lem on col­lege cam­puses.”

On cam­puses, where pro-Pales­tinian crit­i­cism of Is­rael can run high, the or­der’s ef­fect may be felt sooner than later.

Aaron Hei­de­man, 22, a ju­nior at Yeshiva Univer­sity, praised the pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion to is­sue the or­der and said it will help his friends at sec­u­lar uni­ver­si­ties who have run into prob­lems. “I’m happy that they’ll have more in­ner peace,” Hei­de­man said.

Anti-Semitic in­ci­dents on cam­puses rose by 89% be­tween 2016 and 2017, ac­cord­ing to an Anti-Defama­tion League au­dit re­leased last year.

In ad­di­tion, Vir­ginia GOP

Rep. Den­ver Rig­gle­man wrote to Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy DeVos on Wed­nes­day seek­ing a re­view of fed­eral fund­ing for Ge­orge­town Univer­sity’s Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arab Stud­ies, al­leg­ing an­tiSemitic ac­tiv­ity by fac­ulty.

Rig­gle­man’s let­ter points to fac­ulty sup­port­ive of an in­ter­na­tional anti-Is­rael boy­cott move­ment that has grown in pop­u­lar­ity on cam­puses. The Trump White House has re­peat­edly de­cried the move­ment as dis­crim­i­na­tory, and the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives has passed bi­par­ti­san leg­is­la­tion op­pos­ing it.

Or­ga­niz­ers of the boy­cott cam­paign say their op­po­si­tion lies with Is­raeli poli­cies, not with Jews. But the par­al­lels they draw be­tween Is­rael and the op­pres­sive apartheid-era South African gov­ern­ment have fu­eled charges of anti-Semitism.

Among the prom­i­nent Jewish Amer­i­can groups who view the boy­cott move­ment as anti-Semitic is the Anti-Defama­tion League, which praised Trump’s or­der. The league’s web­site states that an­tiZion­ism “may be mo­ti­vated by or re­sult in anti-Semitism, or it may cre­ate a cli­mate in which anti-Semitism be­comes more ac­cept­able.”

The league’s CEO, Jonathan Green­blatt, said that de­bat­ing the ex­is­tence of the Jewish state could be a suit­able topic for an aca­demic sem­i­nar.

“But in the world in which we live, Amer­ica 2019, anti-Zion­ism is an­tiSemitism,” Green­blatt con­tin­ued. “When you would deny Jewish peo­ple the right of self-de­ter­mi­na­tion ... when you’d hold them to a dif­fer­ent stan­dard than you would other peo­ple.”

LUIS AN­DRES HENAO/AP

Yeshiva Univer­sity stu­dents Aaron Hei­de­man, left, and Marc Shapiro study in the univer­sity’s li­brary in New York on Thurs­day. Hei­de­man said the pres­i­dent’s or­der will help his friends at sec­u­lar uni­ver­si­ties who have run into prob­lems.

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