This past Tuesday night I received an email from a congregant expressing concern about an Executive Order about to be signed by President Trump that purportedly would define American Jews as a nation. The purpose of the EO was to withhold federal funds from colleges who fail to protect their students from anti-Semitism. While this congregant thought federal safeguards for Jewish students was a good thing, he worried about Jews being defined as a nation, which could call into question whether American Jews are loyal to the United States.
Over the course of 24 hours, I received other messages from congregants expressing concern about the Executive Order. So I took the opportunity to research the content of the EO. I read a number of blogs expressing different perspectives. I also turned for guidance from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization that has been monitoring and combating anti-Semitism for decades.
I have come to the conclusion that fears about the Executive Order are exaggerated.
Since May, 2016 (during the Obama Administration) the State Department has utilized a definition of anti-Semitism that was created by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). This comprehensive definition is well worth reviewing. You can read it here.
On Wednesday, the president’s Executive Order utilizes the IHRA’s definition in determining whether colleges are ensuring that Jewish students are not subjected to anti-Semitism. There is nothing in the EO that defines Jews as a nation.
The ADL’s executive director, Jonathan Greenblatt, has expressed his organization’s support for the Executive Order stating, “Anti-Semitism on campus is a critical issue and we at ADL have supported bipartisan efforts to improve the federal tools to combat it for years. In a climate of rising anti-Semitism, this Executive Order provides valuable guidance on anti-Semitism, giving law enforcement and campus officials an important additional tool to help identify and fight this pernicious hate. It also reaffirms protection of Jews under Title VI without infringing on First Amendment rights. These are all important steps forward.”
I appreciate that congregants have asked me for my interpretation of the president’s Executive Order. If you are interested in reading further about the EO, you can find commentary at ADL’s FAQ.