Rights groups slam Trump's plan to sign anti-Semitism order

Critics say expected executive order will violate free speech rights and unfairly target the BDS movement.

By Jihan Abdalla

December 11, 2019 "Information Clearing House" -  Palestinian groups, free speech advocates and liberal Jewish organisations blasted, on Wednesday, US President Donald Trump's plan to reportedly sign an executive order that would threaten to withhold federal funding from educational institutions that fail to combat a broadened definition of anti-Semitism. 

According to the New York Times, which first reported the plan, the Trump administration is expected to effectively redefine Judaism as a race or nationality. It will also direct the Department of Education to consider the State Department's definition of anti-Semitism when evaluating complaints of discrimination under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination "on the ground of race, colour or national origin" but not religion. 

The State Department's working definition of anti-Semitism, initially adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, has long been criticised as being overly broad. It defines "anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews." It also says manifestations of anti-Semitism "might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity" but "criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic."

Observers say the order will mainly target the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which criticises Israeli policies against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The movement has gained significant popularity in recent years on many campuses across the country. 

BDS has been criticised in the Congress by prominent Republicans and Democrats, and many states have passed bipartisan anti-BDS measures in the form of requiring state contractors to sign pledges not to support it. But several of those laws have been struck down in federal courts as a violation of the First Amendment on free speech. 


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