Yesterday, President Trump signed an executive order that will enable the government to consider discrimination against Jews to be a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. This means that colleges and universities can lose federal funding if they fail to combat discrimination against Jewish students. Trump’s move is a response to the growing number of anti-Semitic incidents on our campuses.
To receive Title VI protection, Jews must be considered a nationality for purposes of federal civil rights law. If Jews are deemed only members of a religion, the protection doesn’t apply.
In response to word that Trump was going to sign this Executive Order, the New York Times complained that Trump was redefining American Jews as a separate nationality. Two of the Times’ most prominent reporters, Maggie Haberman and Peter Baker, said that “Mr. Trump’s order will 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.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal picked up this ball and claimed that Trump’s move “smacks not only of what happened in the Soviet Union but also Nazi German.” Thus, did Blumenthal, a known liar, try compare an order to protect Jews from anti-Semitism to Nazi Germany.
But Yair Rosenberg of Tablet pointed out that the underlying rule here adopts an Obama-era distinction that protects Jews as a nationality because racists view them this way. Slate’s Mark Stern, a liberal, said “the order’s interpretation of Title VI — insofar as the law applies to Jews — is entirely in line with the Obama administration’s approach.” He added, “the New York Times absolutely blew this story.”
Mainstream Jewish advocacy groups like the Anti-Defamation League praised Trump’s measure, thus further giving the lie to Blumenthal’s alleged concern.
Some critics have raised a more substantial concern about using Title VI to combat anti-Semitism on campus — the possibility that doing so might infringe on free speech, including speech about Israel. When the government threatens to cut off funding to colleges based on what is said on campus, there is always the danger that free speech might be unduly curbed.
However, the left is fine with the government threatening to cut off funding to colleges that don’t act against alleged (and dubious) cases of racism, sexism, etc. Thus, it’s difficult to take seriously the hand wringing over the possibility that the government will also act against campus anti-Semitism.
It’s worth noting in this regard that Trump has already signed an executive order protecting free speech on campus. This administration is far more solicitous towards the free expression of ideas on campus than its predecessor.
In sum, the latest executive order is a welcome way of addressing well-founded concerns about anti-Semitism and discrimination on campus. As with other executive orders, it’s possible that the government will interpret and enforce it in a over-bearing way. However, there is no reason to assume that it will.