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Opinion: Trump's executive order is critical to combating anti-Semitism

Recognizing Judaism's racial roots is a stepping stone to effectively countering anti-Semitism on campus

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"The formal recognition of Judaism's ethnic roots can effectively combat anti-Semitism on campus." Illustration published on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020.


Last November, the ASU community witnessed a surge of anti-Semitic flyers scattered across campus. These flyers, depicting the message "love not hate," with a Swastika in place of the "o" in "love" and a Star of David in place of the "a" in "hate," caused increased worry and tension among Jewish and non-Jewish community members alike. 

READ MORE: Fliers with a swastika found around ASU's Tempe campus

If it wasn't apparent by the 1,879 anti-Semitic incidents recorded in the United States in 2018 by the Anti-Defamation League, discrimination against Jewish people is very much active.

On Dec. 11, 2019, President Donald Trump issued an executive order granting Jews protection from discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. This order serves the primary effect of combating the rise of anti-Semitism, primarily on college campuses. 

According to White House officials who spoke with the New York Times, the order threatens, "to withhold federal money from educational institutions that fail to combat discrimination."

The executive order is a crucial instrument in the arduous process of eradicating anti-Semitism on college campuses and ensuring that every single member of the community feels welcomed and safe. 

Holding educational institutions accountable for not actively employing measures to reduce discrimination is the most effective way of doing so, especially at a university such as ASU that is measured, "not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes."

The order's many critics, however, viewed this course of action as nothing more than an infringement upon free speech and a political weapon to give deference to Israel.

The order is not an intentional hindrance of free speech and expression. Merely, so long as Jews are discriminated on the basis of their racial or national origin, they will be protected under the law — just like any oppressed minority ethnic group. 

It is obvious throughout the white supremacist themes surrounding many anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses, including at ASU, that the discrimination of Jews is altogether separate from religion. It's racially motivated, and it's time to acknowledge that.

Furthermore, popular misconceptions held within faulty interpretations conflate the opposition against Israel's politics with anti-Semitism, despite nothing in the language of the order suggesting so. What is anti-Israel in the context of politics is not anti-Jewish, although rhetoric within groups such as the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement can make the distinction very murky.

At the epicenter of these criticisms, however, is a flawed interpretation of the order, largely fueled by an overall disdain of President Trump. While there are a countless number of reasons to be critical of Trump's administration, this executive order highlights one of the more positive outcomes stemming from his executive power. 

While its intention was made explicit, the order carries broader implications for how Judaism is defined by reinforcing the U.S. Department of Education's consideration of shared ethnic characteristics as the basis for discrimination.

The timeless question of how to define Judaism still remains ambiguous and contentious.

“Judaism is unique — in that the way you would define a Jew is very weird because you wouldn’t define it by action,” Rabbi Yehuda Weiss, of Jewish Arizonans on Campus at ASU, said.

"People would call somebody whose parents were Jewish, 'Jewish' even if they didn’t believe in Judaism; and people would call somebody 'not Jewish' if their parents weren’t Jewish but they believed in Judaism," Weiss said. 

While the beauty of what it means to be Jewish lies in its subjectivity, the only way to prevent abuse is to utilize a consistent, all-encompassing system of recognizing anti-Semitism; namely, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of anti-Semitism as adopted through the executive order.

The government's exercise of rule and authority should be few and far between, but in the event when the safety of individuals and society is compromised, it is the essential function of a responsible government to provide protection from harm, or at the very least, attempt to provide protection. Rule-making may not necessarily be the direct end to hatred, but it is a crucial start on the path to harm prevention.

Weiss said that most of the Jews he knows are happy that Trump is helping fight against anti-Semitism.

"I’m not sure that making rules is the way to get rid of people who hate somebody for no reason, but I’m grateful that there are rules in place because it may prevent some of the people some of the time," Weiss said.

Alongside the rule-making, he placed an emphasis on character-building in order to create real change.

Is there a silver lining amongst the dark, stormy clouds of anti-Semitism?

"As often happens in history, one good thing about anti-Semitism is that it unites Jewish people," Weiss said. "In ways that they wouldn’t have otherwise."


Reach the columnist at eggold@asu.edu or follow @EGG0LD on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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