Fresh off his anti-Semitic barnstorming spree in Florida, in which he called his Israeli-American audience “brutal killers,” Pres. Trump is trying to make it up to us. He’s tied up a nice holiday package in bows and ribbons and left it on the doorstep of Kenneth Marcus, head of the Education Department’s civil rights division. Marcus has made it his life’s work to ferret out anti-Semitism on U.S. college campuses. He was thwarted in this mission when he was deputy chief under Pres. Bush. when courts and universities rejected all such claims. But with his promotion to division chief under Secretary Betsy DeVos, Marcus is newly empowered to root out the anti-Semites lurking in the halls of academia.
Recently, the University of North Carolina caved to one of his investigations, settling a case which required them to conduct sensitivity training of staff about issues of anti-Semitism. Marcus also found that Middle East studies courses were hopelessly biased against Israel and in favor of Islam. But the settlement offered him no opportunity to muck about in course offerings or curriculum.
Trump determined after reading the bad press he got from the IAC speech, that he needed to throw a sop to all those angry Jews. So he will sign an executive order tomorrow banning anti-Semitism on campuses. Schools found to be permitting such violations would stand to lose federal funding.
Marcus had one problem with folding anti-Semitism into existing federal statutes prohibiting campus discrimination: they were formulated to combat racism and gender bias. But anti-Semitism did not fall under this rubric. Therefore, discrimination against Jews will henceforth be defined as race-based. That means that the Education Department is doing to Jews exactly what the Nazis did to us: defining us as a race:
The order will effectively interpret Judaism as a race or nationality, not just a religion, to prompt a federal law penalizing colleges and universities deemed to be shirking their responsibility to foster an open climate for minority students.
Judaism is a religion, not a race and not a nationality. That is the error that Israeli Zionists make when they conflate Israel with Judaism.
Trump’s Order is deeply problematic for other reasons as well: it will use the IRHA “working definition” of anti-Semitism as the basis for determining a finding of discrimination. As most of you know, IHRA is not a definition of anti-Semitism at all. It is a means to muzzle all speech critical of Israel. It is a fraud. And now Ken Marcus has inveigled the federal government to protect Israeli interests, not Jewish students, on U.S. campuses.
Professors who teach courses including Palestine in their curriculum can be brought before federal investigators and accused of anti-Semitism. Not only will their own departments suffer financially, the entire university might be penalized. Even students participating in Students for Justice in Palestine could be hauled before federal Torquemadas and forced to confess their sins. Anyone who advocates or even mentions issues like BDS will stand accused of anti-Semitism.
As you might have expected, Jonathan Greenblatt’s ADL is delighted with the new policy:
“Of course we hope it will be enforced in a fair manner,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is we see Jewish students on college campuses and Jewish people all over being marginalized. The rise of anti-Semitic incidents is not theoretical; it’s empirical.”
How will it be enforced in a “fair manner” when the only targets will be Palestinians and supporters of Palestinian rights? That in itself will indicate an ethnic bias. How will it be fair when even Jewish or Israeli professors who broach these subjects in their courses can be accused of anti-Semitism?
Another egregious error in his statement is the claim that BDS, advocacy of Palestinian rights, and any other activity deemed discriminatory under this new Order cause anti-Semitism. This is not just wrong. It’s stupid and counter-factual. What really causes anti-Semitism? Speeches like Trump’s last weekend. Comments from the president that murdering white supremacists are “really fine people.”
Another troubling aspect is that there are billionaire pro-Israel enablers of Trump, like Ronald Lauder, who made this revolting defense of the president:
…Lauder, who has known…Trump for decades, said the president’s 2019 State of the Union address had settled the matter [of anti-Semitism] for him, when Mr. Trump declared: “We must never ignore the vile poison of anti-Semitism, or those who spread its venomous creed.”
“I don’t believe there is an anti-Semitic bone in his body,” Mr. Lauder said of Mr. Trump. “He set the record straight, as far as I’m concerned, in front of the whole nation.”
During the worst of the Holocaust, there were Jews who collaborated with the Nazis in order to save their own lives and those of their families. But no Jew ever praised Hitler as Lauder has Trump. No Jew ever denied Hitler was an anti-Semite. Lauder is worse than deplorable. He’s a traitor to his people and an enabler of anti-Jewish hate.
The NY Times article I linked above contains this troubling passage:
…[Trump] has positioned himself as an unflinching supporter of Israel and a champion of Jewish Americans, moving the United States Embassy to Jerusalem, supporting settlements in the West Bank and recognizing the seizure of the Golan Heights.
Yes, Trump has positioned himself in this way. But there is no context offered regarding how American Jews have responded. They have soundly rejected everything he stands for. 61% of the Jewish community disapproves of him as president. Only 29% approve. Further, Jews reject not only his presidency, but his specific policies regarding Israel. Polls show most of us reject recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the annexation of the Golan. Most of us reject settlements as illegal. Most of us will reject, if it ever sees the light of day, the vaunted Kusher-Trump Middle East peace plan.
So if he is anyone’s champion, it’s that thin slice of Orthodox Jews and wealthy pro-Israel oligarchs like Lauder. A distinct minority. And every news report should reinforce this rather than taking Trump’s claims at face value.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.