Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order on Wednesday targeting antisemitism on college campuses.
First reported by the New York Times, the policy would broaden the federal definition of antisemitism, according to administration officials who spoke to various news outlets on condition of anonymity. By expanding protections granted by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to people subjected to antisemitism, the order could also redefine Judaism as a race or nationality.
Title VI bars discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin at colleges and universities that receive federal funding. One official said Trump’s order would make it clear that Title VI will apply to antisemitism as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. That definition says antisemitism may include “targeting of the state of Israel”.
The move has drawn criticism from those who worry that such a characterization of Judaism as a race or nation is itself antisemitic. Free-speech advocates also have concerns that a broader definition of antisemitism might be used to limit criticism of Israeli government actions.
A second official insisted the order was not intended to limit freedom of expression and was not aimed at suppressing the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement known as BDS, which aims to support Palestinian aspirations for statehood by refusing to purchase Israeli products or invest in Israeli companies. The movement is on the rise, sparking tension on many college campuses.
The Israeli government has urged allies to rein in the boycott movement, while its backers deny antisemitism charges and describe themselves as critical of Israeli decision-making, not Jewish people.
A third official said the order was a response to an alarming rise in the number of antisemitic incidents on campuses and would mean that Jewish students who are discriminated against for their religion have the same kind of recourse as black students who are victimized by racism.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said it recorded 201 antisemitic incidents at colleges and universities in 2018, down from 204 in the previous year.
The Republican Jewish Coalition applauded the move, with the group’s chairman, the former senator Norm Coleman, calling it “a truly historic and important moment for Jewish Americans” and hailing Trump as “the most pro-Jewish president” in the nation’s history.
The Trump administration has previously acted to constrain perceived campus antisemitism, last year reopening a case of alleged discrimination against Jewish students at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
The ADL and the Academic Engagement Network released model guidelines for faculty in November after two instructors at the University of Michigan declined to write letters of recommendation for students seeking to study abroad in Israel.
Trump delivered a speech on Saturday night that featured remarks from a recent New York University graduate who had accused the school of failing to protect its Jewish students from harassment.