Trump Further Weaponizes Claims of Antisemitism

December 11, 2019

Earlier today, Donald Trump signed an Executive Order (EO) which codifies into federal civil rights a dangerous and overly broad definition of antisemitism in order to criminalize pro-Palestinian organizing and activity. The EO suggests that the Department of Education (DOE) use the definition of antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” which IHRA interprets the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement as satisfying. While the EO only “suggests” the DoE consider this definition, the Trump administration has a demonstrated history of weaponizing claims of antisemitism against the BDS movement and to any anti-Israel rhetoric, even when it comes from Jewish voices.

Additionally, this is not the first time that the Trump administration and the GOP have attempted to codify a conflation of antisemitism with BDS movement activity. Over the past year, Republican members in both the House and Senate introduced a spate of bills which would have criminalized participation in BDS as an expression of antisemitism. We have vehemently opposed these bills, all of which have failed, on the grounds that they violated first amendment rights to political expression and codified a harmful conflation of antisemitism with pro-Palestinian sentiment. This bill is no different. It is an expression of the DOE Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Kenneth Marcus, who has long sought to codify the overly broad definition of antisemitism in order to crack down on the BDS movement and other forms of pro-Palestine advocacy. We opposed Marcus’ nomination in 2017, and we oppose this EO now. 

All of this suggests that, in practice, this EO will offer the DoE ammunition with which to penalize student groups engaging in Palestinian human rights activism and deprive them of funding. Not only is it an abridgment of free speech rights, but of the rights to academic freedom, as many student activists and academic departments will now have to take great pains to prove that they are not guilty of antisemitism. It aims to protect Israeli government from criticism, and its primary targets are Palestinians and people who advocate for Palestinian human rights. 



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