On Tuesday night, The New York Times reported that President Donald Trump would sign an executive order directing federal agencies to apply the anti-discrimination provisions of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to Jews. Federal agencies would protect Jews the same way they protect racial minorities from discrimination. Yet angry liberals read that Trump would make “Judaism” a nationality and jumped to the conclusion that this was the beginning of an American Holocaust.
The Times tweeted the story with a rather confusing message. “President Trump will sign an executive order defining Judaism as a nationality, not just a religion, thus bolstering the Education Department’s efforts to stamp out ‘Boycott Israel’ movements on college campuses.” The order would indeed combat some Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) activists, but less for their views and more for the horrific harassment and violence they direct at Jews on college campuses.
Anti-Trump partisans saw the “defining Judaism as a nationality, not just a religion,” and ran with it.
Freelance climate-change journalist Erin Biba called the move “antisemitic as f**k and absolutely horrifying in every possible way. Sounds like a good way to start deporting Jews!” She went on to warn that Adolf Hitler did exactly the same thing…
“Anyway, Hitler kicked off the Holocaust with the Nuremberg Laws that, among other things, declared German Jews weren’t of German nationality. So Trump signing an executive order declaring Judaism it’s [sic] own nationality is….well not great for us descendants of Holocaust survivors,” Biba tweeted.
“Do we get new passports or just a yellow star?” asked climate scientist Peter Gleick. He was referring to the yellow stars Nazis forced Jews to wear.
Do we get new passports or just a yellow star? https://t.co/pIrOZEnSGG
— Peter Gleick (@PeterGleick) December 11, 2019
Wired’s Steve Silberman asked a similar question: “Does this Judaism ‘as a nationality’ thing come with cool yellow badges, or does that come later?”
Does this Judaism "as a nationality" thing come with cool yellow badges, or does that come later?
— Steve Silberman (@stevesilberman) December 11, 2019
Singer Holly Figueroa O’Reilly tweeted, “Wait, so…Jews who live in America are no longer American? Or will they have dual citizenship? Where will they live? Will they have a separate state? Will they be taken to this separate state by, I dunno, trains? Will they be living in, say, camps? So many questions.”
Former New York Times journalist Kurt Eichenwald compared Trump’s executive order protecting Jews to notorious anti-Semite and former KKK leader David Duke. “Here is David Duke, whose arguments Trump has just affirmed by executive order claiming that Judaism is, as Duke consistently claims, a nationality,” he tweeted.
Here is David Duke, whose arguments Trump has just affirmed by executive order claiming that Judaism is, as Duke consistently claims, a nationality. pic.twitter.com/jyLahGbM2z
— Kurt Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) December 10, 2019
Others condemned the move without resorting to Hitler or KKK comparisons.
“This is obscene, offensive and deeply wrong. I am an American. That is my nationality. Suggesting Judaism is a nationality plays into the hands of the anti-semites promoting their dual loyalty slur. It also conflates Judaism and Zionism which are not the same. At all,” tweeted David Rothkopf.
This is obscene, offensive and deeply wrong. I am an American. That is my nationality. Suggesting Judaism is a nationality plays into the hands of the anti-semites promoting their dual loyalty slur. It also conflates Judaism and Zionism which are not the same. At all. https://t.co/RLhr47ERqM
— David Rothkopf (@djrothkopf) December 11, 2019
Yet even he was working from a flawed understanding of the order. The Times tweet badly misled its audience, leading some to think, “WOW TRUMP BAD JEWS NO NATIONALITY.” In reality, as one Twitter user explained, “title VI does not bar discrimination for religion, thus to stop anti-semitism on campuses judaism must be categorized as a national origin.”
NYT: *extremely misleading title of article*
Everyone: *only reads headline*
Everyone: WOW TRUMP BAD JEWS NO NATIONALITY
Reality: title VI does not bar discrimination for religion, thus to stop anti-semitism on campuses judaism must be categorized as a national origin pic.twitter.com/pBOIq9ILsH
— natalie (@naeriface) December 11, 2019
All the Trump-Is-Hitler outrage showed just how little of the actual article these partisans read.
Among those welcoming the order on Tuesday was Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, who said the group recorded its third-highest level of anti-Semitic episodes in the United States last year.
“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.”
Huh. So, if Trump is Hitler, then is the ADL also Hitler?
The Times article also noted that Trump’s executive order will be “essentially replicating bipartisan legislation that has stalled on Capitol Hill for years. Prominent Democrats have joined Republicans in promoting such a policy change at a time of rising tension on campuses over anti-Semitism as well as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions or B.D.S. movement against Israel.”
Oh, and the executive order “stemmed from an effort spearheaded by Jared Kushner, [Trump’s] son-in-law and senior adviser, who is the Jewish grandson of Holocaust survivors.” Wait, so Holocaust survivors are also Hitler?
Buried in the Times report is the acknowledgment that if Trump wanted to protect Jews facing anti-Semitic harassment on college campuses, he would have to do something like this.
The order to be signed by Mr. Trump would empower the Education Department to go further. Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the department can withhold funding from any college or educational program that discriminates “on the ground of race, color, or national origin.” Religion was not included among the protected categories, so Mr. Trump’s order will declare that Judaism may be considered a national origin.
In other words, this is a move to be celebrated, not condemned. Some have criticized the executive order because it may adopt too broad a definition of anti-Semitism, including statements attacking Israel as a racist state. Many liberal American Jews actually harshly criticize the State of Israel on those grounds, and they have the free speech to do so. Yet these very talking points arguably inspire anti-Semitic harassment at the hands of the BDS movement.
Americans can and should have policy debates about the best way to protect Jews on college campuses without stifling free speech. It is utterly absurd, however, to draw any connection to Trump’s effort to protect Jews and the efforts of Adolf Hitler to exterminate them. Such statements are beyond the pale.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.