People of the Pod

LISTEN: From UK elections to a US directive, anti-Semitism is word of the week

Episode #15: Union for Jewish Students’s Esther Offenberg on landmark British elections * AJC’s legal head Marc Stern on Trump’s order * ToI’s Raoul Wootliff talks Israeli politics

In a big week for Jewish news, the UK’s Conservative Party swept to victory in national elections on a scale that hasn’t been seen in decades, trouncing the Labour Party, which under leader Jeremy Corbyn has been dogged by claims of anti-Semitism in rhetoric and behavior from leaders and followers alike.

Also, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order redefining anti-Semitism, four innocent people were killed in an anti-Semitic shooting targeting a kosher supermarket in New Jersey, and Israel has officially called for record-breaking third elections within a year.

People of the Pod speaks with the president of the UK’s Union for Jewish Students, Esther Offenberg, about how the British Jewish community is reacting to the latest political development across the pond, as well as AJC chief legal officer Mark Stern on Trump’s executive order, and Times of Israel political correspondent Raoul Wootliff about why the third time may be a charm for the Jewish state.

The weekly podcast People of the Pod is produced in partnership between the American Jewish Committee and The Times of Israel to analyze global affairs through a Jewish lens.

Speaking with co-host Seffi Kogen, Offenberg relates the ambivalence many in the Jewish community felt, and says she’s sure that “many took a few more minutes in the voting booth this time” as opposed to other elections.

British opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, right, waits for the declaration of his seat in the 2019 general election in Islington, London, December 13, 2019 (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

With routine allegations of anti-Semitism plaguing Labour, and some UK Jews even saying they’d consider emigrating if Corbyn became prime minister, “a lot of people who were more left-leaning and used to see Labour as their home find themselves suddenly in that difficult situation of just being a bit homeless, and not really knowing where they fall on the political spectrum,” Offenberg says.

Next, co-host Manya Brachear Pashman speaks with legal expert Stern about Trump’s executive order on anti-Semitism. The order is designed to help the US Department of Education protect Jewish students on college campuses from bigotry by defining Judaism as a national origin and not just a religion. This places it under the protective umbrella of Title 6 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which, unlike other sections of the Civil Rights Act, for practical reasons does not specifically ban discrimination on the basis of religion alone.

Stern says that the Department of Education had already adopted a policy defining Judaism as a national origin – to a degree – under the second Bush administration, and that the decision was reaffirmed by the Obama administration, as well.

US President Donald Trump signs an executive order combating anti-Semitism in the US during a Hanukkah reception in the East Room of the White House in Washington, December 11, 2019. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

When it comes to critics who say the new definition may itself be racist, “the same criticism could have been made, but wasn’t,” of the earlier administrations, Stern says. “So it seems to me that much of this criticism is more about President Trump than it is about the substance of the order.”

Lastly, Brachear Pashman talks Israeli politics with Wootliff, who explains what brought the country to its unprecedented third elections in a year, talks about the chief players and their strategies, and tells us why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may come directly to the Israeli people in an attempt to defeat his political foes in a “trial by combat.”

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