Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday thanked US President Donald Trump for signing an executive order extending US federal anti-discrimination enforcement to include Jews.
“Thank you, President Trump, for your executive order against discrimination of the Jewish People. Free speech is not carte blanche for anti-Semitic attacks on the Jewish People and the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said in a statement after Trump signed the order the day before.
Opposition MK Yair Lapid, whose father was a Holocaust survivor, tweeted his congratulations to Trump on “an order that kicks at the boycott Israel movement and fights campus anti-Semitism. The fight against anti-Semitism and BDS is existential and it is good that we have a friend in the White House.”
Trumped signed the order Wednesday at the White House Hanukkah party.
“This action makes clear that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits the federal funding of universities and other institutions that engage in discrimination, applies to institutions that traffic in anti-Semitic hate,” Trump said before signing the document.
“This is our message to universities: If you want to accept the tremendous amount of federal dollars that you get every year, you must reject anti-Semitism,” he added. “It’s very simple.”
Trump said that part of his rationale for moving forward with the order was to target the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
His daughter Ivanka and son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner had been warning him about the movement for years, he said.
The order, which instructs US anti-discrimination authorities to investigate claims of anti-Semitic prejudice in academic programs that receive federal funding, was met with controversy in the American Jewish community, with critics saying it could be used by a Republican administration to silence criticism of Israel on campus.
Supporters have said it is vital for combating growing anti-Semitic expressions that have created a hostile environment for Jews and Israelis in many American universities.
Ahead of the signing, many expressed concern that the order apparently requires the US Department of Education to effectively interpret Judaism as a race or nationality, not just a religion.
Writing in The New York Times after the signing, Kushner said that was a misinterpretation.
“The executive order does not define Jews as a nationality. It merely says that to the extent that Jews are discriminated against for ethnic, racial or national characteristics, they are entitled to protection by the anti-discrimination law,” Kushner wrote.
Major groups like the Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee voiced strong support for the action, but others worried it would backfire against Jews.
“This political theater is not only counter-productive, but it endangers the very people such advocates claim to defend,” said Rabbi Jack Moline, president of the Interfaith Alliance.
“With all due respect to the decision-makers who wrote this executive order, the Jewish community does not need President Trump to codify what Jews are into law,” he went on. “The president is changing Jewish status in an artificial way for callous political purposes.”
Last week, Trump was castigated by Jewish groups for spewing anti-Semitic tropes in telling a pro-Israel conference that Jewish Americans would vote for him to protect their wealth. In the same speech, he said that some Jews didn’t love Israel enough.
The order was based on stalled legislation in Congress that had support from both sides of the aisle, but that never advanced.
The definition it uses to denote anti-Semitism includes language that some worry is overly vague, including “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.”
Kenneth Stern, the expert who drafted the definition adopted by the executive order, has publicly opposed its application to college campuses. In a New York Times op-ed, he wrote: “If this bill becomes law … students and faculty members will be scared into silence, and administrators will err on the side of suppressing or censuring speech.”
But Ted Deutch, a Democratic congressmen from Florida who sponsored the original legislation, wrote in The Times of Israel last week that the definition “was drafted not to regulate free speech or punish people for expressing their beliefs.” Rather, he wrote, it “can serve as an important tool to guide our government’s response to anti-Semitism.”