Trump’s Executive Order Does Nothing to Protect Jews; Only Restricts Free Speech

RELEASE DATE: December 11, 2019

This statement has been edited since its original release on December 11, 2019.

T’ruah is deeply disturbed by the dangerous ramifications of the President’s Executive Order that affirms that Jews are protected under the “race, color, or national origin” clause of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and urges the President to refrain from taking this action. 

Though touted as a means of protecting Jews and of supporting Israel, this planned Executive Order only threatens First Amendment rights, which include the right to criticize the actions of any country on earth, while opening the door to confirming centuries-old antisemitic tropes — that Jews are a distinct race or that the primary loyalty of Jews is not to the state in which they live. The vague language of this resolution carries none of the specificity of Obama-era guidelines that “discrimination against Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and other members of religious groups violates Title VI when that discrimination is based on the group’s actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, rather than its members’ religious practice.”

Even more troublingly, the planned Executive Order will silence pro-Palestinian activists on campus and will be used as a tool to further weaponize accusations of antisemitism against American Muslims.

We affirm that Jews are not only adherents to a religion, but are also a people — Am Yisrael — with a long history and connection to one another all over the world, including in the Land of Israel. The modern political State of Israel, however, is a country, just like the United States. As a member of the United Nations, Israel is obligated to uphold international human rights law and liable to be criticized for failing to do so. 

This Executive Order will actively fuel the rising tide of white nationalism and violence against Jews, winked at by the President himself when he calls Nazis “fine people” and suggests to a Jewish audience this same week that Jews are concerned only with money.  To those Americans who harbor mistrust of their Jewish neighbors, this Executive Order signifies the President’s own affirmation that to be Jewish is to be loyal to the nation-state of Israel, and that equates criticism of Israel with antisemitism.

Moreover, if the President is hoping to eliminate campus unrest concerning the state of Israel with this Executive Order, he is sorely misguided.  This action will only serve to foment resentment and quash free speech on campus. Even though we disagree with the language and tone of some pro-Palestine campus activism, and even though we do not participate in boycotts of Israel, we know that the right of free speech applies also to speech with which we disagree — even vehemently.  The President has regularly stood behind the First Amendment rights of white nationalists who express hatred of Jews. He cannot hope to selectively withhold the First Amendment rights of pro-Palestinian activists, including many Jews, with whom he disagrees. America is not a country where the President gets to decide who is afforded the freedom of speech on the basis of whether he agrees with the person doing the speaking.

We affirm that Jews — as well as Palestinians — have the right to self-determination in their own state. Those who share this belief must put our energy not into silencing criticism, but into working toward an end to occupation and the long-term human rights and security of both Israelis and Palestinians.

T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights mobilizes a network of more than 2,000 rabbis and cantors from all streams of Judaism that, together with the Jewish community, act on the Jewish imperative to respect and advance the human rights of all people. Grounded in Torah and our Jewish historical experience and guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we call upon Jews to assert Jewish values by raising our voices and taking concrete steps to protect and expand human rights in North America, Israel, and the occupied Palestinian territories.