Jewish Students Have Endured Enough
The Executive Order that President Donald Trump signed on December 11 provides Jewish students the same protections granted to other minority groups under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. It does so by recognizing that Judaism is more than a religion, and that even non-practicing Jews can be targeted with discriminatory acts based on their identity. The Order also adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, that includes, “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews” and prohibits “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
The Executive Order was not enacted in a vacuum or as a proactive measure to avoid hypothetical cases of antisemitism. It was signed in response to the relentless harassment of Jewish students on college campuses that is being orchestrated by members of the “progressive” movement. And it was signed to compensate for the apparent inability or unwillingness of most university administrators to intervene.
The harassment of Jewish students on college campuses has been a concerted campaign, carried out by national organizations, enabled by university administrators, and encouraged by a United States congresswoman. And now, with their brazen disregard for murdered Jews, “progressive” leaders from Congress to campus have revealed new and chilling dimensions to their own antisemitism.
My alma mater, Oberlin College, offers a vivid example. In the past three years, academic departments, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), and Students for a Free Palestine at Oberlin have hosted a steady stream of well-known anti-Israel activists who espouse antisemitic rhetoric, including Robin Kelley, Ali Abunimah, Nyle Fort, Eli Valley, and Norman Finkelstein. Despite several requests from Jewish students and from myself to bring Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth L. Marcus to campus to broaden students’ understanding of the complex issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the administration offered no assistance.
The result is a campus which 2017 Oberlin graduate Julia Redden describes as the place “where I suffered my worst experiences with antisemitism.”
Students have been inundated with an anti-Israel agenda on their campuses from “progressive” members of Congress as well as from highly paid “progressive” activists. Earlier this year, Rashida Tlaib exploited the power of her office to voice her support for a Pitzer College faculty proposal to end the college’s semester abroad program to Haifa, and in September, she gave a talk at Tulane University while wearing a keffiyeh, a symbol of Palestinian nationalism. According to the student newspaper, The Tulane Hullabaloo, Tlaib “urged the audience to … apply humanism to Palestine where people are dying because of Zionist colonialism.”
The synergy among the sources of campus-based antisemitic rhetoric was further amplified when the United States witnessed the horrifying targeted murders of innocent Jews going about their daily lives in Jersey City. After the murders, Tlaib shared on social media, “This is heartbreaking. White supremacy kills.” Then, after learning that the murderers were people of color, she deleted the tweet and posted a generic condemnation on another Twitter account.
Soon after Tlaib’s shocking behavior, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) followed suit. On December 14, three days after the President’s Executive Order, and four days after the shooting, JVP sent an email to its constituents, which read: “Trump’s executive order will do NOTHING to keep Jewish students safe. It won’t protect against Nazis or Nazi recruitment … and it won’t protect Jewish religious spaces from armed attackers.” Attempting to redirect attention to the murders of praying Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the Porway Synagogue near San Diego — committed by white men — JVP ignored the murders that had taken place just days earlier.
Tlaib, JVP, and all the other other “progressives” who have either remained silent or equivocated about the brutal Jersey City murders rely on the myth that antisemitism can only emanate from white supremacists. That myth helps them buffer the antisemitism within the progressive movement as merely the “political” views of “anti-Zionists.” The Jersey City murderers — people of color — make it difficult for them to preserve that myth, and so they choose to remain silent.
By doing so, they have sent a message to Jewish students on campus to do the same, or risk being accused of racism. For many students, especially on small remote campuses like Oberlin, that accusation is a heavy burden to carry.
Given the extraordinary forces that have been bearing down on Jewish students from coast to coast, including undue influence from Congress, vast networks that comprise national organizations, and the remarkable lack of empathy that they have confronted from university administrators, President Trump’s Executive Order is both appropriate and timely.
Jewish students have endured enough.
Melissa Landa, PhD, is the Founding Director of the Alliance for Israel.