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January 9, 2020 9:19 am

The White House’s Executive Order on Antisemitism Is Needed

avatar by Harold Brackman

Opinion

An anti-Israel “apartheid wall” on display at Columbia University during Apartheid Week in 2017. Photo: Facebook.

Some very strong supporters of Israel have raised questions about the White House’s new Executive Order (EO) on antisemitism mandating stronger enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to curb campus antisemitism. They worry that despite its good intentions, the EO may produce a counterproductive backlash.

My disagreement is partly visceral: I don’t care about offending the herd of academic hypocrites who give lip service to the dangers of antisemitism, but blanch at doing anything about mistreatment of Jews on their campuses. Partly, it’s historical. As a historian, I hear in these reservations echoes of those who during post-Civil War Reconstruction and other eras believed that supporting rights for a group of people would produce a backlash against them.

Today, President Donald Trump, despite his flaws, is in my view a sincere friend of the Jewish people in the US. He defied the counsels of timidity that have always failed. Sometimes, doing the right thing is vitally necessary, no matter the political costs. In the 1870s, Republican political leaders wavered, ultimately undoing most of the earlier gains of Reconstruction. It took a century to repair the damage.

Over the past few decades, colleges and universities have acted to protect minority students — except Jews. Jewish organizations, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, have lobbied them to correct this rank omission. Together with the ADL, we went to Congress with a legislative proposal that enjoyed the full backing of a Constitutional law expert and that addressed all legitimate concerns about not infringing free speech. Enacting this EO was the right move, due to Congress’ inaction.

Trump may be politically radioactive with at least half the country, and a future president could reverse his Executive Order. Even so, he has acted decisively to protect Jewish students long exposed to academic bigotry.

We will have plenty of opportunities to evaluate the Executive Order’s impact on antisemitism and the campus climate in the coming months and years. In the meantime, we should recognize the EO as a positive development.

Historian Harold Brackman is a long-time Consultant for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

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