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Battling anti-Semitism or shielding Israel? Trump signs executive order targeting ‘discriminatory’ boycotts & activism on campuses

Battling anti-Semitism or shielding Israel? Trump signs executive order targeting ‘discriminatory’ boycotts & activism on campuses
US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order that he claims will help combat anti-Semitic discrimination based on “race, color, or national origin,” as critics say it only shields the state of Israel from any criticism.

Citing the “rise of anti-Semitism” on college campuses and elsewhere, the move seeks to apply the 1964 Civil Rights Act to Jewish Americans, and calls on the government to find new ways to “use nondiscrimination authorities” to address the issue.

“This is our message to universities: if you want to accept the tremendous amount of federal dollars you get every year, you must reject anti-semitism; it’s very simple,” President Trump said after signing the order.

Some critics have posited a different purpose altogether, however: beating back criticism of Israel and silencing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which looks to bring international pressure on Israel to cease its occupation of Palestinian lands. The president singled out the initiative by name in his signing statement, insisting his administration has “taken a firm stand against the so-called divestment and sanctions movement.”

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“It is designed to chill any kind of speech that is critical of Israel,” Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, told the Wall Street Journal. “This would be unconstitutional.”

President Trump and some conservative allies have long argued that BDS promotes a covert form of anti-Semitism or discrimination against Jews, despite a number of prominent Jewish progressive groups taking part in the effort, such as Jewish Voice for Peace, a California-based activist network.

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The BDS campaign itself, launched by Palestinian civil society activists in 2005, has explicitly disavowed anti-Semitism, with co-founder Omar Barghouti telling 972 Magazine in 2015:

BDS is a non-violent human rights movement that seeks freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinian people ... As such, BDS has consistently and categorically rejected all forms of discrimination and racism, including anti-Semitism

Nonetheless, the Trump administration has become increasingly vocal about the movement, appointing a special envoy for anti-Semitism in April, Elan Carr, who has insisted it is “discriminatory” to boycott products made in Israel’s illegal settlements.

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The state of Israel holds a similarly dim view of the campaign, and has even targeted its activists with legislation. An amendment passed in the Knesset in 2017 bars entry into Israel for any foreigner who makes a “public call for boycotting Israel” or “any area under its control.” The law was used for the first time last month to expel a Human Rights Watch researcher over his BDS activism. The rule was also cited earlier this year to deny entry visas for American lawmakers, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, both loud critics of Israel’s settlement project.

Tel Aviv maintains over 100 settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights – all territory seized during Israel’s war with Arab powers in 1967. While the United Nations and scores of countries around the world have deemed the settlements in violation of international law, the Trump administration reversed long standing US policy earlier this year, recognizing both Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, as well as the legality of the settlements.

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