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Trump signs executive order combating anti-Semitism on campuses

President TrumpDonald TrumpVeteran accused in alleged border wall scheme faces new charges Arizona Republicans to brush off DOJ concern about election audit FEC drops investigation into Trump hush money payments MORE on Wednesday signed an executive order intended to combat anti-Semitism on college campuses that has triggered pushback from some Jewish groups and free speech advocates.

The president signed the order at a White House Hanukkah reception, using the celebration of the upcoming Jewish holiday to detail a crackdown on cases of anti-Semitism on college campuses, including certain protests against Israel.

“This is a very powerful document that we’re signing today,” Trump said, noting the measure has nearly passed Congress in prior years. 

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“They’ve almost had universal support, but there was always a roadblock. But this year there was no roadblock, because I’m doing it myself.”

The order will allow the administration to define Jewish people as a national origin rather than just a religion, a controversial step that grants broader authority to the Department of Education to respond to anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“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,” Trump said.

The order also adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s broad definition of anti-Semitism, which considers certain criticisms of Israel to be anti-Semitic. 

Trump was accompanied at Wednesday’s event by senior advisers Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerNew Kushner group aims to promote relations between Arab states, Israel Republicans request documents on Kerry's security clearance process Iran moves closer to a diplomatic breakthrough that may upset Israel MORE and Ivanka TrumpIvanka TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Ivanka Trump doubles down on vaccine push with post celebrating second shot Jill Biden a key figure in push to pitch White House plans MORE, his son-in-law and daughter, both of whom are Jewish, as well as New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

“This is really a bipartisan issue, and I know previous administrations had tried to do something in this area,” Kraft said.

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Reps. Max RoseMax RoseOvernight Defense: Austin takes helm at Pentagon | COVID-19 briefing part of Day 1 agenda | Outrage over images of National Guard troops in parking garage Austin sworn in as nation's first Black Pentagon chief We lost in November — we're proud we didn't take corporate PAC money MORE (D-N.Y.), Lee ZeldinLee ZeldinThe US has a significant flooding problem — Congress can help GOP lawmakers ask acting inspector general to investigate John Kerry Andrew Giuliani to meet with Trump before potential New York gubernatorial campaign MORE (R-N.Y.) and Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsPoll shows tight GOP primary for Georgia governor The Hill's Morning Report - Census winners and losers; House GOP huddles Former Rep. Doug Collins won't enter Georgia Senate race MORE (R-Ga.) were among the congressional attendees on Wednesday.

The executive order resembles past legislation supported by Democrats and Republicans alike that has never made it out of Congress. It also comes as the country sees an uptick in cases of anti-Semitism.

Trump noted at the outset of his remarks a Tuesday incident in New Jersey in which four people were killed in a shooting at a kosher market. Officials have said they believe the suspects were motivated by anti-Semitism.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said earlier Wednesday that the version of the executive order he reviewed “does not differ from actions taken by previous [Democratic] & [Republican] administrations to protect Jews and other religious groups from #hate & discrimination. These are all important steps forward.”

But the executive order has been controversial since it was first reported Tuesday that Trump planned to sign it. Those who oppose the measure raised concerns that it would punish valid criticisms of Israel, infringe on free speech rights and improperly label Judaism as a nationality.

Trump's own history of comments about Israel created further cause for criticism.

“This executive order, like the stalled congressional legislation it is based on, appears designed less to combat anti-Semitism than to have a chilling effect on free speech and to crack down on campus critics of Israel," said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the left-leaning Jewish advocacy group J Street.

"We feel it is misguided and harmful for the White House to unilaterally declare a broad range of nonviolent campus criticism of Israel to be anti-Semitic, especially at a time when the prime driver of anti-Semitism in this country is the xenophobic, white nationalist far-right," Ben-Ami added.

The ADL found 1,879 attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions in 2018, almost double the number reported in 2015.

Trump has sought to make his support of Israel a key part of his case for reelection. He frequently touts his decision to recognize Israel’s claim over the Golan Heights territory, as well as officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocating the U.S. Embassy there.

He highlighted both actions during Wednesday’s Hanukkah celebration.

But the president has also drawn allegations of anti-Semitism from his own words and actions.

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Democrats and Republicans widely rebuked Trump's reluctance to unequivocally condemn white nationalist demonstrators who chanted anti-Semitic slogans during a 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Va.

The president earlier this year accused Jewish Americans who vote Democrat of showing a "lack of knowledge or great disloyalty" because of comments from Democratic congresswomen critical of the Israeli government.

Most recently, Jewish groups criticized Trump for invoking anti-Semitic tropes about Jews and money after he told attendees of the Israeli American Council National Summit in Florida last weekend that they would have to vote for him in 2020 out of opposition to a wealth tax proposed by Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenHillicon Valley: Broadband companies funded fake net neutrality comments, investigation finds | Twitter rolls out tip feature | Google to adopt 'hybrid work week' Warren: Trump is 'a danger to democracy' Biden backs COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers MORE (D-Mass.).