Trump signs executive order combating anti-Semitism on campuses

President TrumpDonald John TrumpCensus Bureau spends millions on ad campaign to mitigate fears on excluded citizenship question Bloomberg campaign: Primary is two-way race with Sanders Democratic senator meets with Iranian foreign minister 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 KushnerThe Hill's Morning Report - Sanders on the rise as Nevada debate looms Trump unleashed: President moves with a free hand post-impeachment The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in MORE and Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpManufacturers group kicks off campaign to close the industry's skills gap Fed chief issues stark warning to Congress on deficits Rally crowd chants '46' for Donald Trump Jr. 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 RoseVulnerable Democrats fret over surging Sanders Rose, former FBI agent pen op-ed about the danger of global white nationalism: 'Terrorism is terrorism' MLB, Congress play hardball in fight over minor leagues MORE (D-N.Y.), Lee ZeldinLee ZeldinTrump allies blast Romney over impeachment vote: 'A sore loser' Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Democrats seek to preempt Trump message on health care | E-cigarette executives set for grilling | Dems urge emergency funding for coronavirus Democrats slam GOP on drug prices in bilingual digital ads MORE (R-N.Y.) and Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsTrump adviser presses House investigators to make Bezos testify House to vote Thursday on removing ERA ratification deadline Anti-abortion group backs Loeffler's election campaign after opposing her Senate appointment 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 Ann WarrenWarren: Bloomberg making debate will show how other candidates handle 'an egomaniac billionaire' Klobuchar campaign gets first super PAC HuffPost reporter: Sanders could win plurality of delegates but lose nomination MORE (D-Mass.).