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Trump signs executive order combating anti-Semitism on campuses

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden campaign slams Facebook after thousands of ads blocked by platform's pre-election blackout Mnuchin says he learned of Pelosi's letter to him about stimulus talks 'in the press' Harris to travel to Texas Friday after polls show tie between Trump, Biden 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 KushnerTrump says ex-staffer who penned 'Anonymous' op-ed should be 'prosecuted' Kushner told Woodward in April Trump was 'getting the country back from the doctors' What a Biden administration should look like MORE and Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpTikTok dancer who Ivanka Trump retweeted says she meant to mock Trump Lincoln Project warns of third Trump term in new ad Obama to campaign for Biden in Orlando on Tuesday 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 RoseDemocrats seek wave to bolster House majority Centrist Democrats got their COVID bill, now they want a vote Lawmakers fear voter backlash over failure to reach COVID-19 relief deal MORE (D-N.Y.), Lee ZeldinLee ZeldinDemocrats, GOP fighting over largest House battlefield in a decade Republican fears grow over rising Democratic tide DCCC reserves new ad buys in competitive districts, adds new members to 'Red to Blue' program MORE (R-N.Y.) and Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsLoeffler says she's 'not familiar' with Trump's comments from 'Access Hollywood' tape The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden's big battleground | Trump and Harris hit the trail in Arizona | Turnout surges among new voters Biden takes 5-point lead over Trump in Georgia in new poll 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 WarrenWarren has expressed interest in being Biden's Treasury secretary: report The Democrats' 50 state strategy never reached rural America What a Biden administration should look like MORE (D-Mass.).