Jackie Congedo — In Conversation
JCRC Statement on Executive Order Regarding Antisemitism
The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati joins with the Jewish Federations of North America in the following statement in the wake of the new executive order regarding antisemitism:
The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) welcomes the new executive order, which adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. The executive order is modeled on language in the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which has benefited from bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress and formalizes a definition of anti-Semitism that can be used in discrimination cases throughout federal agencies. It bolsters tools that help prevent discrimination on college campuses, which have been hard hit by a near 90% increase in anti-Semitic incidents over the past three years. It is deplorable that Jewish students continue to experience hate and hostility. These new tools are not inconsistent with first amendment protections, which we will continue to uphold and defend.
There’s been much confusion over what this executive order means both from a policy standpoint and over how the order defines Judaism. As a local community-based non-profit, the JCRC’s role is to serve as an educational resource, and to assess policies in light of our organization’s mission and goals. Below we’re sharing some of the questions we’ve received about the executive order and providing some context and background from diverse sources that helps to answer those questions:
- Does this executive order classify or label Jews as a race or nationality?
This order mainly re-states current law, that Jews should be protected under Title VI. This was the position of the Obama administration which, in turn, had reaffirmed previous policy. Title VI bars discrimination on the basis of “race, color or national origin” in programs that receive federal assistance, including educational institutions, but it does not protect against religious discrimination. A 2004 policy statement which was later reaffirmed by the Obama administration states that people who face discrimination because of their actual or perceived ethnicity are also protected under Title VI. As a former Obama administration staffer told Slate.com’s Mark Joseph Stern this week: “…sometimes discrimination against Jews, Muslims, and others is based on a perception of shared race, ethnicity, or national origin, and in those cases it’s appropriate to think of that discrimination as race or national origin discrimination as well as religious discrimination. It doesn’t mean that the government is saying that the group is a racial or national group. The government is saying that the discrimination is based on the discriminator’s perception of race or national origin.” The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) goes into additional detail in this FAQ, and Tablet’s Yair Rosenberg further explains in this article.
- What about Muslims, Sikhs, and others who might also fall into this category of being subject to discrimination on the basis of their ethnicity?
Our JCRC is committed to fighting all types of discrimination. Accordingly, the JCRC believes that, in keeping with current interpretation of law, these groups should also continue to be protected under Title VI. This executive order says nothing to the contrary.
- What’s new about this?
The content of the executive order is consistent with past policy, with one exception—in that it explicitly offers a more comprehensive definition of antisemitism, which was developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The definition, which is being used by government and non-government agencies around the globe, including the U.S. State Department, responsibly articulates the line between legitimate critique of Israeli policy or government and antisemitism. Absent this definition, the important distinction is ripe for misinterpretation and misjudgment, which has led to both overstating and understating what is and is not antisemitism as it relates to speech about Israel.
We’ll cite Stern’s reporting in Slate.com again here: “The order’s interpretation of Title VI—insofar as the law applies to Jews—is entirely in line with the Obama administration’s approach. It only deviates from past practice by suggesting that harsh criticism of Israel—specifically, the notion that it is “a racist endeavor”—may be used as evidence to prove antisemitic intent.” The ADL states, “[n]either the IHRA definition nor the new executive order identify Jews as a nationality, and the IHRA definition is not legally binding.”
- So if this is basically already current law, why the need for an executive order? What’s the benefit of this executive order?
We are hopeful that this executive order will, to quote the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC’s) David Harris, “enable university administrators to avoid running afoul of free speech protections as they seek to root out antisemitism on their campuses.”
“The situation for Jewish students is most worrisome,” AJC’s statement reads. “As AJC’s recent landmark survey on antisemitism in the U.S. shows, American Jewish young people are the age group most vulnerable to this hatred. Nearly half of those between the ages of 18 and 29 have been victims of antisemitic acts over the past five years, compared to just over a third of American Jews overall. More than a third of Jewish young people said they either had experienced antisemitism on an American college campus themselves or know someone who has. To date, though, responses to antisemitism on many campuses have often fallen short, leaving Jewish students vulnerable. Existing federal policy has not been fully enforced and today’s order merely gives Jews what other groups have long enjoyed—the right not to be subject to a hostile environment on campus.”
- Doesn’t this have implications for free speech?
To quote AJC, “There is nothing inconsistent with protecting freedom of expression and providing Jews the same protections accorded other minorities.”
To quote the Anti-Defamation League: “Under the order, criticism of Israel can be, and often is, protected speech, but the line must be drawn when such expression becomes intentional, unlawful, discriminatory intimidation and harassment against Jews.”
Stern further explains in this Slate.com article: “…the order only directs agencies to consider the IHRA’s list ‘to the extent that any examples might be useful as evidence of discriminatory intent.’ In other words, applying double standards to Israel alone would not trigger a Title VI investigation. Instead, the IHRA’s list would only come into play after an individual is accused of overt antisemitism with an ethnic component, and then only as evidence of bigoted intent. Moreover, the order states that agencies ‘shall not diminish or infringe upon any right protected under Federal law or under the First Amendment’ in enforcing Title VI. Because political criticism of Israel is plainly protected speech, the impact of the order’s revised definition of anti-Semitism will likely be limited.”
- Mark Joseph Stern’s full report on Slate.com
- Tablet Magazine’s Yair Rosenberg on Trump’s Redefinition of Jewish Identity That Wasn’t
- AJC’s statement
- ADL’s statement
- ADL’s Frequently Asked Questions regarding the executive order
- IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism