by Finian Cunningham
Trump’s executive ruling conflates two things: it effectively bestows on the Jewish religion a national or race identity and the rights thereof; secondly, the presidential order equates criticism of the Israeli state with anti-Semitism.
Henceforth, the US government can penalize federally funded academic institutions where courses or activities critical of Israel are identified by invoking existing civil rights laws protecting nations or races from discrimination. In the name of combating anti-Semitism, universities, colleges, and schools could be deprived of federal funds.
This will have a gagging impact on education, debate and free speech under the guise of supposedly protecting Jews from discrimination. Trump’s move has grave implications for the constitutional rights of all American citizens.
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is also his top aide on Middle East affairs, lauded the new order as “crushing the poison of anti-Semitism.” Kushner, an Orthodox Jew and ardent supporter of Israel, claims that anti-Semitism has become a major problem on college campuses.
There is no evidence that attacks on Jewish people are singularly different or disproportionately more frequent than attacks carried out on other groups in the US, such as Muslims or Latinos. Incidents of hate-violence have all generally increased since Trump became president. The president has himself been accused of fueling white nationalists with neo-Nazi ideologies who often target Jews.
What is depicted as growing anti-Semitism in colleges and campuses is more accurately seen as an increasing criticism and opposition to the Israeli state and its documented violations against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. American students, as in many other countries, have been effective in building the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign which is severely damaging Israel’s international image.
This is analogous to the British media hype about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his party allegedly harboring anti-Semitic views. There is negligible evidence of specifically anti-Jewish conduct. The accusations against Corbyn stem from his outspoken criticism of Israeli state practices.
Trump, Kushner and many others in Washington are crudely eliding two completely different problems of anti-Jewishness and anti-Israel opposition. Trump’s executive order shifts the existing position of US foreign policy which does not define criticism of the Israeli state as being anti-Semitic. Under this president, Israel is being made sacrosanct under pain of federal funding cuts to educational institutions.
This is hardly surprising, because the Trump administration has shown itself to be an overseas arm of Israeli state interests. Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state and his decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem have elevated him in the eyes of Israelis as the “greatest friend ever.” Trump has even bragged about being seen as “the king of Israel.”
Outrageous too is the Trump administration’s moves to recognize territories annexed by Israel as legal – in defiance of international law and consensus which holds that the territories belong to Palestinians, or in the case of the Golan Heights, Syria.
So by shutting down free speech and opposition to Israel among American universities and colleges, Trump is doing what he does best: protecting and pandering to Israel.
Partly, this is payback for massive political donations to Trump’s election campaign from billionaires like Sheldon Adelson who is a fervent supporter of Israel.
Trump’s family and his in-laws are also reported to have lucrative financial interests tied up with Israeli settlements.
Further, there is the rightwing Evangelical Christian voter base that Trump is playing to. Many of these Christians believe that Trump is fulfilling supposed biblical prophecies about Israel being the chosen place for the Second Coming of Christ.
“Thank you to Wayne Allyn Root for the very nice words. “President Trump is the greatest President for Jews and for Israel in the history of the world, not just America, he is the best President for Israel in the history of the world…and the Jewish people in Israel love him.
….like he’s the King of Israel. They love him like he is the second coming of God…But American Jews don’t know him or like him. They don’t even know what they’re doing or saying anymore. It makes no sense! But that’s OK if he keeps doing what he’s doing, he’s good for…..
At the signing ceremony for Trump’s executive order was Texas pastor Robert Jeffress, who declared to the attendees, “God will bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel.”
Nevertheless, many Jewish groups in the US are rightly concerned by Trump’s apparently chivalrous move to protect them from anti-Semitism.
Jewish Voices for Peace stated: “Trump has never cared about anti-Semitism… it’s all about silencing Palestinians and people who speak up with them.”
Another group, Jewish Democratic Council of America, blasted Trump for being “hypocritical,” describing him as “an arsonist who is attempting to serve as a firefighter.” The group has previously condemned Trump as “the biggest threat to American Jews.”
When Trump spoke at a recent rally organized by the Israeli American Council, he was subsequently rebuked for peddling anti-Semitic tropes. He mocked his audience for having “no choice” but to vote for him out of fear of losing their wealth under proposed Democrat taxes. The clear inference from Trump was the demeaning association of Jews being money-obsessed.
It was by no means the first time that Trump has been accused of whipping up anti-Semitism. He has vilified American Jews who are critical of Israel as being “disloyal” to the country.
Paradoxically, his high-profile declarations of respecting and protecting Jewish people is a charade. Trump is first and foremost protecting Israel from international censure. In doing that, Trump and his White House clique are making the dubious assumption that all Jews are somehow connected by race or nationality to the state of Israel. However, most American Jews have no familial roots with that state. Trump’s executive order is therefore based on a fallacy stemming from an ignorant or racist attitude towards Jews.
As several Jewish commentators have pointed out, Trump’s designation of Judaism as having a racial or national identity is itself a highly provocative step. In seemingly making Jews a special case for protection – like a blunt instrument for politically supporting Israel – Trump is assigning American Jews as a race apart from the wider US population.
The Jewish-race-nation-Israel line of reasoning by Trump may be expedient in the short-term for shielding Israel from criticism. But Trump is dangerously setting up American Jews for toxic discrimination by white nationalists, many of whom support Trump. He’s playing with fire in a way he probably doesn’t even understand.
About Author: Finian Cunningham is an award-winning journalist who has written extensively on international affairs.