On Dec. 11, President Trump signed an executive order which extended Title VI to include language that can be used to protect Jews and combat anti-Semitism. Title VI was created to uphold the civil rights movement in 1964. Its official language stated that under certain types of discrimination, public funding could be pulled from the offending program, “… on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal assistance.” The inclusion of Jews in this title has been both criticized and praised, creating a divide over its interpretations. Regardless of how it is perceived by each individual, senior administrators in Trump’s cabinet insist that this was meant to do only one thing, protect Jews from the rising number of anti-Semitic incidents and offer them protections against discrimination.
This is not the first time that people in power have discussed extending Title VI to include Jews. In 1964, this addition was posed by one of the biggest advocates for the bill, Senator Clark from Pennsylvania who stated, “Certainly a broad definition of ‘national origin’ would include individuals of Jewish origin or race.” Additionally, in 2004, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez wrote about the limitations of Title VI and said, “Although Title VI does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, discrimination against Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and members of other religious groups violates Title VI when that discrimination is based on the group’s actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, rather than its members’ religious practice.”
This executive order does not reclassify Jews as a race or a nationality, rather, it includes the working definition of anti-Semitism from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in the hopes to keep Jews from being discriminated against. The definition is as follows, “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” By using this definition, it allows protection to be extended to Jews in cases of discrimination, even if they are not considered a race.
While official language about anti-Semitism hasn’t been included until now, it has remained a prevalent question as more and more anti-Semitic incidents occur in the United States. Everyone has different ideas on how to ease the rise of anti-Semitism, and this executive order was an attempt to help Jews dealing with discrimination.
Critics of the addition say that Jews are neither a race nor a nationality, but a religion and therefore should not be included in a title which was meant to stop discrimination based on “race, color or national origin.” Another argument used against this executive order has been that it will oppose free speech on campuses that receive public funding and will act as a way to keep people from criticizing Israel. People who praise the decision argue that it will help protect young Jews from discrimination that is becoming increasingly common, especially in schools and on university and college campuses. They also say that Judaism could be considered a nationality, arguing that Jews were displaced from Judea and what they brought with them into the diaspora was not just their religion, but their culture, language and values, which fall under the definition of race.
There is no way to know what the outcomes of this executive action will be since it just took effect on Jan. 10. According to the Executive Order, people in charge of enforcing Title VI will be required to submit a report concerning its effectiveness or need for a new language by April 9, 2020.