Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order that would attempt to turn support for Palestinian human rights into a federal human rights violation. This order is brazenly unconstitutional and explicitly aimed at silencing student support for Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions for Palestinian rights.
The order states that although Title VI of the Civil Rights Act does not prohibit religious discrimination, “[d]iscrimination against Jews may give rise to a Title VI violation when the discrimination is based on an individual’s race, color, or national origin.” This is currently how the Department of Education interprets Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
Trump’s executive order, goes on to instruct “all executive departments and agencies (agencies) charged with enforcing Title VI” to consider a controverisal defintion of anti-semitism that includes some criticisms of Israel as examples of anti-Semitic conduct. The author of this definition, Kenneth Stern, has repeatedly opposed efforts to force the Department of Education to use this definition, saying doing so would be unconstitutional and a threat to academic freedom.
While this is Trump’s executive order, it is unfortunately part of a long term bipartisan effort to silence student supporters of Palestinian rights. A bill to accomplish the same ends as Trump’s executive order, the cynically named Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, has been repeatedly proposed in multiple sessions of Congress with bipartisan support. In 2016, it passed the Senate by unanimous consent only to be stalled in the House of Representatives after widespread condemnation of the bill’s assault on free speech. Trump appointed Kenneth Marcus as the Department of Education’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights. Kenneth Marcus has long been a proponent of using civil rights laws to silence student support for Palestinian rights.
Anti-semitism is a real threat and should be opposed. Civil rights laws are an important and necessary tool in upholding the rights of all people. However, it is a distortion of civil rights to use federal civil rights law to silence political speech and advocacy for Palestinian human rights. Defending Rights & Dissent has repeatedly opposed the Anti-Semitism Awarness Act and opposed the nomination of Kenneth Marcus.
We oppose Trump’s executive order as a threat to free speech, student activism, and academic freedom.