President Donald Trump plans on Dec. 11 to sign an executive order that would threaten to cut or withhold federal assistance from educational institutions that fail to combat anti-Semitism, according to a senior administration official.
Under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the executive order would extend protections against discrimination to people who face anti-Semitism on college campuses, the senior official said on Tuesday.
The order “just explains if an incident is anti-Semitic it could fall into a Title 6 violation,” an official told Reuters, referring to Title 6 of the law which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.
“Just because someone is Jewish doesn’t mean they should be punished and not receive the same protections for discrimination under Title 6,” the official said.
The move comes as support for the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement over Israel’s policies toward Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip among university students has surged in recent years, creating an atmosphere of discomfort for some Jewish students.
BDS has, however, received a bipartisan rebuke in the U.S. Congress, causing many states to pass measures against the group.
Last year, 201 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded at colleges and universities by the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks acts of racism. This is down from 204 incidents recorded in 2017.
According to a senior official, the executive order would make it clear that Title 6 will comply with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, which says it may include “targeting of the state of Israel.”
Some critics have argued that characterizing Judaism as a race or nation is anti-Semitic in itself. Others argued, meanwhile, that participating in boycotts is protected by Americans’ constitutional right to free speech and that legitimate criticism of Israeli policies could be stifled under the name of combating anti-Semitism.
The move has also raised concerns from free-speech advocates who say that giving anti-Semitism a broader definition might be used to limit criticism of Israeli government actions, The Guardian reported.
Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, told The New York Times he welcomes the signing of the executive order.
“Of course we hope it will be enforced in a fair manner,” he told the news outlet. “But the fact of the matter is we see Jewish students on college campuses and Jewish people all over being marginalized. The rise of anti-Semitic incidents is not theoretical; it’s empirical.”
Among those expected to join Trump at the order’s signing include prominent Republican lawmakers, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), and Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.).
Reuters contributed to this report.