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‘Hate crimes against Jews are rising’: Locals react to Trump order aimed against anti-Semitism

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 12, 2019

President Donald Trump shows the executive order he signed on Wednesday, targeting what his administration says is growing anti-Semitism on U.S. college campuses. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)
President Donald Trump shows the executive order he signed on Wednesday, targeting what his administration says is growing anti-Semitism on U.S. college campuses. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday affirming that the 1964 Civil Rights Act includes protection against anti-Semitism, while providing a working definition for the term. The order was designed to address a rise in anti-Semistism on college campuses.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers quickly took to Twitter to praise the president for this move.

“Anti-Semitism has no place in America,” the Spokane Republican wrote. “To defeat it, we must stop hatred with knowledge. I applaud @POTUS on this decision to protect Jewish students from discrimination on college campuses.”

The 1964 Civil Rights Act pertains to institutions that receive federal funding, so colleges play a prominent role in the order.

Rabbi Tamar Malino, of Spokane’s Temple Beth Shalom and Temple Emmanuel, said she hopes the order will address the problem of anti-Semitism on campuses.

“Whether or not this executive order is the best way to do that remains to be seen,” Malino said. “We have a joke in the Jewish community about when you have two Jews, you have three different opinions. There’s always a diversity of opinions within Jews about most things political, and I think there’s a lot of diversity as to whether or not this is the best way to deal with the concerns of anti-Semitism on college campuses.”

The Anti-Defamation League – an organization that nationally tracks anti-Semitism – voiced support for the order, which uses the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition for anti-Semitism: “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

“Anti-Semitism on campus is a critical issue and we at ADL have supported bipartisan efforts to improve the federal tools to combat it for years,” ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt said in a statement. “In a climate of rising anti-Semitism, this Executive Order provides valuable guidance on anti-Semitism, giving law enforcement and campus officials an important additional tool to help identify and fight this pernicious hate. It also reaffirms protection of Jews under Title VI without infringing on First Amendment rights. These are all important steps forward.”

According to the ADL, there were 201 reported anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses in 2018, compared to 108 in 2016.

Eastern Washington University dealt with anti-Semitism in May, when bathrooms on the Cheney campus were defaced with swastikas. Mary Cullinan, EWU president, sent a campuswide email condemning the incident.

“These symbols of hate, bigotry, and violence have absolutely no place at our university,” Cullinan wrote. “They are unacceptable.”

Dr. Shari Clarke, EWU VP for diversity and inclusion, said she has not heard anyone talk about the executive order on campus. But she said she has heard people talk about the racist vandalism of a car on campus discovered Tuesday, as well as an event that was held where people were asked to dress like a Mexican.

“I think the conversation on a national level has become so divisive that all of these conversations about diversity and inclusion become much more challenging,” Clarke said. “And I think actually much more necessary, given the times we’re in now.”

The order has not been without controversy, either.

“It’s really causing a great deal of polarization on both sides,” Clarke said. “They’re talking about a liberal meltdown. Some people feel that it’s holding back the voices of Jewish individuals. So people I think are all over the place on this particular executive order.”

The order received backlash because the Civil Rights Act itself protects against discrimination based upon the “basis of race, color, and national origin.” Many thought the order implied that being Jewish is a nationality.

Malino did not think the order – or the working definition of anti-Semitism – said that, but did express the complexity of the Jewish identity as multifaceted.

“An individual Jew may identify with one or all of these aspects of Judaism,” Malino said. “There are many different facets of Jewish identity and to quantify them or qualify them in one specific way or another misses the boat.”

Malino said she hopes the takeaway from this order is that people realize that it’s essential for everyone to speak out against anti-Semitism.

“There is no question that anti-Semitism and hate crimes against Jews are rising across the world, in our country, and right here in our own backyard,” Malino said. “Up against the background of the shootings in Pittsburgh, Poway and the horrific crime in Jersey City just a few days ago, we have local incidents of graphic anti-Semitic flyers posted on the community building, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories promoted by local elected officials, and the ongoing negative experiences of our Jewish high school and middle school students.”

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