Executive Order 13899 Revisited

Former President Donald Trump’s Executive Order 13899, signed in 2019 made it a policy of the executive branch to enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “against prohibited forms of discrimination rooted in antisemitism as vigorously as against all other forms of discrimination prohibited by Title VI.”

It was a welcome response to the intolerable bullying and intimidation by anti-Israel students and professors against Jewish students and the suppression of the Jewish student’s right to free speech, in particular as it relates to Israel and the Palestinians.

Unfortunately, the problem persists. Only last month, a familiar pattern repeated itself, as anti-Israel protests and antisemitic violence rose sharply during the Gaza fighting. Whenever Israel acts vigorously to defend itself against terrorists, its enemies stand up for the terrorists.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said they saw a 75% increase in antisemitism reports to the agency’s 25 regional offices after Israeli-Palestinian fighting began.

Jewish students, whether they spoke up for Israel or not, often found themselves the targets of hate. Many of those who did not speak up, who are not normally activists, were certainly made aware of the uncomfortable consequences if they should ever think to do so.

Against that background, a group of 19 Republican members of Congress has sent a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona urging him to apply Title VI to protect Jewish students as it would toward racist actions against other minorities, according to a report on JNS.

The implication of such a letter is that EO 13899 has not been enforced, and instead has been allowed to remain no more than a declaratory measure.

The fact is, not everyone, then or now, wants to see the federal government taking it seriously. When Trump signed the order, it was broadly hailed by the Jewish community and its friends, but it was not universally applauded.

The pro-Palestinians and even liberal Jewish groups, had problems with it. For example, J Street denounced it as “misguided and harmful for the White House to unilaterally declare a broad range of nonviolent campus criticism of Israel to be antisemitic, especially at a time when the prime driver of antisemitism in this country is the xenophobic, white nationalist far-right.”

The concern about “campus critics of Israel” is out of place, to say the least. It evinces the chronic inability of the left to perceive reality as it is. Those “critics” are not the ones being attacked, they are not the ones who need protection; it is the Jewish student who is being attacked and who is in need of protection.

University administrations have often been weak, if not pusillanimous, in fulfilling their responsibility to provide a safe and secure forum for varying points of view on campus. As such, it behooves the federal government to step in and actively extend the protection of the law for Jewish students.

Secondly, the statement promotes the myth that antisemitism is a manifestation of the far right. Yet, in the very issue at hand it is the left which is responsible for antisemitism on campus. Whether, overall, across the country, antisemitism is promulgated more by the right or the left is a question perhaps best left for the watchdog groups. (A recent BBC article quoted the ADL saying that, in the past year, there has been a shift to the left.)

While it may be understandable that, given the intense preoccupation with the Israeli political scene in recent days, the congressional letter was hardly able to compete with it for headline space. The letter garnered almost no coverage. There was nothing on it in the mainstream media; even in the Jewish media, such outlets as the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and others were otherwise occupied.

But now that the new Israeli government is in, and the excitement has died down somewhat, perhaps the matter can be considered.

In late May, President Joe Biden properly condemned the antisemitic attacks on Twitter: “The recent attacks on the Jewish community are despicable, and they must stop.”

But with its ear to the progressives, the Biden administration may not rush to take sides, where the antisemitism operates on campus under the guise of criticizing Israel and claims the protections of free speech. It’s not as clear-cut as deadly shootings and swastikas on synagogues and in cemeteries.

The fact that the measure was enacted by Trump is another reason not to embrace it. But the Biden administration’s aversion to policies associated with former President Donald Trump have been put aside in its support for the Abraham Accords. It should be put aside in this matter too.

Moreover, while the 19 Republicans deserve commendation, their initiative should have sweeping bipartisan support. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refrains from censuring Ilhan Omar for her egregious statements about Israel (and America, for that matter), but other Democrats can and should take the opportunity to stand with the Jewish people and not their enemies.

All that aside, though, it should be enforced simply because it’s the law. And because it’s right.