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President Trump fights anti-Semitism one day, fuels it the next

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

Could President Donald Trump be charged under his own executive order?

I had to ask myself that after he signed an executive order to crack down on anti-Semitism on college campuses, only a few days after insulting his audience in a weekend speech to a national Jewish organization in Florida.

What else can you say about a guy who pats you on the head with one hand and slaps you in the face with the other?

"A lot of you are in the real estate business, because I know you very well," Trump told attendees at the Israeli American Council's 2019 national summit in Hollywood, Fla., according to a transcript posted on the White House website. "You're brutal killers. Not nice people at all, but you have to vote for me you have no choice."

"You're not going to vote for the wealth tax," he also said. " 'Yeah, let's take 100% of your wealth away.' No, no. Even if you don't like me; some of you don't. Some of you I don't like at all, actually. (Laughter.) And you're going to be my biggest supporters because you'll be out of business in about 15 minutes, if they get it."

It should come as no surprise that some other Jewish groups condemned the president's remarks with such uncomplimentary terms as "deeply offensive" and "vile."

Jewish Democratic Council of America Executive Director Halie Soifer said in a statement Dec. 8 that Trump used "anti-Semitic stereotypes to characterize Jews as driven by money and insufficiently loyal to Israel." Jewish advocacy group J Street tweeted that the president is "incapable of addressing Jewish audiences without dipping into the deep well of anti-Semitic tropes that shape his worldview."

Well, this is just "Trump being Trump," say Trump apologists, and that much is spot-on accurate. Most of his speech talked about his gestures of strong support for Israel, including his decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem.

And what could be more Trumpian than to sign an executive order on Wednesday targeting what his administration describes as a growing problem with anti-Semitic harassment on college campuses.

That's a worthy and unfortunately necessary goal. Over the last decade anti-Semitic incidents have grown annually and dramatically to 1,986 incidents in 2017 from 751 in 2013, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which welcomed Trump's executive order.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the league, praised Trump's new order for giving police and campus officials a new tool in fighting anti-Semitism.

 

Members of both parties have proposed similar actions in Congress. But Trump's executive order also poses hazards for those who care about preserving something that is necessary yet regrettably embattled these days: free speech.

For example, the order comes as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against the Israeli government has been rising up on some campuses. The movement began as a protest against the Israeli government's treatment of Palestinians. But over time that legitimate political issue has become intermixed in too many minds to mean opposition to the Jewish state itself.

A more technical but still intriguing sticking point raised by the president's order is its use of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to withhold federal money from schools that fail to act against discrimination against Jews.

Can Jews, besides being a religion or an ethnic group, be considered a race and therefore a protected class under Title VI? Experts speak eloquently on both sides of that issue, so I don't expect that question to go away soon.

But our president, as he has shown many times, isn't into nuance. "If you want to accept the tremendous amount of federal dollars that you get every year, you must reject anti-Semitism," he said. "It's very simple."

No, nothing about race, ethnicity and fighting discrimination is simple. Meanwhile the plague of anti-Semitism appears still to be rising, with campuses hardly topping the list of terror threats.

The day before Trump's signing ceremony, two shooters, including one said to have published anti-Semitic posts and to have been a follower of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, which is hostile to Jews, killed four people in a rampage in Jersey City that appears to have targeted a kosher market before the shooters also were killed.

The Department of Homeland Security recently shifted its strategy to focus on domestic racial terrorism, including white terrorists. That's a welcome move. So would leadership, not just provocation, from the White House.

(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

(c) 2019 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
 

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