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Trump's order is the wrong move to fight anti-Semitism

Rabbi Anchelle Perl at the Holocaust Memorial and

Rabbi Anchelle Perl at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center in Glen Cove as Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and other local and state officials announce the formation of an Islandwide anti-hate taskforce on Dec. 9. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Anti-Semitism comes in many forms.

Fighting it will take more than the flourish of a Sharpie from a president who has given voice to anti-Semitic stereotypes, often regarding money or loyalty to Israel, and a pedestal to those who support such ugliness.

Just this month, two swastikas were painted near the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center in Glen Cove, a verbal tirade was directed at Jewish customers in a Costco in Lawrence, and a synagogue was vandalized in Beverly Hills, California. Two assailants stormed a kosher grocery store in Jersey City last week, killing three civilians and a police officer. One gunman had posted anti-Semitic rants on social media and was affiliated with the Black Hebrew Israelites, a group that espouses anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Anti-Semitism is on the rise, with a more visible, virulent presence, from chants of “Jews will not replace us!” in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, to the tragic synagogue shooting deaths of 11 Jews last year in Pittsburgh.

So, on first blush, it would seem any federal action to combat anti-Semitism should be welcomed.

But President Donald Trump’s executive order that includes Jews under the protection of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is not a simple act of fighting anti-Semitism. Title VI prohibits discrimination based on race, color and national origin. Trump is attempting to amend the law by an order that seems to label Judaism as a race or nationality.

Supporters note that Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush sought to reinterpret the law to include discrimination on the basis of group identity or ethnic characteristics. But Trump’s change comes with a troubled history. In 1930s Germany, Jews were seen as a different race or as a foreign threat. In the 1980s, the Soviet Union labeled Judaism as an individual’s nationality.

More recently, Trump has talked often of American Jews’ loyalty to Israel, buying into a problematic trope. The executive order is partly based on concerns over anti-Semitism emerging from the boycott, divest, sanctions movement known as BDS, a Palestinian-driven effort that encourages boycotting Israel and Israeli products.

But the order risks marginalizing Jews in disturbing ways, and providing a path for others to question Jews’ patriotism. American Jews are American. Their loyalty shouldn’t be questioned.

Trump signed the executive order flanked by Pastor Robert Jeffress, who has said Jews were going to hell, and John Hagee, who said the Holocaust was part of God’s plan to create the state of Israel. Just days before, in speaking to the Israeli-American Council, a nonprofit organization that advocates for Israeli American Jews, Trump used stereotypical language, saying his audience had “no choice” but to vote for him because otherwise its members would lose money to a wealth tax, adding that some Jews “don’t love Israel enough.”

To fight this resurgence of anti-Semitism, Trump must go beyond a ceremony filled with men in red yarmulkes stamped with “Make America Great Again.” He must condemn every symbol of hate and find better ways to stop such despicable acts. — The editorial board