[Update at 3:00 p.m. ET, December 11: The Times report may have been both credulous and overstated. A draft of the executive order obtained by Jewish Insider on Wednesday doesn’t include any explicit interpretation of Judaism as a race or nationality. Rather, it ambiguously encourages agencies enforcing a civil rights statute that prohibits discrimination on the basis or race, color, and national origin — but not religion — to enforce it “as vigorously” in cases of discrimination rooted in anti-Semitism. It also calls for those agencies to “consider” the examples of anti-Semitism compiled by an international organization that include “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”]
New York Times marquee Trump reporters Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman reported Tuesday night on an executive order Trump plans to sign Wednesday declaring Judaism a race and a nationality.
Even by Trump standards, it’s a breathtaking move with wide-ranging implications and historic reverberations. Like everything he does, it reflects brazen political goals and needs to be cast in the context of his profound bigotry, which very much extends to Jews.
Most directly, it’s an obvious attempt to kill the BDS “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” movement on college campuses which, modeled on the fight against the apartheid regime in South Africa, is an attempt to sever ties with Israel in account of its inhumane treatment of the Palestinian people.
The move is also a quid pro quo for Trump’s “patron-in-chief” — the anti-BDS-funding casino magnate Sheldon Adelson — and a sop to the small fraction of American Jews who support Trump despite his far-right policies and his impulse (most recently expressed last week, before an Adelson-funded group of Israel supporters) to call them money-grubbers to their face.
None of this is hard to figure out.
And yet under the spectacularly credulous headline “Trump Targets Anti-Semitism and Israeli Boycotts on College Campuses” – perhaps the most ridiculous Times headline since “Trump Urges Unity Vs. Racism,“ which unlike this one the Times took back — here is what Baker and Haberman wrote:
President Trump plans to sign an executive order on Wednesday targeting what he sees as anti-Semitism on college campuses by threatening to withhold federal money from educational institutions that fail to combat discrimination, three administration officials said on Tuesday.
The order will effectively interpret Judaism as a race or nationality, not just a religion, to prompt a federal law penalizing colleges and universities deemed to be shirking their responsibility to foster an open climate for minority students. In recent years, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions — or B.D.S. — movement against Israel has roiled some campuses, leaving some Jewish students feeling unwelcome or attacked.
It’s all taken at face value — even the claim that Jewish students are under attack.
And then, the reporters completely accept the framing of Trump as a supporter of American Jews — when most would most certainly say he is not — by writing that he has “positioned himself as an unflinching supporter of Israel and a champion of Jewish Americans” by “moving the United States Embassy to Jerusalem, supporting settlements in the West Bank and recognizing the seizure of the Golan Heights. He also assailed Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, when she said support for Israel was ‘all about the Benjamins,’ meaning money.”
In their fourth paragraph, Baker and Haberman present something closer to the truth — but at arm’s length, writing that “critics complained that such a policy could be used to stifle free speech and legitimate opposition to Israel’s policies toward Palestinians in the name of fighting anti-Semitism.”
Further down, they explained, without attribution, that that the order “will have the effect of embracing an argument that Jews are a people or a race with a collective national origin in the Middle East, like Italian Americans or Polish Americans.”
The Washington Post, chasing the Times story, could have gone with a more skeptical take, but instead, like it did with another story the other day, it basically just rewrote the Times’s headline. CNN at least reported what was happening, not the ridiculous spin: Trump to sign order to interpret Judaism as a nationality.
Twitter’s media critics jumped into action, with Soledad O’Brien arguably leading the way, as she has been doing a lot lately:
— Soledad O'Brien (@soledadobrien) December 11, 2019
A classic media bias is to take Trump at his word when there is little reason to do so. A neutral headline could have said "Trump Targeting BDS Movement" or a more critical headline could have noted this undermines campus speech and embeds dual nationality stereotypes into policy pic.twitter.com/dKN97Kq8Z5
— Don Moynihan (@donmoyn) December 11, 2019
.@peterbakernyt + @maggieNYT are world-class journalists but the @nytimes needs to change this headline. Trump isn't targeting anti-Semitism. He's using a bogus definition of anti-Semitism to target critics of Israel https://t.co/V1fcDV8Kad
— Peter Beinart (@PeterBeinart) December 10, 2019
This Times piece says Trump has set himself up as the “champion of Jewish Americans” – how do? By constantly questioning their loyalty and their intellect? Suggesting they’re greedy?https://t.co/BhCEBIhjXc
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) December 11, 2019
The real story and the real implications were hardly a mystery. Consider:
It is really, *really* frightening for us to be defined as a nationality. The trope of "dual loyalism" is classic antisemitism. It encourages people to view American Jews as professing greater loyalty to Israel than to the United States– thereby making us untrustworthy. https://t.co/PyuqK1lLZX
— Rabbi Emily Cohen (@ThatRabbiCohen) December 10, 2019
1. The insincerity of “campus free speech” criticisms is really laid bare here, whatever side of the issue you’re on.
2. The first person to sue over this on first amendment grounds will almost certainly be Jewish.
3. Judaism is not a “nationality.”https://t.co/mUCEb9tqDI
— Adam Serwer🍝 (@AdamSerwer) December 11, 2019
This executive order has about as much to do with fighting antisemitism as the call with Zelensky had to do with fighting corruption. https://t.co/3LJXYFBkrN
— Matt Duss (@mattduss) December 11, 2019
The Trump administration is not only codifying Judaism as a nationality, but equating Jewish nationality with the state of Israel. https://t.co/mvq8kGj1r3
— Joshua Leifer יהושע לייפר (@joshualeifer) December 10, 2019
We live in an age where Jews who support BDS are anti-Semites and white nationalists who back Israel are not https://t.co/8ktQMbWIqS
— Ishaan Tharoor (@ishaantharoor) December 10, 2019
uhhhh I'm just going to say as a jew I always believed my nationality was American and this makes me very uncomfortable!!!! https://t.co/cy9O7Ceb8A
— Dana Schwartz (@DanaSchwartzzz) December 11, 2019
Reporters! Here is something you can and should crib from in every story about Trump and Jews, about his personal bigotry, by Peter Beinart’s in the Forward:
Trump, after all, in 2013 tweeted that “I’m much smarter than Jonathan Leibowitz—I mean Jon Stewart.”
He ran for president on a slogan laden with anti-Semitic associations from the 1930s: “America First.” In 2015 he told a Jewish audience that “You’re not gonna support me because I don’t want your money… you don’t want to give me money, but that’s ok, you want to control your own politicians that’s fine.”
In 2016 he retweeted an image of Hillary Clinton surrounded by money and a Jewish star. He closed his presidential campaign with an ad that showed three Jews—Janet Yellen, Lloyd Blankfein and George Soros—alongside language about “global special interests” that “control the levers of power in Washington.”
In 2017, he said there were “very fine people” among the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville. And in 2018, his racist fear mongering about a caravan of Central American migrants provoked a Pittsburgh man to commit the worst anti-Semitic atrocity in American history.
Trump’s obviously conflicted feelings about Jews evidently present some sort of unresolvable challenge to journalists from our elite newsrooms. Just last week, reporters from the Washington Post, the Associated Press, and Politico engaged in stunning levels of brain-dead stenography in their reports from Trump’s speech in Florida to the Adelson-funded group.
Here is some of what he actually said:
We have to get the people of our country, of this country, to love Israel more. I have to tell you that. We have to do it. We have to get them to love Israel more. Because you have people that are Jewish people, that are great people — they don’t love Israel enough….
A lot of you are in the real estate business because I know you very well. 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 Pocahontas, I can tell you that. You’re not going to vote for the wealth tax.
Yeah, let’s take 100 percent 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. And you’re going to be my biggest supporters because you’ll be out of business in about 15 minutes, if they get it. So I don’t have to spend a lot of time on that.
Washington Post reporter Josh Dawsey’s article Saturday night was headlined “Trump touts accomplishments in address meant to woo Jewish voters and bolster support in Florida,” and the subhead gave Trump props because he “hewed to a script” more than usual.
On Monday morning, the Post finally noted concerns that he had used “anti-Semitic tropes.”