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New executive order sparks debate about Judaism

Order aims to combat anti-Semitism
Posted at 10:47 PM, Dec 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-28 13:32:41-05

SOUTHERN COLORADO — With only a few days left of Hanukkah, News 5 took a closer look at a recent executive order meant to combat anti-Semitism, specifically on college campuses.

The order said anti-Semitism has been on the rise in the country since 2013. It gives protection to Jewish people under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination based on race, color, and national origin in programs or activities that receive federal funding, like colleges or universities. Religious discrimination is not protected under Title VI, but this change would raise Judaism to the same level as race, color, and national origin. "It's not saying that Jews are a nationality, because we're not. We come in all different sizes and colors. But we are an ethnic group with a religious component to it," said Michael Atlas-Acuna, the board president of Temple Emanuel Synagogue in Pueblo, which was recently the target of a thwarted terrorist attack.

The order sparks a debate about what exactly Judaism is. "Who are Jews, and what are Jews? Are they a religion? Are they a race? Are they a nationality? And the answer is they're all of those depending on who you ask," said David Shneer, the Louis P. Singer Endowed Chair in Jewish History at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Some, like Atlas-Acuna, believe this executive order is a step in the right direction. "It makes me feel great that our president is acknowledging that there is an increase in anti-Semitism," said Atlas-Acuna, who wanted to point out that this is his own personal belief, and not a reflection of Temple Emanuel in Pueblo.

Others, like Shneer, said there is nothing new about the order besides the reference to the university setting. "That is being done because he wants to score political points on college campuses who are seeing an increase in Pro-Palestinian activism, and marking that as anti-Semitism... I think if Trump really wanted to do something about anti-Semitism, he would start calling out white nationalism," said Shneer.

Shneer also said that the order could restrict free speech on college campuses. "There are plenty of Jews who actually have a critique of Israel that it doesn't treat it's Palestine residents either within it's borders or in the occupied territories fairly. So, that could be grounds now I think for being brought up on anti-Semitic charges," said Shneer.

The executive order is defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which calls it a certain perception of Jewish people, that may be expressed as hatred toward them.