President Trump made history again on Wednesday, when he signed an executive order authorizing the Department of Education to act against anti-Semitism on American college and university campuses, and making it clear that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibiting discrimination based on race, color or national origin in programs or activities that receive federal money, “would apply to institutions that traffic in anti-Semitic hate,” that is, virtually every public institution of higher learning in America.
This executive order is long overdue. The Jerusalem Post reported that as far back as 2015, “more than 30 organizations, including Jewish fraternity AEPI, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Zionist Organization of America wrote to University of California regent Bruce D. Varner in July, requesting that substantive measures be taken to combat rising anti-Semitism on UC-affiliated campuses.”
The problem wasn’t restricted to the University of California, either, but nothing was done. And it is virtually inconceivable that Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or any presidential hopeful on the scene today would have signed the executive order that Trump signed Wednesday. Trump pointed out that earlier efforts to combat campus anti-Semitism “didn’t get it done,” and declared: “This year, there’s no roadblock.”
There have been roadblocks for years. Campus groups, most notably the notorious Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), have grown increasingly aggressive as the Left has intensified its embrace of opposition to Israel and open anti-Semitism. Jewish students and supporters of Israel on campuses have been shouted down, defamed, vilified, and physically menaced, with only a handful of groups, particularly the David Horowitz Freedom Center, providing any support for those students.
The Freedom Center has fought back, virtually alone, demanding that universities withdraw their support for pro-terrorist, anti-Semitic groups such as the SJP that spread Jew-hatred on campus for well over a decade. The Center provides students who support Israel with valuable intellectual resources and helping them to stand strong against the furious onslaught from Leftists and the Muslim Brotherhood juggernaut.
There are so many incidents illustrating that furious onslaught that they could fill an entire good-sized book. Nor have only students been targeted: in February 2010 at the University of California at Irvine (UCI), the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, attempted to give a speech there on relations between the United States and Israel but was ultimately unable to do so: after Muslim students heckled and interrupted him repeatedly, he left the stage.
Before Oren appeared, the UCI Muslim Student Union (MSU) chapter had issued a statement that read, in part:
As people of conscience, we oppose Michael Oren’s invitation to our campus. Propagating murder is not a responsible expression of free speech. . . .
We strongly condemn the university for cosponsoring, and therefore, inadvertently supporting the ambassador of a state that is condemned by more UN Human Rights Council resolutions than all other countries in the world combined. . . .
The most important aspect of this statement was its claim that the university was “inadvertently supporting” Oren’s views just by cosponsoring the event. This was a complete rejection of the idea of the university as a place where all ideas can be discussed and accepted or rejected on their own merits. As far as the Muslim Student Union was concerned, giving someone a platform was tantamount to endorsing his views—so only those with acceptable opinions, that is, anti-Israel opinions, should be given a platform.
Applying that principle has turned universities into one-party states in which only one point of view is allowed. Trump’s executive order opens up the possibility that they might become institutions of higher learning again.
It will take a great deal of effort. At Temple University in August 2014, SJP members called Daniel Vessal, a Camera on Campus fellow and a member of the Jewish fraternity AEPi, “kike” and “baby killer,” and punched him in the face. Vessal explained that when he tried to engage SJP members in dialogue, but “people at the table were calling me a ‘baby killer’…And then this kid just rocks me in the face as hard as he can. My glasses flew off. After a two-second blur I had no clue what had happened. I couldn’t believe the kid actually hit me. When the police came over and were filing the report the kids at the table were screaming ‘You Zionist pig, you racist, that’s what you get.’” Police did not arrest the attacker.
In May 2016, Eliana Kopley, a sophomore at the University of California at Irvine (UCI), was trying to enter a screening of an Israeli documentary about the IDF called “Beneath the Helmet” when she was accosted by an angry mob screaming “Long live the Intifada!” and “F**k Israel!” The protesters prevented her from entering the building where the film was being shown, and even chased her into a nearby building, where they pounded on the doors and windows while continuing to scream their slogans. Police ultimately escorted Kopley into the screening. The UCI chapter of the SJP was thrilled with this thuggery, and praised the mob.
Likewise in a November 2015 rally organized by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Hunter College, a campus of the City University of New York (CUNY), protesters brandishing signs reading “Boycott Israel” and “Zionists out of CUNY” screamed at Jewish students: “Zionists go home!,” “Zionists out of CUNY!,” “Jews out of CUNY!,” “Get out of America!,” and “We should drag the Zionist down the street!” In February 2016 at Brooklyn College, a group of hard-Left students burst into a Faculty Council meeting and began chanting “Zionists off campus!” When a Jewish professor tried to get students to end their disruption of a Faculty Council meeting at Brooklyn College, they called him a “Zionist pig.”
The Muslim students’ behavior toward Oren and at Hunter College rapidly became the norm across U.S. campuses: it has become unsafe to be pro-Israel at an American university. As colleges grow more authoritarian in their Leftism, they have become increasingly inhospitable to students who oppose the Left’s pet causes.
But now President Trump has ensured that universities and colleges that actively allow anti-Semitic activity will face consequences. At the signing of the executive order, Alan Dershowitz said: “No more important event to turn universities away from being bastions of hatred and discrimination than this executive order being signed today. It is a game changer. It will go down in history as one of the most important events in 2,000 battle against anti-Semitism.”
For the sake of simple justice, and for the sake of the freedom of inquiry on college and university campuses, and for the sake of the truths that the Freedom Center has been fighting for all these years, all people of good will should hope that Dershowitz will be proven correct.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is The Palestinian Delusion: The Catastrophic History of the Middle East Peace Process. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.