“Title VI: Not a Final Solution”

“Title VI: Not a Final Solution”

From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon

This past week, an executive order was signed that defined Judaism as a nationality. It’s an odd thing to do if it weren’t also tied to Title VI. What is Title VI? A quick definition:

“No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

The goal of the Executive Order (EO) is to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitic activities, including BDS programs, in settings that receive Federal financial assistance, namely, college campuses. It enables the law to see Jews as an offended “nationality” and protect them.  

Concerned individuals and groups also see in the EO, a familiar and insidious problem. Nationality and race are often equated. When Judaism is added to the equation, it almost always turns ugly. Only 80 years ago, race was used to target and destroy 6 million Jewish lives. They were German, Polish and French nationals, among others; they were Jewish by faith and peoplehood. The charge, “Never again,” isn’t only about the Final Solution; it’s also about how it all began.

  • Is this EO a bad beginning on our way to finding a better way to protect the rights of all American minorities wherever they live, study, play, and work?
  • Though the EO serves a purpose that the law now makes clear, can it protect members of the Jewish faith and community who will be targeted by those who equate nationality with race?
  • Does this EO leave out more protections than it provides?
  • How does your passport identify you?

At worst, this EO could be the beginning of a new wave of anti-Semitic attacks against Americans who pray in a synagogue, or who live in a Jewish neighborhood, or who put a mezuzah on their dormitory doorpost, or who wear a kippah on campus. At best, it can hold anti-Zionists and anti-Semites accountable under Federal law. But, anti-Semites and anti-Zionists, who are in fact anti-Semites, know how to read nationality as race. The risks are great, and not everyone who becomes a victim will have his/her day in court to benefit from the Executive Order’s best intentions.

The order has been signed. As long as we’re being defined by the law, let’s pursue its full effects on college campuses, while we advocate for the rights of all minorities in America. And, let’s not take for granted that it will serve the full purpose for which it was intended. We’ve been there before. Let’s be vigilant.

Here are resources to read and study as you raise your own questions and find answers to serve you where you live, work, play and study, too.

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