Jewishness Is Not a Nationality

Having failed at one attempt to suppress pro-Palestinian advocacy and activism on American college campuses, the Trump administration will try a new tack: defining Jewishness as a nationality or race.

The New York Times reported this week:

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. [Emphasis added.]

The Times notes that “prominent Democrats have joined Republicans in promoting such a policy change to combat anti-Semitism as well as the boycott-Israel movement.”

Yes, of course, the government should not force taxpayers give money to anyone, but that’s not the point here. The point is that, according to Trump and Kenneth Marcus, who heads the office for civil rights at the Education Department, Hitler was right: Jews constitute a separate racial group. It’s in their blood. Once a Jew always a Jew. Hitler wasn’t the first to take this position, and Zionist leaders agreed with him. It was the view of pre-20th-century European rulers who confined Jews to ghettos (with rabbinic endorsement), treating them as mere members of a corporate entity rather than as individual citizens with rights. (Napoleon broke up this system and emancipated the Jews for a time.)

The problem for Trump and Marcus, as I explain here, is that the 1964 Civil Rights Act doesn’t list religion as a forbidden discrimination category. It “prohibits discrimination [only] on the basis of race, color, or national origin.” That being the case, how can the Trump administration claim that colleges and campus groups act illegally when they allow or put on programs designed to bring attention to the Palestinians, who have suffered so long at the hands of Israel, the self-described nation-state of the Jewish people everywhere, including the United States?

The administration was hoping that Congress would pass a definition of anti-Semitism that would shoehorn Jewishness into the Civil Rights Act clause and force schools to crack down on support for, say, the BDS movement, which opposes apartheid policies in the West Bank. But Congress hasn’t passed the so-called Anti-Semitism Awareness Act. So here is the new tack: define Jewishness as a nationality or race. Voila! Problem solved. Students and professors who disparage the Jewish state for its cruelty to the Palestinians can be charged with discriminating against Jewish American students who are actually members of the Jewish nation or race, and the administration can cut off the money.

Liberal Jewish groups are protesting what Trump’s up to, which is good. But in fact Israel itself defines Jews as constituting a nationality or race. As I explain here, no such thing as Israeli nationality exists in the Jewish state. For purposes of nationality, Israeli citizens are officially listed as Jewish, Arab, or any one of dozens of other categories. When fans of Israel point out that Palestinians are citizens, they ignore the fact that those citizens are not Israeli nationals and that it is nationality, not citizenship, that matters when it comes to Israeli policy regarding access to resources and services. Remember, Israel exists for the benefit of Jews – everywhere – and not for all of its citizens regardless of religion or religious background. It’s a rigged game that cleverly manipulates the terms citizen and national.

Some Trump critics try to tar him as an anti-Semite, but their case so far has been flimsy. His actions – including moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, declaring settlements in conquered territory legal contrary to international law, quitting the Iran nuclear agreement, and working toward a mutual defense alliance – fulfill every Zionists’ wishlist. He’s even overturned a classic alleged anti-Semitic trope by charging Jewish Americans with being insufficiently loyal to Israel.

But now some solid evidence is at hand. Declaring that Jews (including nonbelievers who have Jewish mothers) are members of a separate national and racial group is the essence of anti-Semitism. The only problem for many Trump critics is that it’s also the position Israel and its apologists.

Sheldon Richman is the executive editor of The Libertarian Institute, senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com. He is the former senior editor at the Cato Institute and Institute for Humane Studies, former editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education, and former vice president at the Future of Freedom Foundation. His latest book is Coming to Palestine.

49 thoughts on “Jewishness Is Not a Nationality”

  1. Hey Donnie,
    As an American Jew, I resent you using my religious and cultural identity as a vehicle for justifying your politically-motivated censorship campaigns.

    Protesting Israel’s current anti-Palestinian policies is NOT a form of anti-Semitism, and contrary to your frequent proclamations, Jews who do not agree with Israel on this matter are not inherently less Jewish, less politically savvy, or less patriotic than Jews who support these policies.

    Judaism is not my nationality, and by issuing an edict proclaiming this notion, you are effectively implying that I am “less American” than Christian Americans.

    1. What does make you Jewish? Do you accept the traditional theology? Do you speak Hebrew? Keep kosher? Were you Jewish at birth, or did you become Jewish through a declaration of faith?

    2. Jews who work toward destruction of their refuge State are operating out of privilege and rejection of identification with the world Jewish community.

      Exactly no one says that protesting a particular Israeli policy is itself “antisemitism”. That’s a straw man argument used by those who incorporate bigotry into their “protest” and when called out on the bigotry, try to claim that they were just protesting a “policy”. Zionists protest Israeli policies every day, and no one calls them antisemitic, because they don’t include bigotry in their critiques.

      As a Jew who sees himself as “not less Jewish” than other Jews, and who opposes this effort to help minority Jewish students who are intimidated and harassed by overwhelming mob numbers on some college campuses —

      I hope you are working hard to convince the Mob to stop these intimidation tactic and remind the Mob that — tho it may disagree with a student’s support of Israel — that student also has a right to free speech and should be allowed to express herself on that topic; and she has a right to live on campus free of harassment even tho the Mob doesn’t share her views.

      it really would be great if the intimidation could be curbed without resorting to these linguistic gymnastics, cuz I agree with you that the language is problematic.

      But let’s also not lose the forest for the trees.

      1. Exactly no one says that protesting a particular Israeli policy is itself “antisemitism”

        All evidence to the contrary.

        1. zero evidence to the contrary. What you are getting confused with is that some criticisms of Israel include bigotry — and when the bigotry is included, it gets called out as antisemitism, and properly so.

  2. Is Trump’s daughter truly Jewish, though? Is conversion truly accepted?

    What’s curious is Africans trying to get into Israel. Israel doesn’t seem to accept even those who want to convert.

    Israel is curious…

    1. baloney. African Jews are very much accepted into Israel as citizens. In fact Israelis risked their lives to save African Jews from Ethiopia.

      You are conflating an issue about Non-Jewish Africans who came into Israel illegally for work. Completely unrelated issue.

      As for converts – your statement is also not true. There are issues involving proper methods of conversion and who gets to say what is proper — but Conversion is fully accepted and converts are considered 100% Jews.

  3. Judaism is not a race, it is a religion. Defining it otherwise is grossly disrespectful to an ancient school of spirituality that informed everything from Christianity to Islam. But Semites are a race, and many Arabs are Semites. This means that not only is Zionism sacrilegious toward spiritual Jews, it is inherently anti-Semitic in it’s genocidal targeting of the Semites of Palestine. If you truly want to fight racism, don’t fight free speech, fight Zionism. Many Jews do.

    1. Being Jewish these days is more of an ethnicity. If an atheist with a Jewish mother (like Sheldon Richman) is Jewish, then being Jewish is more than a religious affiliation. I don’t know if Sheldon labels himself “Jewish”, but “Jewish atheist” is actually a thing in common parlance, so being Jewish is not accepting a religion.

      1. a reasonable analogy is like being part of a family, and the family has a shared faith and history. Individual members of the family may agree or disagree with elements of the faith, but they share the many intertwining other aspects of the family life and history.

        Being Jewish includes religion, ethnicity, history and communal commitment. Ultimately it’s the last one — aligning oneself with the larger Jewish community that most identifies a person as a Jew.

        1. There’s nothing wrong with idea of “Jewish by birth” or “Jewish ethnicity/nationality”. It causes no confusion if we agree on the usage, but the usage comports more with usage of “ethnicity” or “nationality” than with “religion” in my neck of the woods.

          If a Jewish mother places her infant for adoption and if the child is adopted by Muslims and raised a Muslim, is the child nonetheless Jewish? May the child, discovering her birth mother later in life, attend a Synagogue, participate in Jewish rituals, immigrate to Israel and the like without a formal conversion? For immigration purposes, I believe she must renounce Islam as a faith but need not express any Jewish faith.

          1. well, this is only a Jewish neck of the woods, so it doesn’t really matter what other areas of the forest understand or do not understand about it.

            “religion” is definitely an inseparable part of it, as I’ve already explained, because Conversions render the converted person into a 100% Jew, who can now if female give birth to a “Jew by birth” etc.

            Your hypo is an interesting one, about a Jewish child who is adopted and raised in another faith – but wants to come back to the Jewish family as a full member. I don’t know if mere renunciation of the other faith would suffice, but expect that it would, and that a formal “conversion” would not be required. You are getting into fairly rare circumstances. It could be that having accepted a contrary faith would now require an actual conversion.

            As for being able to come to a synagogue etc – even non-Jews can do that.

          2. I’m primarily discussing how I encounter, and thus use, a word in common discourse, and many, even most, people calling themselves and generally called “Jewish” (in central North America) are secular and many are atheists, while secular people and atheists don’t call themselves “Christian” regardless of birth, upbringing or past affiliation. That’s a significant difference between usage of the words “Jewish” and “Christian”.

            The Law of Return accepts atheists born to a Jewish mother but not persons espousing another religion like Christianity, so a person born to a Jewish mother and converting to Christianity, even while retaining many Jewish practices, is not eligible without renouncing the Christian faith.

            The Jewish faith itself asserts a covenant between God and descendants of one man, and for an outsider, this tenet of the faith seems to explain the Jewish mother rule, maternity being naturally more certain than paternity. A Talmudic scholar might correct me. Descent from Abraham could be ideological rather than genetic, but the matrilineal tradition seems to have more to do with the latter than the former even if it applies to converts (who are exceptional by design). Men traditionally become Talmudic scholars and Rabbis, so matrilineal descent doesn’t seem to preserve an ideology as much as the bloodline.

            Being Jewish is obviously more complex than genetic descent from Abraham, and it’s also more complex than ideological descent, but being Jewish incorporates elements of both in a way that being Christian, or otherwise religious, does not.

          3. I agree that being Jewish is very different from what people of other faiths mean when they refer to themselves as Christian or Muslim etc.

            As I explained, being Jewish is about being part of the larger family, which although includes matters of faith, is not solely defined by matters of faith — which is what you think of when you say “Christian” or “Bhuddist”.

            As for the “bloodline” idea – I think it has far more to do with mothers being in ancient times the primary educators of the children. But no one really knows. The “genetic” idea doesn’t make any sense given that fathers also have the genetics and are not counted; and converts have zero of the genetics and are counted 100%. So there may be something about it involved but it doesn’t come close to a full or satisfactory explanation.

            Agreed that being a “Jew” is different and more complex than what we generally think of when defining ourselves in reference to a faith.

            It’s got ethnicity, religion, geography, and culture all wrapped up into it, and trying to parse out the elements is rather impossible.

    2. Being Jewish is a lot more than a religion, but you are correct it is not a “race”. There are Black, Brown, White and other shades of Jews.

      Israel is a good place to see them all in one place. Israeli society is about 50% people of color.

      Your dictionary focus on “semites” is not relevant to this discussion.
      “Antisemitism” is a term of art, not based on the dictionary, and it refers solely to bigotry against Jews. It has zero to do with other “Semites”.

      Zionism = Jewish Liberation. It has zero to do with race. Your comments about “genocide” and “racism” are both completely wrong and disgusting.

      Zionism is standing up against genocide and racism. The early founders of Israel are the Malcom X’s of the Jewish community.

      Zionism is the recognition that we need an army to protect us against racism and genocide. When we needed such protection in the past – there was no place we could count on. We are far too tiny in number to stand up against the mob. German Jews were less than 1% of the population at the time of Holocaust. there was no way to self-defend when large segments of the population turn against us.

      Israel has already fought off 4 wars in which the object of the surrounding nations was Genocide against the Jews. The “anti-Zionists” want to force Jews back into pre-holocaust vulnerabilities, which in turn will subject us again to the cycle of oppression and violence against us that has existed now for over 1000 years in both Europe and Arabia.

      If you truly want to fight racism – support Zionism.

      This legislative effort is not about suppressing speech. Jews have never asked even Nazis not to have the right to speak in the USA.

      The point is to try and stop the mob harassment and intimidation that is now occurring on too many campuses in the US. Harassment and intimidation are behaviors that the state can control.

      Israel haters will not be barred from saying or writing whatever vile things they want to say – so long as they don’t cross over into harassment of their fellow students – and for example not allow THEM to have a right to speak.

      The idea of using the mob to shout down people who disagree — and then calling it “free speech” — is an exercise in pure privilege due to the numbers.

  4. I don’t agree with this action at all but to call Trump antisemitic is just very dumb identity politics.

  5. It’s nice to see the Zionists, Wahhabists, and Evangelicals all getting along so well. I’m certain this is what Abraham had in mind. They can discuss which Messiah they are waiting for..1st, 2nd, or 3rd, at the next arms sale convention.

    1. Zionism is at core a secular movement having zero to do with Messianic concepts.

      It is about communal self-protection, with an army to back it up. It bears next to zero relationship to Evangelical religious concepts and actually zero to Wahhabits concepts.

      1. Whatever…same could be said for evangelicals/christianity or wahhabits/islam. You do know who is trying to equate Jewish/Israel/ semite, and every other nuanced definition into a legal gag order.

        1. not at all. Evengelical and Whahabist movements are not secular and no one has been trying to rid the world of evangelicals or Islam.

          If you are thinking of the Trump “nation” law – tho problematic – has zero to do with a “legal gag order”. If anything the impact of the law would be to increase speech.

          Putting aside my disagreement about the use of “nationality” to define Jews and why it’s a problem — the law is aimed at stopping harassment and intimidation of minority students on college campuses by overwhelming Mob numbers. it is not an imaginary problem.

          These mobs are using their right to speech as a weapon to shut down the minority students’ right to speak. The Mob will still be free to say whatever they want, so long as they don’t cross into stepping on the rights of others.

  6. In common parlance, “Jewish” designates a nationality in the same way that “Cherokee” designates one.

      1. By Orthodox standards (as I understand them), matrilineal descent from a Jewish woman is sufficient, not matter how far back the relationship goes. According to cherokee.org, membership in the Cherokee nation requires a recent ancestor who was registered as Cherokee on a Federal census around the turn of the 20th century. This standard presumably governs rights recognized by the Federal government. Cherokees may have other standards.

  7. We will continue to oppose all people who justify stealing Palestinians land, murdering them, destroying their houses, denying them political representations and voting and denying them food clothing and shelter.

    It doesn’t matter what you call the people doing those despicable acts – zionist, Israeli, Jew, American. What does matter is that we will oppose them vocally and physically and boycotting is our right, fuck anyone who dares deny our rights. Go vegan meat is murder. Fuck Trump, fuck the mercenaries, the war machine , capitalists and the Democrat-Republican War Party

      1. That makes it clear. So, one does not have to be born or live in Israel to be an Israeli. One can understand much easier the passion of anti-BDS position.

    1. Assuming the conversion is proper – Yes.

      This is because the very concept of Zionism and modern Israel is for Israel to serve as a refuge for Jews of all races and backgrounds, with an army to protect them.

      That is essentially what Zionism is. It’s based on the recognition that Jews are far too tiny in number when living in Gentile nations to be able to self protect whenever a sizable part of the community starts to scapegoat them and attack them — coupled with the historical fact that such oppression rises and falls on cyclical basis for the last 1000 years throughout Europe and Arabia.

      Zionism said “enough” and argued for a nation state with an army where the protection of the Jewish community would be a guaranteed priority.

      The Israeli citizenship law actually goes even further than jews and converts – and will also take in the spouse of a Jew etc — because history has shown that when the attacks come – close relatives who are not Jewish are often swept up in the oppression.

      1. I do not know what makes a conversion proper? Are there authorities in every country that define a conversion, the way — for example — catholics do?

        1. good question. The orthodox community believes they set the standard. tons of Jews do not agree with them, but the state of Israel goes by that standard.

          it has to do with the amount of time one studies before conversion and oversight by an orthodox rabbi. the Orthodox don’t recognize non-Orthodox rabbis as knowing enough etc. it’a a big bone of contention within the Jewish community.

          1. So it is back to square 1. I thought I get it, now I do not.

            If Jewish = Israeli
            and
            Jewish = proper conversion
            and
            Proper conversion = x-number of rules, not agreed upon by many, questionable even in Israel,
            therefore
            Guaranteed Jewish = hereditary.

            Any other form of Jewish-ness is not accepted basis for full rights Israeli citizenship.

            Am I getting this wrong?

          2. your question has me confused, so I guess you are not getting it. I already stated that Israelis citizenship rights go even beyond Jews to spouses etc. You are trying to limit it for some reason.

            The bottom line is that Israel is fundamentally a refuge state, based on necessity proven by way of over a thousand years of oppression and murder of the Jewish community when living as tiny minorities either in Europe or Arabia.

            That the lines drawn on automatic refuge may not be perfect or could be improved either by expansion or contraction is very much secondary — and for the Israelis to grapple with over time.

        2. sort of, except unlike Catholics there is no final authority. It’s more like the entire Christian community, including Catholics, Baptists, Lutherens etc — which among them would have the final “authority”?

          In practice, each Jewish sect makes it’s own decisions on proper conversion — so a reform community will accept converts that meet any of the major sects’ standards, but an Orthodox community will only accept Orthodox standards. For purposes of automatic entry into Israel, however, Israel allows the Orthodox to set the standard. (it’s a debated issue over there).

          The whole thing is a bit overblown though – because conversion is not that difficult under even the Orthodox standards.

          The difference in standards is mostly about the amount of study involved. An Orthodox conversion requires more study than the others, but all do require study for conversion. It’s not just a declaration of faith, it’s about a commitment to identify as a member of the wider Jewish community.

  8. This article misses the point. First, it says that the new law would recognize Jews as a “race” and that is completely false.

    Second, it postulates that the law is somehow aimed at stopping people from speaking about Palestinian rights — which is also ludicrous.

    The effort in this law is not to shut down speech, but to allow more speech.

    it is not aimed at someone sharing ideas on any topic, including Palestinian rights, but is instead aimed at anyone trying to use their right to speech as a weapon to harass and intimidate a tiny minority.

    There is a problem on many campuses today in which the Mob uses it’s speech to shut down the right of speech of minority students.

    There are many instances of outright harassment and intimidation of Jewish students, and using overwhelming numbers and emotionally charged threats and demonizing rhetoric to force students into silence and fear.

    For too long many administrations have allowed the harassment of minority students to continue, either out of antipathy to their plight or our of a misplaced belief that their hands were tied unless outright physical violence occurred.

    This specific tool may be misplaced by trying to squeeze minority Jewish students into a “nationality” framework — but it is appreciated for its intent.

    Those who advocate against this approach would do well to become strong and loud advocates to find other ways to protect Jewish students from the campus Mobs and to enforce the Jewish students’ rights to speak on issues that concern them — including support of Israel.

    1. This I fully understand. What I do not understand is — how can anyone in University setting or any other setting appropriately support occupied Palestinian people? Regardless where one stands on issues, I am finding it very puzzling that Americans do not have a legitimate forum for addressing the occupation issues from national interest point of view. Without creating an unsafe environment for minority Jewish students?

      There must be a way for everyone to be respectful of diverse points of view.

      1. the “occupation” didn’t occur in a vacuum, and the issues are a lot more complex than “supporting the occupation.”

        The issue is not about “supporting occupation”. It’s about supporting the Jewish community’s right to self-protect in their refuge state.

        Israel had zero occupation for the first 20 years of its existence and the Palestinians had full freedom to do whatever they wanted – create whatever kind of state they wanted, etc.

        yet — still the Arab world launched 3 wars seeking to annihilate the tiny Jewish refuge state. They were clear in their intentions and it has little to do with Palestinians per se – it was all about Islamic control and domination. it was an “insult” to that world to have a free Jewish state in “their” Islamic region.

        So – it’s clear that the occupation is not the driving force behind the Islamic world’s desire to eliminate the Jewish State.

        Second – even after occupation, withdrawal was repeatedly offered in exchange for a true and full peace. Yet STILL they said “no” — again proving that the “occupation” was not the issue for them.

        Now – after soem 60 years of hearing “no” to every peace proposal – and suffering wars and “intifadahs” and terror attacks throughout that period — less and less Israelis have come to believe that peace is even possible.

        Look at Gaza. As soon as occupation was ended, the Gazans doubled down on war and desire to destroy Israel.

        Israelis and Israel supporters see and understand the above. They recognize that under the current mindset of the Palestinian leadership — absent control over the territories, the Palestinians will just use their space to increase attacks on Israel. Imagine a Gaza flooded with Iranian missiles and weapons — and the tens of thousands that would die if that happened.

        No country on the planet withdraws from an occupation absent a peace agreement. Especially if the area is right on your border

        So – it’s not about supporting occupation but about supporting a true and lasting peace with the Jewish refuge. If everyone got on board to support that, perhaps the Palestinian leadership would change and peace could become an actual possibility.

      2. as for respect on college campuses – I agree. Israeli supporters have not been interfering with Israeli haters’ right to speak. it’s been the other way around only. and it’s gotten very intense.

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