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Trump Signs Order Interpreting Judaism as Race or Nationality

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  • President Trump signed an executive order that will effectively label Judaism as a race or nationality, not just a religion.
  • The move is intended to crack down on what the Trump administration views as growing anti-Semitism on college campuses.
  • The reclassification places Judaism under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which allows the Education Department to withhold federal funding from colleges that discriminate based “on the ground of race, color, and national origin,” but not religion.
  • While some praised the move, a number of Jewish groups condemned it. Others said the policy was reminiscent of when Nazi Germany labeled Jews as a race.

Trump Executive Order

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that would legally interpret Judaism as a race or nationality and not just a religion under federal law.

The Trump administration said that the move will allow the Education Department to crack down on what it views as growing anti-Semitism on college campuses.

Reclassifying Judaism as a nationality puts it under the purview of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which allows the Education Department to withhold federal funding from colleges that discriminate based “on the ground of race, color, and national origin.”

Notably, that does not include discrimination based religion, so labeling Judaism as a race or nationality will let the Education Department prevent colleges that it believes are acting in an anti-Semitic way from receiving funding.

The move comes at a time when anti-Israel sentiments have become more prevalent on college campuses largely due to the growing support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

The goal of the movement is to pressure Israel to change its treatment of Palestinians by protesting the country and it’s West Bank settlements, which are considered illegal under international law. 

Supporters of the movement compare it to the boycotts of South Africa during apartheid, while opponents say it is anti-Semitic and undermines Israel as a Jewish state.

Criticisms of Executive Order

News that Trump would likely sign the executive order circulated Tuesday night, and the topic quickly began trending on Twitter.

Critics of the move argued that the policy could be used to stifle free speech because it could be used to stop legitimate criticism and concerns about Israel’s policies towards Palestinians.

That point was echoed by Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, who told the New York Times that the policy was part of an ongoing campaign “to silence Palestinian rights activism” by amounting any opposition of the Israeli treatment Palestinians to anti-Semitism.

Notably, a number of Jewish groups also spoke out and condemned Trump’s efforts.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of the prominent Jewish advocacy group J Street criticized the policy, saying in a statement that it would “have a chilling effect on free speech and to crack down on campus critics of Israel.”

“We feel it is misguided and harmful for the White House to unilaterally declare a broad range of nonviolent campus criticism of Israel to be anti-Semitic, especially at a time when the prime driver of anti-Semitism in this country is the xenophobic, white nationalist far-right,” he added.

Halie Soifer, the executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America also echoed that point in a similar statement. 

“If President Trump truly wanted to address the scourge of anti-Semitism he helped to create, he would accept responsibility for his role emboldening white nationalism, perpetuating anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and repeating stereotypes that have led to violence targeting Jews,” she said.

Some also argued that Trump was being hypocritical, pointing to remarks he made in a speech on Saturday to the Israeli American Council that were condemned by a number of Jewish groups who accused the president of using Anti-Semitic tropes.

This included the president telling the Jewish audience that they had “no choice” but to vote for him because they would lose money to Democratic wealth tax plans, as well as Trump saying that Jews “don’t love Israel enough.”

Others noted that labeling Judaism as a nationality or race has dangerous roots in history, with a number of Twitter users pointing out that Nazi Germany labeled Judaism as a race and not just a religion under the Nuremberg Laws in 1935.

Some, like Emily Mayer, the policy director of activist group IfNotNow, also argued that defining Judaism as a nationality is also connected to the anti-Semitic trope that American Jews are not American, or that they have dual loyalties to Israel.

“The order’s move to define Judaism as a ‘nationality’ promotes the classically bigoted idea that American Jews are not American,” she told the Washington Post.

Praise for Executive Order

However, there were also a number of individuals and Jewish groups that commended the proposed executive order.

“These are significant steps in the ongoing fight against antisemitism and the BDS movement on college campuses,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz said in a statement.

Several American Jewish groups applauded the move, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

“Of course we hope it will be enforced in a fair manner,” ADL chief executive Jonathan Greenblatt told the Times. “But the fact of the matter is we see Jewish students on college campuses and Jewish people all over being marginalized.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition also praised the policy, with its chairman, former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) calling the policy a “truly historic and important moment for Jewish Americans.”

President Trump has extended to Jewish students very strong, meaningful legal protection from anti-Semitic discrimination,” he added.

While signing the order Wednesday, Trump said the new policy “makes clear” that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act would “apply to institutions that traffic in anti-Semitic hate.”

See what others are saying: (Vox) (NBC News) (The Jerusalem Post)

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House Approves Bill to Make Lynching a Federal Crime

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  • The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill that would make lynching a federal crime in a 410-4 vote. 
  • A version of the bill was passed last year by the Senate and once the two bills are formally reconciled, the legislation can advance to the president to be signed into law.
  • Trump is expected to approve the legislation.
  • The advancement of this measure is historic, as efforts to make lynching a federal crime have been attempted by lawmakers for over a century.

Bill Passed

In a historic move on Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to make lynching a federal crime. 

HR 35, also known as the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, was proposed by Dem. Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois. Rush said on the floor Wednesday that the measure will “send a strong message that violence, and race-based violence in particular, has no place in American society.” He cited the violence at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville and the El Paso mass shooting that targeted people of color last year in his arguments for why the measure was needed today as much as ever before. 

The bill received widespread, bipartisan support and passed in a 410-4 vote. One independent representative, Justin Amash (MI), and three Republican representatives, Thomas Massie (KY), Ted Yoho (FL), and Louie Gohmert (TX), voted against it. 

Yoho told CNN that he did not approve the measure because he thought of it as an “overreach of the federal government” that suppresses states’ rights. 

The Senate unanimously passed a version of the bill last year called the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act. Because the numbers and the titles of the two bills differ, additional steps need to be taken to reconcile them. Once that happens, the legislation can advance to the president. A White House spokesperson said Trump is expected to sign it into law, according to The New York Times.   

America’s Gruesome Lynching History

Efforts to make lynching a federal crime have been made for over a century in the United States. In 1900 Rep. George Henry White, the only black member of Congress at the time, proposed a bill attempting this move. It failed to advance. 

Since then, the nation’s legislature has seen other attempts to make lynching a federal crime, but each to no avail for various reasons. HR 35 notes that “nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress during the first half of the 20th century.” 

Lynching and its racist roots run deep in American history. The text of HR 35 says that 4,742 people, mostly African Americans, were reported lynched in the United States between 1882 and 1968. 

One of these cases was that of Emmett Till, whom the just-passed House bill is named after. Till, a 14-year-old black boy, was brutally beaten and lynched in a 1955 racist attack for allegedly whistling at a white woman. 

The two men who killed Till were put on trial for murder but were acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury. In 2017 Till’s accuser, Carolyn Donham, admitted that the boy did not actually make sexual advances toward her decades ago.

Till’s mother held an open-casket funeral for her son so the world could see his mutilated body and take in the horror of his murder, a move that helped to launch the civil rights movement. 

Wednesday’s vote is a strong push toward criminalizing a practice that killed Till and many more. 

“We are one step closer to finally outlawing this heinous practice and achieving justice for over 4,000 victims of lynching,” Rep. Rush said in a statement last week when the House vote was announced. 

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Washington Post) (CNN)

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Russian Election Interference Report Was “Overstated,” Intelligence Officials Say

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  • Last week, it was reported that the top intelligence official for election security told the House Intelligence Committee that Russia was interfering in the 2020 election to get President Trump elected.
  • Intelligence officials are now saying that their assessment of Russian interference was overstated and that there is no evidence Russians are taking steps to help Trump’s campaign.
  • Some officials have also expressed concern over how the information has been distorted and politicized by both Democrats and Republicans.

Intelligence Report

Members of the intelligence community are now saying that a top official overstated their assessment of Russian interference in the 2020 election cycle during a briefing before a group of Congress members.

The briefing was given to the House Intelligence Committee on Feb. 13. by the top intelligence official for election security, Shelby Pierson.

When news of the briefing broke a week later, it was reported that the lawmakers were told Russia was interfering in the election in an attempt to get President Donald Trump re-elected. 

Trump responded to the reports in a tweet in which he claimed that Democrats were launching “another misinformation campaign.” 

Trump also later accused Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) of leaking the intelligence report to the media without providing any evidence.

“The Democrats are treating Bernie Sanders very unfairly and it sounds to me like a leak from Adam Schiff because they don’t want Bernie Sanders to represent them,” Trump said.

Intel Officials Dispute Report

Now, intelligence officials are saying that Pierson overstated their assessment and that there is no evidence Russians are taking steps to help Trump’s campaign.

“The intelligence doesn’t say that,” an intelligence official told CNN. 

“A more reasonable interpretation of the intelligence is not that they have a preference, it’s a step short of that. It’s more that they understand the President is someone they can work with, he’s a dealmaker.”

One official who also spoke to CNN said that the way Pierson characterized the intelligence was “misleading,” while another just said she failed to provide “nuance” that was needed to convey the information.

The officials additionally told CNN that pointed questions from the lawmakers on the committee regarding Pierson’s characterization of the Russian interference caused her to “overstep and assert that Russia has a preference for Trump to be reelected.”

To that point, intelligence officials who spoke to NBC told them that Pierson’s description of the assessment “was an overstatement, fueled […] by a misinterpretation by some Democratic lawmakers on the committee.”

Notably, NBC also reported that two former officials briefed on the matter told them there is in fact evidence that indicates Russians would like Trump to stay in office.

One thing that is clear is that Russia is trying to sow discord in the election and create polarization— and it seems to be succeeding. The officials interviewed by NBC said that they were worried the information regarding Russian interference was being distorted by both Republicans and Democrats for political gain.

Some of the officials specifically expressed concern over Trump’s handling of the situation.

“Trump and his national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, have sidestepped questions about how they would respond to foreign election interference, and have instead put the focus on the Democrats,” NBC reported. “By doing so, they have also played politics with intelligence and national security, current and former officials say.”

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (CNN) (Fox News)

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Bernie Sanders Wins Nevada Caucus

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  • Bernie Sanders won the Nevada Caucus by a landslide, receiving more than 46% of the vote. Joe Biden came in second with just over 20%.
  • Pete Buttigieg, who came in third with 13.9%, attacked Sanders for being too polarizing, though entrance polls showed that Sanders pulled in a broad coalition of voters.
  • Buttigieg’s campaign also complained about “inconsistencies” with the election in a letter to the Nevada Democratic Party.
  • Sanders separately received criticism for comments he made about Fidel Castro on 60 Minutes Sunday night, reigniting the debate over his left-leaning views and electability.

Sanders Wins Nevada 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) won a decisive victory in the Nevada Caucus on Saturday, beating his competitors in a landslide vote.

With 96% of precincts reporting on Monday morning, Sanders has received 46.8% of the vote, followed by former Vice President Joe Biden with 20.4% and South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 13.9%.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who got 9.8% of the vote, was below the threshold to take home any delegates, as were billionaire Tom Steyer and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who received 4.6% and 4.2% respectively.

Source: The New York Times

Sanders’ sweeping win in Nevada is significant. Throughout his campaign, one of the major questions surrounding Sanders’ candidacy has been whether or not he can pull in voters outside of his base.

Now, entrance polls from Nevada show that a diverse group of voters turned out to support the Democratic Socialist senator.

“Sanders won not only with voters under 30 and people who identify as very liberal, but also with men, women, Hispanics (overwhelmingly), voters 45 to 64 and people with and without college degrees,” NPR reported.

According to CNN, Sanders won 53% of Latino voters, which is three times as much as Biden, who won the second-highest amount with 17%.

Sanders appeared to hit on this point while giving his victory speech on Saturday.

“In Nevada, we have just put together a multi-generational, multi-racial coalition which is going to not only win in Nevada, it’s going to sweep this country,” he said.

Buttigieg’s Speech & Letter

Despite Sanders’ broad coalition, Buttigieg spent most of his post-election speech going after the senator for being too polarizing.

“I believe the best way to defeat Donald Trump and deliver for the American people is to broaden and galvanize the majority that supports us on critical issues,” he said. “Senator Sanders believes in an inflexible, ideological revolution that leaves out most Democrats, not to mention most Americans.”

“We can prioritize either ideological purity or inclusive victory,” he continued. “We can either call people names online or we can call them into our movement. We can either tighten a narrow and hardcore base or open the tent to a new and broad and big-hearted American coalition.” 

Separately, Buttigieg’s campaign sent a letter to the Nevada Democratic Party late on Saturday night, claiming that there were “material irregularities pertaining to the process of integrating early votes into the in-person precinct caucus results.”

“Given how close the race is between second and third place, we ask that you take these steps before releasing any final data,” the campaign wrote. 

At the time, about half of the results had been publicly reported and showed Biden firmly in second place with 19% percent of the vote to Buttigieg’s 15%.

The state party’s communications director Molly Forgey responded to the letter in a statement on Sunday.

“We laid out our early vote and Caucus Day processes step by step, and we communicated these processes to all campaigns,” she said. “We are continuing to verify and to report results.”

“We never indicated we would release a separate breakdown of early vote and in-person attendees by precinct and will not change our reporting process now,” Forgey continued. “As laid out in our recount guidance, there is a formal method for requesting a challenge of results.”

Sanders 60 Minutes Interview

But criticisms of Sanders’ polarizing nature and left-leaning politics resurfaced again after an interview the senator did with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes aired Sunday evening.

During the segment, Sanders responded to a clip of an interview he gave in the 1980s, where he claimed the Cuban people did not rise up against former leader Fidel Castro because of policies he implemented regarding education and healthcare.

“You know, when Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did?” Sanders asked. “He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?” 

“There are a lot of dissidents imprisoned in Cuba,” Cooper responded.

“That’s right. And we condemn that,” Sanders said. “Unlike Donald Trump — let’s be clear — I do not think that Kim Jung Un is a good friend. I don’t trade love letters with a murdering dictator. Vladimir Putin: not a good friend of mine.”

Many people on both sides of the aisle condemned Sanders for his remarks.

“He’s wrong about why people didn’t overthrow Castro,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) wrote on Twitter. “It’s not because ‘he educated their kids, gave them health care’ it‘s because his opponents were  jailed, murdered or exiled”

“The literacy rate in Cuba was already high before Castro (and many other countries have achieved 100% literacy without, you know, murdering and imprisoning dissidents),” Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro tweeted.

A number of Democrats and more liberal figures also slammed Sanders’ comments about the Cuban leader. 

Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL) said she wished Sanders would “take time to speak to some of my constituents before he decides to sing the praises of a murderous tyrant like Fidel Castro.”

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, himself a 2020 contender, also criticized Sanders’ remarks in a tweet.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Politico) (NPR)

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