President Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday instructing federal agencies to use Title VI — the law that bars federally funded programs from discriminating on the basis of “race, color, or national origin” — to combat anti-Semitism. That move sparked uproar from critics who stressed that Jews are not a race or nationality and argued that it confirmed “centuries-old anti-Semitic tropes.” But Mr. Trump’s interpretation of Title VI as applying to anti-Semitism is neither new nor troubling. The characterization of anti-Semitism as a form of racial or national-origin discrimination has a secure place in American law.
Title VI was enacted as part of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Other titles of that statute — including Title II, which bars discrimination in public accommodations; Title III, which requires desegregation of public facilities; and Title IV, which empowers the Justice Department to pursue public school desegregation — cover race, color, religion and national origin. Title VII, which prohibits discrimination in employment, applies to race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Title VI is conspicuous in that it leaves religion out.
Yet the idea that Title VI could apply to anti-Semitism emerged even before the law’s enactment. During an April 1964 floor debate, Senator Joseph Clark of Pennsylvania — one of four Democrats who led the push to pass the legislation through the upper chamber — suggested that Title VI banned anti-Semitism in federally funded programs. “Certainly a broad definition of ‘national origin’ would include individuals of Jewish origin or race,” Mr. Clark said, emphasizing that Jews cannot escape anti-Semitism by following a different faith.
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