Trump at the IAC Summit
Trump at the IAC Summit Noam Galai

US President Donald 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 told The New York Times on Tuesday.

The order will effectively interpret Judaism as a nationality, not just a religion, to trigger a federal law penalizing colleges and universities deemed to be shirking their responsibility to foster an open climate for minority students, said the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In signing the order, Trump will use his executive power to take action where Congress has not, essentially replicating bipartisan legislation that has stalled on Capitol Hill for years.

Prominent Democrats have joined Republicans in promoting such a policy change at a time of rising tension on campuses over anti-Semitism as well as the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Critics have complained that such a policy could be used to stifle free speech and legitimate opposition to Israel’s policies toward Palestinians in the name of fighting anti-Semitism, according to The New York Times. The definition of anti-Semitism to be used in the order, which matches the one used by the State Department, has been criticized as too open-ended and sweeping.

Opponents of the definition fear that it could be used to declare any defense of Palestinian autonomy to be anti-Semitic, with federal education funding as a cudgel.

The president is expected to be joined at the signing by several prominent Republican lawmakers, including Senators Tim Scott of South Carolina and James Lankford of Oklahoma and Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, according to the report. Democrats who have advocated the legislation in the past are not expected to be present, including Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, who on Tuesday released articles of impeachment against Trump.

In addition to violent anti-Semitic incidents on US campuses, there have been attempts to endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Just last week, for example, a Brown University advisory committee recommended that the college divest from “companies identified as facilitating human rights abuses in Palestine”.

In early March, the student government at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania voted to approve a resolution calling on the school to divest from companies that do business with Israel related to Judea and Samaria.

In December of 2018, the Student Government Assembly (SGA) at New York University (NYU) voted in favor of a BDS-type resolution calling for the divestment of companies that do business with the IDF.

In his speech this past Saturday night at the IAC conference in Florida, Trump denounced BDS.

The President stressed in his remarks that his administration “vigorously condemns the BDS campaign against Israel” and noted that “sadly, BDS has also made disturbing headway on American college campuses”.