Where the order expands on the Obama-era guidelines is in its inclusion of IHRA rules specifying that some criticisms of Israel - such as those comparing Israel to Nazi Germany - can be construed as anti-Semitic, the Slate legal writer Mark Joseph Stern wrote.
On that basis, the education department could withhold funding from universities that it finds in violation of the article. A senior administration official told CNN on Wednesday that the order "does not "define" Judaism at all".
ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt told the New York Times that he hopes the order would be implemented fairly, but "the fact of the matter is we see Jewish students on college campuses and Jewish people all over being marginalised".
White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner clarified the meaning of the order signed by the president.
Specifically the order is aimed at quashing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which has growing support on campuses, by forcing universities to block the movement or face a cut in government funds.
The order will broaden the federal government's definition of anti-Semitism and instruct it to be used in enforcing laws against discrimination on college campuses, according to unnamed sources speaking to United States media.
The definition of anti-Semitism will be adapted from the State Department, according to the order.
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Initial reporting indicated that the order would include language defining Judaism as a "national origin", setting off a frenzy among major Jewish organizations, activists and lawmakers.
"Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities", the text reads. The US is a member of the alliance.
Trump put pen to paper on the order at a Hanukkah reception in the White House's East Room, joined by prominent Jewish-Americans including constitutional lawyer Alan Dershowitz and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
"This executive order, like the stalled congressional legislation it is based on, appears designed less to combat anti-Semitism than to have a chilling effect on free speech and to crack down on campus critics of Israel", it said in a statement.
The BDS movement, which stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, aims to "end global support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians" and boycott Israel for its activities in the West Bank and Gaza.
The Trump administration has previously acted to constrain perceived campus anti-Semitism - a year ago reopening a case of alleged discrimination against Jewish students at Rutgers University in New Jersey. In a speech to an Israeli-American organization, he suggested that numerous attendees at the event were wealthy and in real estate, and that their wealth would guide their votes in the 2020 presidential election.
"Even the Democrat can come up", cracked Trump at one point, drawing the group closer.