Florida State adopts IHRA definition after summer of campus antisemitism controversies

Ahmad Daraldik

While many groups are praising Florida State University for adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, the move comes after a contentious summer that saw the student senate refuse to act against a president who had a history of antisemitic social media posts, just weeks after bouncing his predecessor for online posts that had been deemed offensive.


On Aug. 12, University President John Thrasher said the university was adopting the IHRA definition and “will institute annual training for its staff surrounding antisemitism, religious discrimination and ways in which to foster a more inclusive campus for our Jewish students and employees.”


The student government had approved the definition by a 26-14 vote on July 15, though the student government president had tried to filibuster against it.


The summer of controversy began after Student Senate President Jack Denton, a member of the Catholic Student Union, was on the group’s private chat in late May and responded to a list of organizations to financially support while being “allies” in the current political climate. He replied that Black Lives Matter, the American Civil Liberties Union and Reclaim the Block promote things that he viewed as against traditional Catholic teachings, including transgenderism, cutting police funding and challenging the legality of anti-abortion laws.


He told Catholic News Agency that “as a devout Catholic and a college student, I felt that it was my responsibility to point out this discrepancy, to make sure that my fellow Catholics knew what they were partaking in.”


Screenshots of the chat were leaked to a student senator, and a June 3 meeting was called to vote on his removal from office. It failed, but an “emergency” meeting to try again was called for June 5, and senators who voted against removal the first time reported being threatened with removal themselves if they did not reverse their votes. At the second meeting, he was voted out.


The student-run Spire magazine said Denton “holds values which are antithetical to FSU’s anti-discrimination policy and could make our school’s most marginalized students feel unwelcome and unsafe.”


Denton is fighting the senate’s refusal to allow him to appeal his ouster, with legal assistance from the Alliance Defending Freedom. The foundation cites religious freedom and disparate treatment, especially given what happened with his successor, Ahmad Daraldik, who was voted in at the June 5 meeting.


Controversy quickly erupted as social media posts and a Holocaust minimization website by Daraldik emerged, leading to a five-hour Zoom meeting on June 17 where he survived a vote of no confidence, 19-16-6. A two-thirds supermajority was required to remove him from office.


In 2013, Daraldik posted a photo purporting to show an Israeli soldier with his boot on the chest of a Palestinian child who was on the ground, and a rifle pointed at his head. Daraldik reposted it with “stupid jew thinks he is cool.” The photo itself was staged and does not depict an Israeli soldier, though a statement from the university’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine touted it as genuine.


Daraldik told FSU News the photo could have been staged, but he was “12 years old and it was hard to differentiate what was real and was not real.” Living in the territories, “I couldn’t differentiate between a Jew, a Zionist and an [Israeli Defense Forces] soldier because of the [military] occupation.”


In 2019, he posted a photo of himself with a statue of Nelson Mandela, adding the hashtags “f—theoccupation” and “f—israel.” He defended that post by referencing an August 2019 trip to the disputed territories where he allegedly had a negative experience at a Israeli checkpoint.


“I was dehumanized, I was humiliated, and I was upset,” said Daraldik.


A website that Daraldik had authored, “The Holocaust never ended, it just moved to Palestine,” which is now unavailable, claimed Europe’s Jews survived gas chambers and concentration camps to learn how to create a Holocaust for Palestinians, and harvest the organs of Palestinians. On the site, he said “More than 11 million Palestinians have either been massacred, raped, imprisoned, sieged or bombed” and placed Nazi photos alongside Palestinian images as a comparison.


His site also argued that Israel was taken away from the Jews because they violated the Torah’s commandments, and that Judaism forbids the establishment of a Jewish state.


In the June 17 meeting, he justified the website by citing the writings of a Jewish extremist, Norman Finkelstein, who said “The Zionists indeed learnt well from the Nazis. So well that it seems that their morally repugnant treatment of the Palestinians, and their attempts to destroy Palestinian society within Israel and the occupied territories, reveals them as basically Nazis with beards and black hats.”


While supporters of Daraldik said it was unfair to go after him for “eight year old tweets,” in a video he made in his defense, he charged that Israel commits the “same crimes” that the Nazis did, a position also espoused by groups like SJP.


SJP is a group that seeks to cancel pro-Israel voices on college campuses, and whose activities have led to an increase in antisemitic incidents on campuses where they have chapters.


Noles for Israel noted that Daraldik refused to apologize, instead saying the posts came from when he was younger.


“This is not about posts from 8 years ago,” Noles for Israel said. “It is about a consistent pattern of antisemitism that has continued all the way through the June 17 Senate meeting.”


While expressing “compassion” for Daraldik’s personal experiences, “no one’s experiences create a free pass to promote hate against other minority groups.”


Daraldik is Palestinian who grew up in Ramallah under Palestinian Authority rule. He attended Ramallah’s prestigious Bridge Academy private school, which is for Americans and international students.


A statement from the campus chapters of Noles for Israel, Christians United for Israel and Mishelanu said Daraldik has the “right to say whatever he wants… these claims are false, they are slanderous, they are antisemitic, and they are hate speech.”


The groups “expect” the same standard to apply to antisemitism that has been applied “in the past to address problematic statements” toward other groups.


Students for Justice in Palestine at FSU said accusations of antisemitism were “based on flimsy evidence” and come from “racist and Islamophobic assumptions” about Palestinians.


The statement urging senators to “protect Ahmad from a racist and Islamophobic campaign” ended with “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which is a call for the elimination of Israel.


The pro-Israel groups’ statement commented that when Daraldik was first elected, “we respected the fact that he was proud of his nationality,” but it became an issue when his website and social media posts became known.


Dan Leshem, executive director of FSU Hillel, said “These claims go beyond legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and into modern reincarnations of centuries-old ‘blood libels’ that have been used as the justification for the murder of thousands of Jews over the past millennium.”


In the midst of the controversy, Rawan Abhari, the student government’s secretary of internal affairs, retweeted on June 18 that “the fsu zionist community is a bunch of rich white hypocrites who looked the other way when black people were being murdered by the police and now are tryna dig up old s— bc they don’t like seeing a palestinian person in a position of power.” The original poster deleted the account.


Within a couple of days, she apologized, saying “Antisemitism is not acceptable, not condoned, nor some lesser form of hate or discrimination compared to others. I apologize for any hurt my words may have created.”


On June 22, Florida Legislative Jewish Caucus leaders denounced Daraldik’s comments.


“Students expressing extreme or bigoted views against any segment of a University’s population should not be in a position of authority,” said Rep. Richard Stark of Weston, a Democrat. “It is in the best interests of Florida State University for him to step down.”


“Part of FSU’s stated mission is ‘to instill the strength, skill, and character essential for lifelong learning, personal responsibility, and sustained achievement within a community that fosters free inquiry and embraces diversity’,” said Rep. Emily Slosberg of Boca Raton. “I struggle to understand how anti-Semitic comments by a member of the University’s student leadership further that mission or create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all students.”


On June 22, Thrasher voiced support for Jewish students and families. “I want every single person at Florida State University to be proud of the diverse environment we offer and, when they are not, to speak up and be engaged in the solution,” he said. “Let’s work together to help each other advance the university we love and to ensure all students feel a part of Florida State.”


On July 16, the South Florida city of Aventura adopted a resolution urging FSU to remove Daraldik, denouncing his antisemitic social media posts and encouraging citizens to stand against antisemitism.


Alums for Campus Fairness also called for Daraldik’s ouster. “Universities should be pillars of truth, academic freedom and open discourse. A student leader who spreads antisemitic blood libels undermines these values and threatens to create a discriminatory environment for Jewish students,” Avi D. Gordon, ACF’s Executive Director said.


An online petition calling for Daraldik’s ouster received 8,000 signatures.


According to Hillel International, 4,088 of the 41,005 students at Florida State are Jewish.


On June 29, Daraldik wrote to the student body that he is “simply and deeply sorry to all community members that were offended by the comments I made” when he was 12 and 15 years old as a “Palestinian child who lived under military occupation.” He said his past voting record has always been against antisemitism and in support of Jewish students. “My goal is not to divide communities or make students or faculty feel like they have to pick sides.”



Filibustering Antisemitism


On June 19, a resolution was introduced to combat antisemitism on campus, “increase Jewish communication and representation” and create a task force to deal with issues Jewish students face.

The resolution also proposed adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism. This proposal garnered similar controversy to the Daraldik vote when it was taken up a month later.


One of the stated reasons behind the resolution was that “the statements made by President Daraldik caused deep hurt and fear to the Jewish and Israeli communities, as well as to many other students at Florida State University.”


Noles for Israel cited swastikas in bathrooms, being demonized on social media for standing next to an Israeli flag, and having Jewish voices “drowned out by those trying to minimize our experiences with antisemitism” as other examples.


Over 40 countries have adopted the IHRA working definition, and the U.S. State Department uses it when evaluating Title VI discrimination complaints. It defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. 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.”


It adds that “Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for ‘why things go wrong.’ It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.”


The Florida State SJP launched a campaign against the resolution, citing a “chilling impact on pro-Palestine speech” and asserted that “anti-Zionist Jews are under attack.”


The definition does refer to antisemitic criticism of Israel, “conceived as a Jewish collectivity,” but makes clear that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”


Dual loyalty charges aimed at world Jewry, comparing Israeli policy to Nazi Germany, claiming the State of Israel is a racist endeavor, denying Jews the right of national self-determination while advocating self-determination for other groups, and applying a double-standard of behavior not expected of any other nation are examples that go against the definition.


A five-hour meeting on July 8 took up the resolution — after two hours debating general “housekeeping” issues despite dozens waiting to speak about the resolution. The meeting concluded without a vote, leading Daisy Judge, a board member of CUFI at FSU to tell The Algemeiner that it was “another push of coordinated attacks against the Jewish people at FSU.” She added that Jewish students had been harassed for contacting student senators and were labeled “right-wing.”


On July 15, another lengthy meeting was held, and the resolution was passed, 26-14, after even more fireworks.


Reps. Stark and Slosberg, who were on the Zoom call, were denied the opportunity to speak during the meeting by Daraldik, who they had criticized a few weeks earlier.


“One of the biggest reasons that I am not going to allow the representatives to speak is due to the fact that in multiple media outlets in many different instances, they have made clear their intent on how they feel on different pieces of legislation and the internal affairs of how this student government works,” said Daraldik. “And due to the fact that we are a student government, I do not feel comfortable to allow legislators to sway senators to feel a different way or vote a specific way or whatever it may be that their intent is.”


Following several failed attempts by numerous student senators to override Daraldik’s choice, FSU student government president Jonathan Levin used his executive powers, ordering Daraldik to allow the lawmakers to speak as his guests.


“They let us come to and speak to them, we should let them come and speak to us,” said Levin. “Honestly, this is ridiculous.”


Lioz Grunberger, StandWithUs Emerson Fellow and vice president for programming for FSU Noles for Israel and Nolepac, said that despite the pride in getting the resolution passed, “we are disappointed in all of the shameful attempts to derail and distort it. Multiple amendments were put forward and even adopted without the consent of the Jewish community.”


Among them was a non-Jewish senator proposing that instead of the IHRA definition, the government adopt a definition of antisemitism from Jewish Voice for Peace, which Grunberger referred to as “an anti-Israel hate group.”


JVP routinely promotes campaigns that fall under the IHRA definition of antisemitism and works with SJP chapters in anti-Israel efforts.


An open letter from “Jewish and Palestinian women” said the IHRA definition should be replaced with “a serious analysis of antisemitism that affirms the centrality of ending white supremacy in the struggle to end all related systems of oppression” and training in Judaism from the “collective liberation” approach of Jews For Racial and Economic Justice.


Also, Students for Justice in Palestine requested the removal of language in the resolution about uniting the Jewish, Israeli and Palestinian communities on campus.


“As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, I appreciate this basic step taken to address antisemitism inside and outside the FSU Student Senate,” said Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs. “There was a campaign to distort this resolution and further silence the Jewish community, which only proves how much more work needs to be done on this campus.”


Moving Forward


In the Aug. 12 announcement, Thrasher said passage of the IHRA resolution by the student government was “to be commended, but we know it is only a first step in addressing needed changes in campus culture.”


FSU administrators, led by Vice President for Student Affairs Amy Hecht, have been working closely throughout the summer with Jewish student leaders, Hillel at FSU leadership, Jewish alumni and local Jewish organizations.


A task force is reviewing Jewish student life on campus and will make a report by Sept. 7. There will be a campus survey, and FSU has reestablished its Jewish Student Union and is creating a Jewish Alumni Network.


The Division of Student Affairs will institute annual training for its staff surrounding antisemitism, religious discrimination and ways in which to foster a more inclusive campus for our Jewish students and employees, Thrasher said, and significant religious holidays are being listed on the university calendar.


“My university leadership team and I will continue to work determinedly to combat Antisemitism and unlawful behavior. While freedom of speech is of paramount importance on a college campus, so is creating a climate of acceptance and appreciation for the value and richness of the many cultures and ideas that make Florida State University such an excellent academic experience,” Thrasher said.