Next chapter: BDS, anti-IHRA bills fail at Florida State University

Florida State University. Credit: Flickr.

Continuing a year of drama over the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the student senate at Florida State University dealt a large setback to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement by soundly rejecting three anti-Israel resolutions.

The resolutions were written by Ahmad Daraldik, who had been president of the senate last year in its own series of controversies. During his tenure, he was criticized for numerous antisemitic assertions but was not removed from office — which was ironic given that he assumed the presidency after the former president, Jack Denton, was removed for online posts that were deemed offensive.

The three resolutions were voted down in the Student Life Academic Affairs Committee and did not reach the full student senate.

One resolution was a BDS bill, calling for the university’s trustees to “review their investments and to divest from companies that violate international humanitarian law, naming companies that “implement” Israeli policies against Palestinians. They cite Caterpillar’s D9 bulldozers “which are used by the governing regime to demolish Palestinian homes and violate human rights,” Motorola for its surveillance systems that protect “illegal Israeli settlements” and Hewlett Packard for its “biometric access control system” used at checkpoints. The resolution says FSU’s investment in those companies “shows implicit support for such violations.”

The BDS resolution cited numerous Jewish organizations that support “targeted divestment,” including Jewish Voice for Peace, IfNotNow, Progressive Jewish Students at FSU and several international groups. No mainstream groups were mentioned.

A second resolution sought to reverse last summer’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition on anti-Semitism, calling for the university to “find a more appropriate definition of anti-Semitism to ensure support and protection for Jewish students.”

The resolution objected to the IHRA definition because it would “erode free speech rights for Palestinian, Jewish and Allied Students on campus who wish to legitimately support the Palestinians People’s movement for the right to Self-Determination, Freedom and Human Rights.”

While the definition specifically states that criticism of Israeli policy that is similar to criticism leveled at any other country is not antisemitic, demonization, calls for Israel’s destruction and comparing Israel to Nazi Germany fall under the definition.

Last summer, the FSU chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine demanded that at a “bare minimum” the IHRA definition should be publicly rescinded by University President John Thrasher and an apology issued to Daraldik and all Palestinian students.

Thrasher had announced FSU’s adoption of the international standard on Aug. 12, after the student government approved it on July 15 by a 26-14 vote after a contentious debate.

The third resolution called on the student government “to take both short- and long-term action to ensure that Florida State University is a just, fair and welcoming place for all students, but more specifically, for Arab and Muslim students.” The resolution also stated the university should not support the IHRA definition, and called out senators and administrators that “directly caused harm to Daraldik’s community” during last summer’s controversies.

After the criticism of IHRA was taken out, the resolution passed unanimously on Feb. 1, with the committee chair saying “We need to support our Arab and Muslim students just like we support our Jewish students.”

At the Feb. 1 committee meeting, the BDS bill failed with five no votes and one abstention. Many senators asked Daraldik about the purpose of the resolution, given that Florida has a statewide governmental anti-BDS law.

The second resolution was tabled on Feb. 1, and at the Feb. 8 committee meeting, Daraldik said his resolution to rescind the IHRA definition was not meant to harm any religious group, but give protection to Jewish, Arab and Muslim students. While he called for rescinding the IHRA definition, he said that because he is not Jewish “I do not have a place to give a new definition” for adoption. His concern is that the definition “stifles free speech.”

In his closing remarks, Daraldik said rescinding the definition “serves to make Jewish students more safe on campus.” The resolution failed on Feb. 8, with no votes for, seven against and three abstentions.

“I am so proud of Jewish and pro-Israel students at Florida State University for their tireless work. They did not rest until they made sure their community was represented, supported, and protected. They told their stories bravely and did an outstanding job educating their peers about Israel, the Jewish people, and antisemitism. “ said Talia Lerner, StandWithUs Senior Southern Campus Coordinator.

Several Jewish students and their allies attended both committee meetings to oppose the resolutions. The Jewish Student Union, Noles for Israel, Christians United for Israel and Mishelanu were among the groups represented, and StandWithUs said “We will continue to work with the Israel on Campus Coalition, Hillel International, Hillel at FSU, and all of our partners to help students fight against antisemitism and educate about Israel on campus.”

Daraldik, a Palestinian who grew up in Ramallah, became president of the senate on June 5y after Denton’s removal. On a private group chat, Denton had posted an explanation of traditional Catholic teachings on issues including transgenderism, cutting police funding and challenging the legality of anti-abortion laws. After the thread was leaked, a senate vote to remove him failed, but the issue was re-examined two days later and he was removed from office. Some senators who had voted against removal the first time reported that they had been threatened with removal themselves if they did not reverse their votes.

In late October, the Student Supreme Court reinstated Denton, finding that Daraldik as president pro tempore was responsible for the vote removing Denton and violated Denton’s Constitutional rights by failing to properly investigate claims against him.

Almost immediately after Daraldik took office, some of his past posts were publicized, including a 2013 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.

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.

He had also authored a website, “The Holocaust never ended, it just moved to Palestine,” which is now unavailable, claiming 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. Such comparisons are deemed antisemitism under the IHRA definition.

On June 17, a vote was taken to remove him from office, but it failed, 19-16-6. A two-thirds vote was needed for removal.

Activists from SJP said it was unfair to cite “eight year old tweets,” but in defending himself at the meeting, Daraldik charged that Israel commits the “same crimes” that the Nazis did.

Over the next few weeks, SJP orchestrated a campaign to filibuster against adoption of the IHRA definition.