Florida State U. faces civil rights complaint after denouncing antisemitism

Florida State University

By Farley Weiss and Leonard Grunstein

(JNS) — A student elected as president of the student senate at Florida State University in June of 2020 has a reported history of derogatory comments towards Jews and Israel. They included social media posts that compared Israel to Nazi Germany, using an expletive in relation to Israel and employing the slur “stupid Jew.”

Florida state officials criticized the individual for his comments and the then-FSU president issued a statement referring to the individual’s online posts as offensive and antisemitic. The student issued a public apology.

The matter did not end there, however. In an Orwellian maneuver, CAIR Florida and Palestine Legal wrote a letter to the FSU president complaining about the condemnation of the student’s offensive remarks.

Astonishingly, the letter claimed that FSU’s actions could be a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act — a not too subtle threat. The letter went on to demand an apology be issued and FSU’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism rescinded.

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CAIR’s focus on FSU’s adoption of the IHRA definition is telling. The IHRA definition has been embraced by the Biden administration and adopted by the U.S. State Department. The Florida Anti-Semitism Protections Law of 2019 uses a similar definition. CAIR, however, appears determined to delegitimize the definition, likely due to its inclusion of antisemitic attacks on Israel.

Palestine Legal filed a Title VI complaint against FSU on April 13, 2021, with the Office of Civil Rights in Atlanta. There was no investigation opened. On Nov. 14, 2022, another complaint was registered with the Washington Office of Civil Rights.

At first, no action was taken, but on June 9, 2023, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights opened an investigation into FSU.

This is unlikely to be a coincidence. The frivolous complaints were only acted upon after CAIR, a close ally of Palestine Legal, was included as a partner in the Biden administration’s strategy against antisemitism.

Clearly, the Biden administration included CAIR in its strategy even though CAIR is helping to lead the fight to defend campus antisemites. The administration must dump CAIR now if it wants its claim to be fighting antisemitism to have any credibility.

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt has recognized the problem with CAIR and its cohorts being given a seat at the table in the effort to combat antisemitism. He understands that it makes defeating what Rabbi Lord Dr. Jonathan Sacks referred to as a mutating virus all the more difficult.

In an interview at the recent Aspen conference, Greenblatt stated, “It’s a miss that the White House isn’t talking about Israel in its rollout of its National Strategy to Combat Antisemitism.”

He added, “Ultimately, the administration will be judged not by what they say, but what they do.”

Greenblatt pointed out that the Biden administration’s plan failed to state outright that anti-Zionism is antisemitism. This does not appear to be an accident. It was necessary in order to obtain CAIR and far-left groups like J Street’s support for the plan. The administration also referenced the Nexus document in its plan, even though that document clearly states that anti-Zionism is not antisemitism.

On a Facebook panel, Greenblatt correctly asserted that those who use the phrase “Free Palestine” should be restricted on social media, since the phrase references the desire to replace Israel with a Palestinian state, either expelling or destroying the approximately seven million Israeli Jews. Facebook disagreed.

The opening of a federal investigation into FSU can only have a chilling effect on those who would otherwise cooperate in the effort to defeat antisemitism on college campuses. It will also likely lead to a significant increase in campus antisemitism.

The campaign to end campus antisemitism was the subject of a U.S. commission on civil rights in 2005. The commission acknowledged the seriousness of the antisemitism problem on campus, including incidents like what occurred at FSU. Is this effort at fighting antisemitism doomed to failure because of the efforts of some to dilute the definition of antisemitism to the point that it is entirely ineffective? We hope not.

The U.S. government must adopt the IHRA definition as the law of the land and drop its investigation into FSU. It must make it clear that anti-Zionism is antisemitism.

Don’t be fooled by so-called partners who are, in fact, involved in an insidious attempt to frustrate the execution of the administration’s strategy to fight antisemitism. A good strategy can be defeated by bad tactics. It is apparent that this is what is occurring before our eyes.

The IHRA definition is the accepted definition of antisemitism because it works in practice. Efforts to undermine it by CAIR, J Street and others are motivated by a loathing of Israel that the definition rightly defines as antisemitism alongside older forms of Jew-hatred. Do not allow the chilling effect cultivated by CAIR and its partners to take hold. We cannot afford to be ignorant, complacent or naïve. Adopt the IHRA definition and enforce it in order to further the fight against the world’s oldest hatred.

Farley Weiss is chairman of the Israel Heritage Foundation and former president of the National Council of Young Israel. Leonard Grunstein founded Project Ezrah and serves on the Board of Revel at Yeshiva University and the AIPAC National Council.