“We are reassured to see the Department do the right thing: avoid reference to the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, and focus resources on addressing threats of bigotry by white supremacists,” said Palestine Legal attorney Liz Jackson. “Antisemitism is frightening, especially with the rise of right-wing nationalism and racism of all kinds.”
“The experts at the Department are right to address the threat of anti-Semitism alongside other forms of racism. They are right that censoring Palestinians does nothing to combat anti-Semitism.”
The newly released fact sheets focuses on real threats, such as the rise of Nazism targeting Jewish students, hurling “terrorist” as a racist slur against Muslims, and violence against Sikh students wearing turbans.
Labeling all criticism of Israel’s behavior as anti-Semitism is a distraction. The real fight against antisemitism must be joined in the struggles against racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, etc., as well as the struggle for equality and human rights for all people.
Civil rights experts at the US Department of Education know that no other form of discrimination has a fixed or codified definition in law because identifying discrimination depends on factual context, and it shifts over time. Even Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos acknowledged this.
Jackson emphasized, “As pressure from the Israel lobby escalates demands that the Department of Education twist civil rights law to redefine anti-Semitism and censor Palestinians, we appreciate the Office for Civil Rights for keeping their focus on the real work: protecting all vulnerable students.”
Civil rights organizations resist the right-wing campaign to silence the Palestine campus solidarity
The Department has faced heavy pressure from the Israeli lobby to attack Palestinians by adopting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, which defines criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic.
Palestine Legal, along with 16 civil rights organizations, laid out in a letter to the Department’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Llahmon on August 31, 2022, how the IHRA definition is a tool to censor Palestinians and their allies, in violation of the First Amendment
The IHRA definition would have shut down events, canceled university classesand punished students and professors for speaking about life as a Palestinian.
Many Palestinians bear the scars of 1948, when they were ethnically cleared from the land that became the Israeli state. IHRA would define Palestinian stories as a denial of Jewish self-determination—a ridiculous and harmful conclusion.
Palestinians continue to face racism on US campuses, at the bordersand inside occupied Palestine. IHRA would define Palestinian descriptions of their daily life as discrimination against Jews. That is gaslighting, and unlawful censorship.
Meanwhile Israel has embraced its most fascistic government yet and violence against Palestinians is expected only to escalate. In this context it should be especially clear that anything like the IHRA definition of restricting what Palestinians can say about their conditions is not viable as a policy.