June 18, 2020
John E. Thrasher
Florida State University
211 Westcott Building
Tallahassee, Florida 32306-1470
Florida State University Board of Trustees
Florida State University
Tallahassee, Florida 32306-1350
Dear President Thrasher and Honorable Members of Florida State University Board of Trustees,
We write on behalf of the StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department and the StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism, divisions of StandWithUs, an international, non-profit education organization supporting Israel and combating antisemitism. We are appalled at the blatant discrimination and antisemitism occurring within Florida State University’s (FSU) Student Government Association’s (SGA) student senate. We demand that your administration intervene and ensure that all FSU students, including Israeli and Jewish students, are treated as valuable members of the campus community, free from bigotry and discrimination and with the full support of your administration.
As you are undoubtedly aware, SGA student senate president-elect Jack Denton was removed from office through a student senate vote of no confidence in early June 2020 for making transphobic, racially insensitive and exclusionary comments in a private group chat. He maintained that he expressed beliefs in keeping with his Catholic faith. In response, the FSU student senate impeached him, indicating a steep penalty within the SGA for leaders that convey hateful or offensive rhetoric.
Denton was replaced by Ahmad Daraldik, an FSU third year student. Amazingly, Daraldik became student senate president despite the fact that he too expressed bigoted sentiments prior to becoming student senate president. Daraldik posted hateful and antisemitic messages such as “#fuckisrael” and “stupid jew thinks he is cool,” to his social media accounts. Additionally, Daraldik created a website, “A Contemporary Holocaust-Palestine,” to promote the deeply offensive and antisemitic claim that Israel is comparable to Nazi Germany. Shockingly, Daraldik defended this viciously hateful website during the student senate meeting this past Wednesday, June 17, 2020, and equated Israelis with Nazis in a video earlier this month, showing that he has not meaningfully changed his views.
Denton and Daraldik both have records of engaging in hateful rhetoric, yet one was removed while the other was promoted. Daraldik apparently enjoys immunity from being held accountable for a similar kind of hateful speech that led to Denton’s removal from office. This apparent double standard begs the question of why there appears to be a zero-tolerance policy for bigotry directed at some kinds of students at FSU, but not at Jewish or Israeli students. Daraldik's internet posts run afoul of numerous elements of the International Holocaust Reembrace Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, including “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” This definition has been adopted and applied by numerous countries and government bodies across the world, including the European Union, the Government of Canada, the U.S. Department of State, and most recently the U.S. Department of Education. FSU’s decision to punish Denton while giving a pass to Daraldik is an example of exactly the kind of double standard that the IHRA defines as antisemitic.
We commend you for your June 18 message, clarifying that antisemitism and discrimination have no place on campus. We agree that engagement and dialogue are paramount to a cohesive and unified campus environment, targeting the free exchange of ideas from students of all backgrounds in civilized discourse. However, your statement remains insufficient because it fails to name Daraldik specifically and provides no remedy for the problem at hand. At other universities in similar circumstances, administrations have stepped in and reversed discriminatory and antisemitic conduct when their student government has failed to do so. A pro-Israel student group at Williams College was denied student organizational recognition by the school’s student council, a flagrant abuse of the council’s authority. The Williams administration quickly reversed their student leaders’ antisemitic action, thereby demonstrating a commitment to enforcing rules equally for all students.
Applying the same standard to Daraldik as was applied to Denton, it is obvious that the student senate should have removed Daraldik. Instead, he remains in the senate presidency despite a long track record of antisemitism—sending a stark message to Jewish and Israeli students that hatred and bigotry directed against them is acceptable at Florida State University.
Your administration need not be silent. In fact it is imperative that campus leaders exercise their First Amendment rights to condemn antisemitism—as you surely would condemn a student leader who had engaged in vile racist attacks—and promote a more tolerant environment for FSU’s entire community. If you remain silent, your administration will become complicit in bigotry and hate, sending a message that it is permissible and perhaps even fashionable to attack and stigmatize FSU’s Jewish and Israeli students.
Finally, we would like to take this opportunity to remind you that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) prohibits discrimination in federally assisted programs and activities on the basis of race, color or national origin. The Department of Education has made clear that this includes protection against discrimination based on “a person’s actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, including membership in a religion that may be perceived to exhibit such characteristics (such as Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh individuals).” In furtherance of this, the President signed an Executive Order on Combating Antisemitism (Executive Order) on December 11, 2019, formally recognizing that Jewish students facing antisemitic discrimination on campuses enjoy protection under Title VI. If discrimination based on race, color, or national origin occurs in a program or activity that receives federal financial assistance, the institution receiving the funds has an obligation to take proactive, corrective measures to protect its constituents or else risk losing federal funding altogether.
In conclusion, we ask that you show real leadership on your campus: instead of issuing a vague statement against antisemitism, as you have done, you should address the specific instances of antisemitism committed by Daraldik, and explain to students—especially members of student government—why these are examples of antisemitism and why it is important that someone expressing such views should not be in a position of campus leadership. You should work to educate the student senate on antisemitism, and ask this body to vote again on whether Daraldik should remain president.
Right now we believe you are not ensuring that all forms of discrimination are met with the same repercussions, raising clear Title VI questions. The pivotal role you play supporting students of all races, religions, colors, and nationalities includes denouncing incidents such as these and enforcing equal treatment when others refuse.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. We look forward to a response from you.
CEO and Co-Founder Director
StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department
StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism