Palestinian Advocates Praise New Fact Sheet on Religious Discrimination

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
Protestors at the University of California-Berkeley demonstrate in support of student groups that passed a bylaw pledging not to invite pro-Zionist speakers. Photo Credit: Palestine Legal

Groups fighting for Palestinian rights are praising a new fact sheet on religious discrimination from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, because of what it left out.

The document does not include a definition of antisemitism written by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Former President Donald Trump issued an executive order in 2019 requiring federal agencies to consider the IHRA definition when investigating Title VI complaints of discrimination.

Lina Assi, advocacy manager for Palestine Legal, said the definition and the accompanying examples conflate criticism of the Israeli state with antisemitism.

“We mostly have seen it with shutting down events and punishing students and professors that speak about life as a Palestinian,” Assi recounted. “And we believe that definition not only violates our constitutional right to free speech, but also perpetuates anti-Palestinian racism and discrimination.”

In a statement, IHRA said the working definition is non-legally binding, and the organization does not track implementation of it at the state or local level. Last year, pro-Israel attorneys filed a federal discrimination complaint against University of California-Berkeley after student groups passed a bylaw pledging not to host Zionist speakers.

Assi noted last March, the student government at Arizona State University questioned an event with a pro-Palestinian poet and journalist before ultimately allowing him to speak.

“A student government committee first attempted to condition the approval of the event to say that the speaker needs to refrain from criticizing Israel,” Assi pointed out. “Student government officials stated falsely that the university and the federal government had adopted IHRA and that they were required by law to adhere to the definition.”

The pro-Israel Brandeis Center has called for the IHRA definition to be codified into a formal rule.

Meanwhile, 17 civil rights groups wrote to the federal government, asking for the IHRA definition to be excluded from the fact sheet.