Leonard Grunstein
Leonard GrunsteinCourtesy

The US Department of Education-Office of Civil Rights commenced an investigation against Florida State University (FSU). It arises out of FSU’s efforts to defend its Jewish students by calling out antisemitism & adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism in 2020. Now it finds itself under federal investigation in June of 2023 because it did so. The involvement by CAIR and its allies is no coincidence.

It began with a student, elected as the president of the student senate at FSU in June of 2020, who had a reported history of making derogatory comments towards Jews and Israel. This included social media posts that compared Israel to Nazi Germany, using an expletive deleted in relation to Israel and referring to “stupid Jew”.

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

However, the matter did not end there. In an Orwellian maneuver, CAIR Florida and Palestine Legal wrote a letter to FSU’s president complaining about the fact that the offensive remarks by the individual were condemned. The letter noted that FSU’s actions could give rise to a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, a not so subtle implied threat. The letter then went on to demand that accordingly an apology should be issued and FSU’s adoption of IHRA should be rescinded.

Besides re-characterizing the antisemitic victimizer as the victim, a classic antisemitic tactic, the focus on FSU’s adoption of IHRA is also most telling. Why is FSU’s adoption of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism an issue? This is the definition embraced by the Biden administration and adopted by the US State Department. Similar provisions are also embodied in the Florida Anti-Semitism Protections Law of 2019. Yet, in February of 2021, the offending student, as president of the FSU student senate, sought to re-introduce a measure to rescind the student senate’s adoption of IHRA. Fortunately, the ill-conceived and inappropriate effort failed.

Palestine Legal on behalf of the offending student filed a formal Title VI complaint against FSU by email dated April 13, 2021 to the Office of Civil Rights in Atlanta, Georgia. No investigation was opened in response to the complaint and a further letter dated November 14, 2022, was emailed to the Deputy Assistant for Enforcement in the Washington DC Office of Civil Rights; but still no investigation was immediately initiated. It was only on June 9, 2023 that the record reflects an investigation was opened. Curiously, it was originally indexed on the Office of Civil Rights website under Minnesota, not Florida. It has since been changed to Florida.

It also does not appear to be coincidental that this frivolous complaint and direct attack on IHRA was acted upon now. Consider, CAIR Florida had co-sponsored the complaint and the investigation was begun very shortly after CAIR purported to become a partner in the Biden administration’s strategy to combat antisemitism. It seems that CAIR is using its seat at the table to promote its own agenda and that includes undermining the IHRA definition of antisemitism. As CAIR’s ally on the complaint, Palestine Legal notes on its website, it objects to the IHRA definition of antisemitism including:

“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” and

“Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

ADL Chief Jonathan Greenblatt recognized the problem of CAIR and its cohorts being given a seat at the table in the effort to combat antisemitism and how it could cause a real problem in defeating what Lord Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks referred to as the mutating antisemitic virus. In an interview at the recent Aspen conference, he noted:

“…it’s a miss that the White House isn’t talking about Israel in its rollout of its National Strategy to Combat Antismitism.”

He went on to say:

“However, ultimately, the administration will be judged not by what they say, but what they do.”

The recent initiation of a Federal investigation against FSU, an institution that is correctly combating antisemitism as defined by IHRA, is indicative of how the administration’s ostensible efforts to combat antisemitism have become infected by unsavory and self-defeating politics. This is not only antithetical to the Biden administration’s announced goal of defeating antisemitism, it is also likely to have a chilling effect on those who would otherwise be ready actively to participate in the effort on college campuses. Why take any positive action in the face of what appears to be a genuine risk of a costly and intrusive government counteraction?

The campaign to end campus antisemitism was the subject of a US Commision on Civil Rights in 2005. The Commission acknowledged the seriousness of the antisemitic problems on campus, including those of the sort experienced at FSU, which it sought to end. Is this effort, over so many years by so many good people to culminate in failure because of the misguided efforts of some to dilute the definition of antisemitism so that it is ineffective as a practical matter in solving the problem? Hopefully, this will not be the case.

Let’s recognize reality. We cannot allow ourselves to be fooled by erstwhile so-called partners, who are on board primarily to effectuate their own insidious goal of frustrating the execution of the National Strategy to Combat Anti-Semitism. A good strategy can be defeated by bad tactics; and it is apparent that this is what is occurring before our very eyes.

IHRA is the accepted definition of antisemitism because it works in practice.

This latest effort is designed to undermine it, because it does cover the various subterfuges and euphemisms that are the modern incarnation of antisemitism, as well as the old-fashioned tropes and canards. Don’t allow the cunning and outrageous chilling effect concocted by CAIR and its cohorts to take hold. We cannot afford to be ignorant, complacent or naïve. Adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism as the law of the land and enforce it to defeat antisemitism in our time.

Leonard Grunstein, retired attorney and banker, founded and served as Chairman of Metropolitan National Bank and then Israel Discount Bank of NY. He founded Project Ezrah and serves on the Board of Bernard Revel at Yeshiva Univ. and the AIPAC National Council. He has published articles in the Banking Law Journal, Real Estate Finance Journal and more.