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CAIR-Florida, Palestine Legal Call on FSU President to Protect the Civil Rights of Palestinian Students, Apologize to Defamed Student Leader

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(TAMPA, FLORIDA - 12/17/2020) – The Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Florida) and Palestine Legal called this week on Florida State University President John Thrasher to protect the free speech of students supporting Palestinian rights and ensure that FSU meets its obligations to Palestinian students under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

 In the 24-page letter sent to President Thrasher on December 15, 2020, Palestine Legal and CAIR-Florida detailed the creation of a hostile and anti-Palestinian environment at FSU specifically targeting Ahmad Daraldik, a Palestinian-American who was recently removed from his position as Student Senate President.

Daraldik became the target of a campaign of attacks and threats from within and outside the university after President Thrasher publicly and falsely accused the student leader of antisemitism for discussing his personal experiences as a witness to the Israeli military’s abuse of Palestinians. Florida state politicians, including Florida’s Director of Emergency Management responsible for the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, joined the chorus of attacks against Ahmad.

“I truly hope FSU stands by its own standards to not treat students differently based on their identity or background,” said international affairs major Ahmad Daraldik. “I have experienced firsthand what it’s like to feel alone and have my back to the wall because my own university chose not to stand up and support students who needed them most. Instead, FSU chose to publicly humiliate me and make light of my traumatic upbringing as a Palestinian child living under Israeli military occupation.”

The civil rights organizations called out President Thrasher for knowingly conflating protected speech critical of Israel for its human rights violations with antisemitism, thereby putting students’ free speech rights, well-being, and futures at risk.

Palestine Legal and CAIR-Florida also demanded that President John Thrasher apologize to student leader Jack Fox Keen, who spoke out in support of Daraldik and also experienced backlash. In Jack’s case, they were denied the opportunity to participate in a disciplinary hearing occasioned by a student complaint falsely accusing them of antisemitism for stating that Palestinians have the right to talk about their experiences living under an oppressive military occupation.

Even though the hearing ultimately cleared Jack of misconduct, the suspension of student rights in this climate of false accusations is counter to a culture of transparency, and chills students’

 ability to engage in protected speech.

 “As a neurodiverse, disabled student struggling financially, this whole experience has taken a deep toll on my physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing,” said computational science and biomathematics major Jack Fox Keen. “I would have expected more support, compassion, and integrity from FSU's administration when a student tried to bully me out of my leadership position. The one positive thing this has shown me is that being a leader is about standing up for yourself and for others when you realize that you're right, even when you're being intimidated into silence.”

The letter also calls on FSU President Thrasher to rescind the university’s adoption of the controversial and flawed IHRA definition of antisemitism, which deceptively labels common criticisms of Israel as discrimination against Jewish people. The student government earlier adopted the redefinition amidst pressure from state representatives who had sponsored a bill adopting a similar measure in the Florida legislature.

The letter demands that Thrasher “cease investigating FSU students for their protected political speech in favor of Palestinian freedom and equality,” and requests a reply by January 6, 2021. 

“Palestinians should feel safe being vocal on campus. Florida State University has only magnified anti-Palestinian campaigns targeting students for demanding equality for their people,” said Amira Mattar, Michael Ratner Justice Fellow at Palestine Legal.

“Florida State University students do not check their constitutional rights at the door when they sign up for class. FSU has a duty to protect their students no matter how much pressure they are getting from outside groups. It’s time for the university and its leadership to live up to their obligations,” said Thania Diaz Clevenger, CAIR-Florida Chief Operations and Civil Rights Director.

Palestine Legal's mission is to bolster the Palestine solidarity movement in the U.S. by challenging efforts to threaten, harass, and legally bully activists into silence and inaction.

CAIR-Florida is the state’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, protect civil rights, promote justice, and empower American Muslims.

La misión de CAIR-Florida es proteger las libertades civiles, mejorar la comprensión del Islam,

 promover la justicia, y empoderar a los musulmanes en los Estados Unidos.

END CONTACT:

 Wilfredo Amr Ruiz, Esq., CAIR-Florida Communications Director, 305.502.6749,

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 Kristian Bailey, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 312-547-0766

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