Groundbreaking: U.S. Dept. of Education Agrees with ACLJ Request to Investigate Antisemitic “Palestine 101” Event at Georgia Tech
This week our fight against antisemitism on American college campuses took a major step forward.
The ACLJ received word that the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has accepted our complaint against the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) and is opening an investigation into the antisemitic incidents that took place on that campus last spring.
This is one of the first complaints and subsequent investigations of its kind under new regulations to help prevent the growing spread of antisemitism on campus.
As stated in a letter we received from the Department of Education:
Because OCR has determined that is has jurisdiction and the Complaint was timely filed, OCR is opening for investigation the following legal issue:
Whether Georgia Tech failed to appropriately respond to complaints of discrimination on the basis of Jewish ancestry arising from an event sponsored by a student organization at Georgia Tech, in violation of Title VI and its implementing regulation at 34 C.F.R. § 100.3.
We believe that this may be the first investigation to be accepted pursuant to the President’s Executive Order on antisemitism.
As we previously informed you, the ACLJ filed a federal complaint, asking the Department of Education to investigate and determine whether Georgia Tech had engaged in antisemitic discrimination, permitting a hostile campus environment, and other violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
In April of 2019, Georgia Tech hosted an event on campus called “Palestine 101” sponsored by a student organization called the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA.) The YSDA describes itself as:
“students organizing in our universities, colleges, and high schools to fight for the immediate needs of workers and students while building our capacity to fight for more radical and structural changes.”
Changes, it appears, like excluding Jewish members of the community from activities and organizing events that will make them feel alienated and unwelcomed, if not even outright endangered.
YDSA also claims to be directly connected to the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), an organization that counts anti-Israel U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) and Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) among its supporters.
DSA has also committed to supporting the Palestinian-led, drastically antisemitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement which seeks to delegitimize and ultimately destroy the State of Israel.
According to the Georgia Tech chapter of YDSA’s Facebook page, the “Palestine 101” event was part of a bigger event called “Israeli Apartheid Week.” Students were invited to:
“Join us as we discuss the history of the occupation of Palestine, the role of institutions, and the role of the United States in regards to the occupation. We will be joined by speakers from Jewish Voice for Peace and Joining Hands for Justice in Palestine & Israel!”
But as we reported, when Ms. Lauren Blazofsky, the Georgia Tech Director of Hillel – a Jewish organization that works with college students – attempted to enter the event, she was denied entry by the YDSA simply because she is Jewish and affiliated with a Jewish organization.
Blazofsky filed a complaint with Georgia Tech’s Office of Integrity, as did two other Jewish students who had managed to get into the “Palestine 101” event but said that once inside, they were verbally abused and harassed because they are Jewish.
The university has done little to address or rectify this offensive discrimination. As we stated previously:
Georgia Tech allowed blatant anti-Semitic exclusion and harassment at a campus group event; attempted to conceal the offense; repeatedly and systemically stonewalled Jewish student and faculty efforts to address the incident; ignored two out of the three complaints arising from said event; and, after a student conduct board finally found the campus group guilty on the one complaint they did hear, violated their own policies and issued a decision on appeal reversing that guilty ruling – allowing the anti-Semitism to continue unchecked.
That’s right. After finally addressing the issue, Georgia Tech mysteriously reversed its decision – well past the appeal decision deadline – caving to pressure from YDSA and other student activists.
We sent Georgia Tech a letter demanding it explain what happened and take corrective action. In response, Georgia Tech acknowledged that its policies were flawed, but would not take the further step of apologizing for what had happened and rectifying the mistakes.
The ACLJ firmly believes that in our college institutions, the freedom of speech, even offensive speech, should be cherished and respected as part of what makes our democracy great. This case, however, is not about restricting speech, nor is it about the viewpoint of any person or club. This is about hateful, and frankly dangerous antisemitism.
As we stated in our complaint to the Department of Education:
The clear message that Georgia Tech is communicating is that they are deliberately indifferent to the concerns and wellbeing of its Jewish population. Affected community members have been physically excluded from at least one event and Georgia Tech’s indifference to their legitimate concerns and complaints has made them feel unwelcome at many more. Without prompt and appropriate action – including requiring Georgia Tech to evenhandedly enforce its own rules and procedures and comply with Title VI – Jewish students will continue to be victimized by Georgia Tech’s implied consent for anti-Semitic discrimination and racism; will be unable to participate at additional campus functions; and will continue to be harassed and excluded.
That is why we had no choice but to take action.
All students have the right to feel safe and welcomed at school – particularly a taxpayer supported university. There can be no tolerance for antisemitism. That includes indifference from school administrators that puts Jewish students at risk.
Now the Department of Education will investigate, GA Tech has been put on notice, and their federal funding is at stake. At the ACLJ, we will continue to remain involved and work to ensure that the spread of antisemitism is met with the full force of the law.
This article is co-authored by ACLJ Special Counsel for International Affairs Mark Goldfeder.