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Palestinian Advocates Applaud New Info from U.S. Education Dept.

by Danielle Smith, Keystone State News Connection

Palestinian Advocates Applaud New Info from U.S. Education Dept.

The U.S. Department of Education has a new fact sheet about religious discrimination from its Office for Civil Rights, and Palestinian advocates are pleased about what it leaves out.

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

Raz Segal, associate professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Stockton University in New Jersey, thinks the decision was made because the definition is, in his words, “problematic.” He explained the Alliance’s definition includes 11 examples mentioning Israel seven times, and conflate criticism of the Israeli state with antisemitism.

“Thereby shifting the focus of the struggle from protecting a group — Jews, targeted by states — to protecting a state: Israel,” Segal explained. “A group and a state are obviously two very different things. The problem here, I think, is compounded when the state in question is engaged — for decades, since its founding — in discrimination, persecution, marginalization, and mass violence against another group: Palestinians.”

Seventeen civil rights groups had asked the federal government to exclude the Alliance definition from the fact sheet.

In a statement, the Alliance said its working definition is not legally binding, and the organization does not track where it is used.

The fact sheet outlined the basic guidelines of the Office for Civil Rights for protecting groups targeted in the U.S. today due to structural racism. And Segal sees it in the broader context of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

He noted, both today and in history, antisemitism is entangled with racism and attacks against other groups.

“I mean, there’s no need, actually, for a separate reference to Jews in a different way than all the other groups mentioned in the fact sheet; Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and others,” Segal contended.

Abby Agranoff, a senior at Bryn Mawr College and active member of Jewish Voice for Peace, said including the Alliance’s definition of antisemitism would only serve to differentiate religious discrimination against Jews from discrimination against any other historically marginalized group.

“So for that reason, not including the IHRA definition, and thus, not perpetuating this exceptionalism, is a pretty big victory for the general understanding of what antisemitism really is,” Agranoff emphasized.

The Alliance was founded in 1998 with 35 member states primarily from Europe, but also including Argentina, Australia, Canada, Israel and the U.S. It deals with Holocaust memory and education.