West News Wire: A civil rights complaint has been made against George Washington University by a number of students who want an investigation into the alleged “hostile climate of anti-Palestinian prejudice” that has persisted for years.
The US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) received a complaint from Palestine Legal on behalf of three students on Tuesday alleging that the university refused to provide services to Palestinian students for processing trauma related to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
It was also mentioned that students were being looked into for allegedly destroying property by posting placards of support for the Palestinians close to the university grounds.
According to the complaint, George Washington University terminated a “virtual processing space” for Palestinian students, depriving them of mental health services. One student, according to Palestine Legal, had been shot by an Israeli soldier while studying remotely from her home in the occupied West Bank.
“There is simply no justification for GW’s racist, bigoted treatment of Palestinians,” Palestine Legal’s senior staff attorney Radhika Sainath said in a statement.
“Even if pro-Israel groups don’t like it and complain, the law is clear, Palestinian students are entitled to the same education and services as other students.”
George Washington University told MEE that it has not seen the complaint filed by Palestine Legal, an independent advocacy group that supports people targeted for Palestinian rights activism.
“The George Washington University strongly condemns hatred, discrimination and bias in all forms, and we are committed to fostering an environment in which the entire community feels safe and free of harassment, hostility or marginalisation,” a university spokesperson said.
Palestine Legal’s complaint calls on the Department of Education to require the university to ensure that Palestinian students have equal access to campus services and end discriminatory investigations of Palestinians.
The strategy taken by the legal advocacy group in this case flips a similar approach conducted by Israeli advocacy organisations in the US. The issue centres around Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars federally funded institutions from discriminating against minorities.
Pro-Israel groups have invoked Title VI in the past, including in November 2022 when they filed a complaint against the University of California-Berkeley. The complaint stated that a law school student group’s adoption of a bylaw refusing to invite speakers who support Zionism was antisemitic and discriminatory.
Palestine Legal’s complaint also calls on the university to be required to accept that anti-Zionism is anti-racist, and that the school refuse to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s working definition of antisemitism, which many Palestinian and Jewish groups oppose.
Critics of the definition say that it conflates anti-Zionism with antisemitism. Criticism of Israel has led to a major battle over the right to free speech in the US, and universities have been at the forefront of this battle.
“The guiding examples attached to the IHRA definition falsely conflate political criticism of Israel/support for Palestinian rights with antisemitism, placing anyone charged with implementing the definition in the position of engaging in anti-Palestinian bias,” the complaint reads, according to an excerpt seen by MEE.
Palestinian students and staff members have previously criticized George Washington University for what they claim is “national origin discrimination,” according to Palestine Legal.
Palestine Legal brought a similar claim against George Washington University in 2021, this time on behalf of a staff member who claimed they were also refused access to the institution’s trauma services.
The staff member, Nada Elbasha, and coworkers reportedly talked about what to do for the campus’s Palestinian pupils during the Israeli onslaught on Gaza in May 2021, which resulted in the deaths of at least 248 Palestinians, including more than 60 children.
A student was asked by campus security in 2015 to take down a Palestine flag from his window. The university’s president later apologised for the incident.