While their state is being devastated by COVID, a number of Florida lawmakers are spending their time trying to oust Florida State University’s student senate president over a social media post he made as a 12-year-old.
Ahmad Daraldik was elected student senate president last month, but his victory was immediately condemned by pro-Israel groups. They cite two social media posts which allegedly prove Daraldik is an antisemite. In 2013, as 12-year-old child living in occupied Palestine, he shared a (possibly staged) photo of an IDF soldier with his foot on the chest of a young girl. Over the image he wrote, “stupid jew thinks he is cool.”
The controversy was exacerbated after his critics dug up one of Daraldik’s Instagram posts from last year. In this photo, Daraldik is standing in front of the Nelson Mandela statue in Ramallah. His caption is, “Iconic. #fucktheoccupation #fuckisrael.”
Daraldik wrote a letter to FSU’s student body apologizing for the post he made as a child, condemning antisemitism, and pointing to his support for Jewish issues on campus. He also explained that he made the comment in ignorance as a child. “I have since committed myself to learning more about antisemitism, and while I made my comments from the perspective of a Palestinian child who lived under military occupation I have since realized they were wrong and offensive. I would never frame my experience like this or make such comments today. I choose solidarity instead, and hope you join me in coming together to heal and move forward,” he wrote.
A petition to remove Daraldik from his position was started by someone called “FSU Student” on Change.org and it’s already been signed by over 10,000 people, but a vote of no confidence against him failed during a virtual Senate meeting last month.
This situation has caught the attention of Florida’s Director of Emergency Management, Jared Moskowitz. Moskowitz is a Democrat and former member of the state’s House of Representatives. Last month he tweeted out an article about Daraldik and wrote, “Where are the Democrats? Where are the progressives? Where is the cancel culture? Where is the PC? When it’s Jews, apparently it’s okay! Instead of removing #pawpatrol perhaps worry about Holocaust denying antisemitism. Remove him #Floridastate.”
This has also caught the eye of GOP state Rep. Byron Donalds (who is running for congress) and Florida’s 12th district Republican Representative, Gus Bilirakis. Donalds said “the entire FSU community must stand united and denounce these hateful comments. Bilirakis cited his opposition to the BDS movement in his statement:
“As a member of Congress and Co-Chair of the International Religious Freedom Caucus, I have worked hard to fight global anti-Semitism, particularly the BDS movement that has become pervasive across our college campuses. Any type of hatred and divisiveness perpetrated at our institutions of higher learning must be called out. I am confident that the FSU Administration will unequivocally condemn this toxicity and ignorance on campus.”
Daraldik is being supported by Palestine Legal and their Michael Ratner Justice Fellow Amira Mattar released the following statement: “This isn’t about what Ahmad said when he was 12. This is about opposition to Palestinians narrating their lived experiences under Israeli occupation. It’s a callous attempt to bully Ahmad and other Floridians into silence around Israel’s racism and oppression.”
Florida is home to some of the most pro-Israel politicians in the country. In 2016, it passed an anti-BDS bill that prohibited public entities from contracting with companies that boycott Israel. The legislation did not include businesses that are worth less than $1 million, but in 2018 the state expanded the law to include all companies. Last year, Governor Ron DeSantis signed HB 741 into law. That legislation prohibits antisemitism at public schools in the state, but also effectively equates criticism of Israel with antisemitism. Two days before he signed the bill DeSantis carried out a symbolic signing in Jerusalem, where a state cabinet meeting was also held. The assembled Florida lawmakers heard from a number of Israeli speakers and then issued a declaration of support with the country. The event was attended by pro-Israel megadonors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who donated $800,000 to DeSantis’s 2018 election campaign and $5 million to the Florida GOP.
The House version of HB 741 was sponsored by a rabidly pro-Israel State Representative named Randy Fine. In 2019, Fine attacked a Jewish constituent for organizing a panel on Palestine. Fine referred to Palm Bay resident Paul Halper as a “Judenrat”, a word used to describe Jews who collaborated with the Nazis. He also declared that Palestine doesn’t actually exist. “First, there is no ‘Palestine,'” he wrote on Facebook, “Second, having a bunch of speakers who advocate for the destruction of Israel but promise that this one time they won’t, is a joke. We should not engage these bigots. We crush them.”
“In my mind, Judenrat is the worst thing that you can call a Jewish person,” Halpern later told the Huffington Post, “He’s despicable as a representative and a person.”
Last fall, Florida’s Broward County unanimously passed a resolution condemning BDS, after Israeli official Lior Haiat addressed the county commission. “I want to thank you for raising this issue. I want to thank you for taking a stand against discrimination, taking a stand against racism, and taking a stand against anti-Semitism because BDS does not stand for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. BDS stands for anti-Semitism,” she told them.
Daraldik says he’s gotten over 100 messages as a result of the backlash, ranging from death threats to Islamophobic comments. Here’s the statement FSU Students for Justice in Palestine put out:
We express renewed solidarity with Senate President Ahmad Daraldik and all students who have experienced a recent uptick in racist harassment due to this ongoing discriminatory campaign to remove Palestinian students leaders from office as well as imminent annexation.
We call upon our student senators to refuse to entertain this campaign any further, especially as the shadow of annexation puts into perspective the absurdity of these attacks. We ask that our student representatives no longer delay legislation and create space for marginalized students to advocate for change on campus.
Thank you so much for the continued support! Justice will prevail.
The statement from Jewish Voice for Peace South Florida is also quite good:
As members of the Florida Jewish community, we stand unequivocally against calls to remove Ahmad Daraldik from his position as President of the Student Senate at Florida State University. Ahmad, a Palestinian American, is being recklessly accused of antisemitism simply because he has been a passionate advocate for Palestinian rights. Thousands upon thousands of people across the US and across the globe have spoken out against Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people. Bringing attention to Israel’s human rights abuses is not antisemitic, but, rather, is a moral imperative.
Given that much of the world is horrified by the proposed annexation of Palestinian land due to take place this Wednesday, it is no surprise that Israel’s defenders want to silence those, such as Ahmad, who demand justice for the Palestinian people.
There has been no suggestion that Ahmad Daraldik has been anything but an effective and committed Student Senate President. He deserves to remain in that position.
You can watch Daraldik respond to the controversy in a video below:
This was an excerpt from our weekly politics newsletter, The Shift, where Michael Arria takes you to the front lines in the battle over Palestine in the United States. Sign up below to receive the newsletter in your inbox every Thursday.