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January 9, 2020 6:32 pm

Civil Rights Complaint Accuses Georgia Tech of Failing to ‘Confront Antisemitism, Protect Rights of Jewish Students and Faculty’

avatar by Shiri Moshe

Recreation center on the Georgia Tech campus. Photo: Disavian / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.5.

A civil rights complaint has been filed with the US Department of Education against the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), alleging that the school refused to “confront antisemitism and protect the rights of Jewish students and faculty.”

The complaint — which joins several that have been filed in recent weeks, following the passage of an executive order on antisemitism — was submitted late last month to the Office for Civil Rights by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) on behalf of Hillel of Georgia. It calls for an investigation into whether “Georgia Tech has engaged in discrimination, in permitting a hostile environment, and other violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

The complaint stems from an April 1 incident, when the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) club refused to allow Lauren Blazofsky, the director of the Jewish club Hillel at Georgia Tech, to enter a “Palestine 101” teach-in it hosted on campus. The complaint claims Blazofsky was prevented from attending the public event, which was organized as part of a week-long anti-Zionist festival, because she was “Jewish and affiliated with a Jewish organization on Georgia Tech’s campus.”

According to reporting in Technique, Georgia Tech’s student-run newspaper, Blazofsky “was stopped at the entrance of the event by a co-chair of YDSA who recognized her.” She was accused of coming to disrupt the event and told that she would not be allowed to proceed, despite her status as a staff member.

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The ACLJ complaint claims YDSA sent Blazofsky an email on the same evening of the event, saying she turned away since, in the past, YDSA had “experienced a Hillel-affiliated faculty member Dr. Lubinsky repeatedly harassing our members & spying on our meetings. “

The named faculty member, a professor of mathematics, “has never been affiliated with Hillel at Georgia Tech,” the complaint read. “Dr. Lubinsky just happens to be Jewish. Apparently ‘Hillel’ is YDSA’s shorthand for ‘Jewish.’”

The email confirms that Blazofsky’s “exclusion was based on race or ethnicity,” the ACLJ complaint maintains.

The Hillel director filed a complaint with Georgia Tech’s Office of Integrity over the evening’s incident, while two Jewish students who were permitted to attend the event also submitted their own complaints to the Office of Student Integrity “alleging that they had been singled out and harassed at the event,” ACLJ detailed.

A student conduct hearing was held by the Office of Student Integrity on September 17 — more than five months after the incident — in response to Blazofsky’s complaint, though the complaints filed by the two students have not yet been addressed, according to ACLJ.

At the hearing, YDSA purportedly admitted that their leadership had studied online photos of Hillel staffers prior to the April 1 event, so they could recognize their faces and deny them entry. The group also claimed, according to ACLJ, that it denied Blazofsky entry because she had sent an email encouraging disruptive behavior.

Yet the cited email sent by Blazofsky, which was shown at the conduct hearing, “literally says the exact opposite, and warns people not to be disrespectful or disruptive,” according to the complaint.

The Office of Student Integrity ultimately found that YDSA had violated the student conduct code and indicated it would be subject to sanctions, barring a successful appeal. It “refused to provide a copy of its decision to Hillel or to Ms. Blazofsky,” ACLJ alleged, though the Jewish club was informed in writing that a final decision on an appeal would be due by October 22, 2019.

YDSA submitted a lengthy appeal letter shortly after receiving the decision, Technique reported, and on October 24 posted a public call for support. The statement claimed that YDSA was facing “an unlawful campaign of intimidation and political repression by Georgia Tech’s administration in retaliation for hosting Jewish and Palestinian speakers who criticized Israel’s unlawful military occupation of Palestine.”

The group said Jewish students, as well as a Jewish speaker from the anti-Zionst group Jewish Voice for Peace, were welcomed at the April event, while Blazofsky was singled out over concerns that she would shut down their viewpoint.

ACLJ disputed this characterization, underscoring that “the violation of Ms. Blazofsky’s rights had absolutely nothing to do with Israel or Palestine.”

The violation of Ms. Blazofsky’s rights was a simple case of antisemitic discrimination,” it argued.

YDSA’s appeal appeared successful. “For some reason that has never been communicated to Hillel or Ms. Blazofsky, Georgia Tech reversed its decision — well past the appeal decision deadline,” the ACLJ complaint read.

It claimed the school “refused to give Hillel or Ms. Blazofsky any copies of its reversal of its decision, or even any notice at all. … Hillel’s inquiries were stonewalled by the Georgia Tech administration.”

The school only allegedly stated in a letter to ACLJ counsel that the reversal on sanctioning YDSA was related to the fact that other Jewish individuals were permitted to attend the event, indicating that there could not have been antisemitic motive, the complaint stated.

To be sure, disagreements and differing viewpoints on college campuses are not uncommon, and the ACLJ supports the free exchange of ideas protected by the First Amendment,” ACLJ wrote. “But YDSA used racism and bigotry to discriminate. Georgia Tech has given that bigotry a home and that discrimination a sanctuary.”

YDSA did not immediately respond to requests for comments.

An Education Department spokesperson told The Algemeiner on Thursday that it did not currently have any open investigation at Georgia Tech for possible race-based discrimination.

“However, as a policy, OCR will not confirm the receipt of complaints publicly,” the spokesperson explained. “If, after evaluation, OCR opens an investigation of the case, OCR will inform the institution and the complainant, as appropriate.”

A spokesperson for Georgia Tech, in turn, said the school is aware that ACLJ “has requested that the Department of Education investigate Georgia Tech’s handling of the matter involving YDSA and Hillel. The Department has not contacted us about that request, and we will cooperate fully if it does.”

“Georgia Tech maintains a strong anti-discrimination policy, as well as policies that support our community’s First Amendment rights to free speech,” the spokesperson added.

YDSA is the campus arm of the Democratic Socialists of America, which voted at their 2017 national convention to endorse boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel — a Palestinian-led campaign that seeks to replace Israel with a Palestinian-majority state through international pressure.

Supporters say the campaign is rooted in international law and aims to address the injustice of Israel’s founding. Critics, including major Jewish organizations and various antisemitism scholars, accuse it of trafficking in antisemitic tropes and denying the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.

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