Minnesota students suspended over antisemitic chant accuse school district of ‘Islamophobia’

Biden administration to determine if slogan calling for genocide of Israeli Jews is hate speech.

Susan Tawil, World Israel News

Two Muslim students who were suspended for chanting “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free” have sued their school district, accusing administrators of anti-Muslim discrimination.

As a result, the Biden administration has stepped in, using the incident as a test case to determine the extent of hate speech versus free speech in the context of anti-Israel protests.

The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim lobby group with ties to Hamas, filed the discrimination complaint in November after the two high school students were suspended.

The students chanted the “River to Sea” slogan on Oct. 25, during a pro-Palestinian student walkout. Jaylani Hussein, CAIR-MN’s director, defended the use of the phrase, saying it could have various interpretations depending on “context.”

Hussein organized a protest at the Edina school board meeting in December to challenge the suspensions. Protesters chanted the “River to the Sea” during the meeting.

The federal investigation of the public school in Edina, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis, comes under the rubric of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This requires federally funded institutions (in this case, public schools) to protect students from discrimination based on race, color or national origin.

The law has previously been invoked to prevent racial segregation, or to mandate tutoring for non-English speakers.

Now this section of the Civil Rights Act is being used to decide whether “River to the Sea” and similar phrases create a “hostile environment” for Jewish students, as well as determining whether disciplining the offending students entails anti-Muslim discrimination.

Jews and others who support Israel understand the slogan to be incendiary and antisemitic, saying it is a clear call for the genocide of Jews in Israel.

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib was censured for shouting the slogan in Congress.

While the Edina school district says it has “unwavering support” for students’ freedom of speech, it also has “strong policies” to prohibit discrimination. Prior to their suspensions, the students were warned “repeatedly” not to use the “River to the Sea” and other slogans considered antisemitic.

A statement issued by the school said that the “Edina Public Schools deeply condemns Islamophobia and antisemitism. We will not tolerate hateful or inappropriate comments or behaviors and will work diligently to provide a safe and inclusive environment for our students and staff.”

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Steve Hunegs, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, told the JTA: “We appreciate that the school district upheld their code of conduct and protected their Jewish students from antisemitism.”

Jewish activist Zachary Marschall, editor-in-chief of the Campus Reform website, has launched several other Title VI investigations of protests at universities.

Marschall contends that other anti-Israel chants, such as “Glory to the martyrs,” and, “Liberate the land by any means necessary,” as well as denials of Hamas atrocities, create an environment of hate and intimidation. He feels it is the responsibility of schools to take “decisive action” against such speech in order to protect Jewish students.