A hate group gets a college hall pass

A new report documents the anti-Semitic fervor of Students for Justice in Palestine. Still, both college administrations and student groups fail to brand it as hate group.

A Students for Justice in Palestine march. Credit: JCPA.
A Students for Justice in Palestine march. Credit: JCPA.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

The atmosphere on North American college campuses today is one in which anything that can be labeled, fairly or unfairly, hate speech or which might make virtually any group feel “triggered” or otherwise upset can be banned or otherwise silenced. Universities that once prided themselves on their defense of free speech against efforts to suppress dissent now go out of their way to provide “safe places” for those who are too sensitive to hear views that contradict their own prejudices and biases.

But there’s one particular kind of hate speech that is not suppressed or restricted, but openly encouraged, if not honored: anti-Semitism.

Unlike groups that preach prejudice against virtually any minority group or category of sexual preference, Jew-hatred is all the rage in academia lately. What makes this trend even more disturbing is that those who are advocating anti-Semitism do so in the name of “justice.”

The activities and beliefs of National Students for Justice in Palestine are the focus of a new study from the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy and their findings constitute a wakeup call for those who foolishly think that the hatred of Jews is only to be found on the far right.

What’s more, NSJP hasn’t just managed to avoid the opprobrium that is thrown at far less controversial and divisive groups in order to shun and silence them; the group has found a comfortable home at many universities, where they have not only evaded censure, but been able to marginalize Jews and supporters of Israel. NSJP has become a hate group with a hall pass that gives it carte blanche to spread disinformation, as well as venomous libels about Jews that go unanswered by responsible authorities and liberal groups that otherwise masquerade as crusaders against hate.

As the ISGAP report documents, NSJP doesn’t simply advocate for justice for Palestinians. As its foreword rightly notes, Palestinians are as entitled to justice as anyone else. However, this group defines justice for Palestinians in such a way as to make it indistinguishable from the demonization of Jews. Those who advocate various formulas for peace in the Middle East that center around compromises on territory and other issues can say that what they are doing is trying to empower Palestinians without harming Jews or denying them their legitimate rights.

But the NSJP’s conception of justice is not one that calls for a future based on coexistence and mutual recognition. Rather, it is merely one in which the State of Israel ceases to exist and the rights of the Jewish people—to their homeland, to self-determination and of self-defense—are annulled. Their idea of Palestinian nationalism is inextricably tied not to the advancement of that people’s interests or culture, but to a century-old war on Zionism and the Jews that must always end in the eradication of the one Jewish state on the planet.

NSJP’s literature and social-media advocacy employs all of the classic forms of anti-Semitic discourse in terms of the demonization of Jews. Using the definition of anti-Semitism promoted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the study also makes it clear that the NSJP’s mode of discourse routinely crosses into territory in which its goal is not critiques of Israel’s policies, but instead to disparage, demonize and delegitimize Jews, and to deny Jewish history. Their false comparisons between Israel and apartheid South Africa—and particularly those made between it and Nazi Germany—aren’t merely defamatory, they are blatantly anti-Semitic.

Moreover, the conduct of its chapters, which exist at schools throughout the nation, including some of the country’s most elite institutions, also illustrate the hateful nature of their campaigns, whose goal is to shame and silence Jews who have the temerity to speak up for the rights of their people.

Why does NSJP get away with it? Why is such behavior tolerated and even lauded—New York University gave its President’s Award to its SPJ chapter for its “civic engagement”—by those in power who are usually occupied with shutting up those who offend the sensibilities of students?

The answer is that NSJP’s libels against Israel are fashionable, while those of other hate groups are not.

The rise of intersectional ideology that claims a link between the Palestinian war on Israel and the struggle for civil rights in the United States is widely accepted in academic circles, despite its lack of logic and falsification of history.

Others foolishly claim that Palestinian Jew-hatred is distinct from classical anti-Semitism because they were wronged by the creation of the State of Israel. The problem with that argument is that Palestinian suffering in their conflict with Zionism rests entirely on their refusal to compromise. Equally important, they not only insist on nullifying Jewish rights, but consistently attack Israel in language rooted in the Islamic tradition of treating Jews as second-class citizens with anti-Semitic tropes thrown in for good measure.

Many liberal and Jewish groups give NSJP a pass for its eliminationist rhetoric because they don’t like the policies of the Israeli government and long for peace with the Palestinians in spite of their consistent refusals to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders might be drawn. Due to their guilt about alleged Israeli sins, they turn a blind eye to the hate that is mainstream discourse in Palestinian culture and among groups like NSJP. They forget that the situation in the territories exists because the Palestinians have refused peace offers, not because Israel hasn’t made any.

At the root of this problem is the plain fact that anti-Zionism cannot be separated from anti-Semitism simply because it seeks to deny to the Jews that which no one—least of all American liberals—would deny to any other people.

This is confirmed by the fact that NSJP and its BDS agenda don’t target Israel as they do Jews who stand up for it. It’s they who are vilified and attacked, both verbally and sometimes physically by NSJP.

What can be done about this problem?

If universities were to apply the rules it uses on other issues, NSJP would be banned everywhere as a hate group. Those who call for consistency on such matters aren’t wrong. But the right course of action isn’t so much to silence Israel’s foes, just as they seek to silence Jews and Zionists. It’s for students and faculty to unite to advocate against hate and to push back hard against those who traffic in anti-Semitism. By letting NSJP get away with pushing anti-Semitic themes without being denounced by authority figures and student bodies, academic institutions are enabling and legitimizing hate. And when that happens, they cannot claim innocence when acts of intimidation against Jews by the NSJP occur.

The ISGAP report is a wake-up call not just for Jewish groups, but for those who enable or excuse the vitriol espoused by this group. It’s time to revoke the college hall pass granted by intellectual fashion to those who target Jews and seek to demonize the Jewish state. The alternative is to stand by and watch as a new wave of anti-Semitism sweeps through universities and the nation.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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