The Palestinian war against Israel has been a genocidal antisemitic undertaking from its origins and remains so today. Nonetheless, it enjoys substantial support in the U.S., especially in America’s most important institutional purveyor of antisemitism—academia.
The most popular foreign policy cause on U.S. campuses is Israel’s destruction, and the favorite pastime is attacking Israel’s Jewish supporters. Indeed, among the most popular campus chants is “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Campus activists parrot the Big Lies with which Palestinian leaders justify their hatred and murderous aggression: There was a nation of Palestine usurped by the Jews; there was never a Jewish presence in the Land of Israel; and the Jews are alien invaders who forced the Palestinians from their homes.
In fact, there has never been a Palestinian state. In November 1947, the U.N. General Assembly voted to divide British Mandatory Palestine—a Mandate carved out of the Ottoman Empire after World War I—into Jewish and Arab states. Palestinian Arabs, together with the Arab states, rejected partition and threatened the Jewish population of then-Palestine with annihilation.
In the words of Abdul Rachman Azzad, Secretary-General of the Arab League, “This will be a war of extermination and momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacre and the Crusades.”
The Palestinian Arab leadership, headed by Haj Amin al-Husseini, who had collaborated with the Nazis on a plan to exterminate the Jewish population of Mandatory Palestine, also declared that the war’s intent was genocidal. Fortunately, Israel emerged victorious and its enemies’ designs were thwarted. The Palestinian Arabs subsequently labeled this outcome their “Naqba,” or “catastrophe.”
The war was accompanied by the flight of some 600,000 Arab refugees, which the Palestinians and their supporters blame on the Israelis. At the time and into the mid-1950’s, however, they typically blamed it on their own leaders and the Arab states for encouraging the war that led to the mass flight.
Sir John Troutbeck, a British official hostile to Israel and Jews, was sent in June 1949 on a fact-finding mission to Gaza, then controlled by Egypt. He reported on his surprise to learn that, “While [the refugees] express no bitterness against the Jews … they speak with the utmost bitterness of the Egyptians and other Arab states. ‘We know who our enemies are,’ they will say, and they are referring to their Arab brothers who, they declare, persuaded them unnecessarily to leave their homes. … I even heard it said that many of the refugees would give a welcome to the Israelis if they were to come in and take the district over.”
Only later were such widely held opinions quashed by Palestinian leaders in order to exploit the propaganda value of blaming the Jews.
While a number of Arab states have since established peace agreements with Israel, the Palestinian leadership continues to pursue its old genocidal project. The Hamas rulers of Gaza explicitly declare their determination to murder not only all Israeli Jews but all Jews worldwide. They characterize this as a religious obligation and educate their young to commit themselves to it. The Palestinian Authority uses its media, mosques and schools to promote the murder of Jews, hails terrorists as heroes and pays them generous stipends. P.A. chief Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly asserted that the Jews are usurpers with no history in the Land of Israel and that he will never recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state.
The Palestinian leadership’s genocidal agenda receives political, financial and military support from many different sources, especially in the Arab and Muslim worlds. But even Western democracies, to their shame, lend support to this agenda. The European Union continues to lavishly fund the P.A., even as it acknowledges the P.A.’s malign activities. It likewise funds many Palestinian NGOs with terror affiliations, as well as UNRWA, which uses its schools to teach genocide to young Palestinians. Many individual European countries do the same. The United States Congress has passed the Taylor Force Act, which is intended to block aid to the P.A. as long as it continues to pay terrorists and their families, but the Biden administration has ignored the act or worked around it. It has also resumed funding UNRWA.
These Western policies, while no doubt influenced by antisemitism, are typically justified with platitudes about promoting peace. But it is difficult to see how Palestinian leaders who openly advocate Israel’s extermination can be the agents of any peace other than the peace of the dead. Another factor is realpolitik, given that the majority of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, long indoctrinated by Jew-haters, remain hostile to Israel. Western governments fear “offending” them and their leaders.
The pro-Palestinian activism ubiquitous on Western college and university campuses, however, does not pretend that it is promoting peace. It quite openly supports the Palestinians’ goal of Israel’s annihilation.
In the United States, this can be seen in campus support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is dedicated to economically strangling the Jewish state. There is also the unhinged slander that Israel is an “apartheid” state, obviously implying that it does not deserve to exist. This is compounded by absurd claims that Israel is a white supremacist colonial entity. There is also the attempt to delegitimize the existence of all Israeli institutions and, indeed, all Israelis. The only exceptions are those Israelis who explicitly repudiate their nation. Then there are the brutal attacks on campus Jews, who are assumed to be supporters of Israel’s existence unless they declare otherwise.
Hatred of Israel has become an obsession on campus. A recently published review of campus newspapers at 75 institutions revealed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict received more coverage than any other foreign policy issue—nearly 1,500 articles over five years. Moreover, in the articles that clearly favored one side or the other, the number of pro-Palestinian articles was double those that were pro-Israel.
Part of the explanation for this is the campus activism of Arab and other Muslim students and faculty, who are largely aligned with the rejectionist Muslim Brotherhood or the Iran regime, rather than the Arab states that are pursuing rapprochement with Israel. Enormous amounts of money from Muslim Brotherhood-aligned regimes like Qatar have poured onto American campuses in support of this activism. Many of the activists, like their heroes in Hamas, Hezbollah and similar groups, openly advocate the genocide of the Jews on social media and declare their admiration for Hitler and the Nazis.
That they are able to win over such a large following on campus is related in no small part to the support of far-left faculty, who happily regurgitate anti-Israel and anti-Jewish slanders that largely originated in the former Soviet Union. This anti-Israel obsession is then adopted by their indoctrinated student acolytes.
In May 2021, for example, anti-Israel and antisemitic hatred erupted during Israel’s 11-day war with Hamas. Campus sentiment was solidly on the side of the openly genocidal terror group, and demonstrations, student and faculty declarations, calls for Israel’s destruction and physical assaults on Jews and other pro-Israel individuals quickly followed.
Moreover, demands to end all college and university contacts with Israel and Israeli institutions are usually accompanied by calls to exclude all pro-Israel voices or simply Israeli voices. This occurs in tandem with efforts to silence, close down and physically attack pro-Israel speakers. In contrast, anti-Israel speakers who spew the most obscene and irrational nonsense and call for Israel’s destruction are welcomed and adored.
For example, there is Jasbir Puar, a professor and graduate director of women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University. She has virtually made a career out of the slanderous claim that Israel targets Palestinians in order to harvest their organs. This is, of course, a variation on the medieval blood libel, which held that Jews murder non-Jewish children in order to use their blood to make matzah. Puar has even claimed that Israel’s supposed opposition to a two-state solution “is not so much about winning or losing nor a solution, but about needing body parts … for research and experimentation.” Puar is, of course, a fervent supporter of anti-Israel terrorism and an ardent defender of its perpetrators.
There is also Mohammed el-Kurd, recently featured at Harvard and MIT and a columnist for the rabidly anti-Israel magazine The Nation. He goes Puar one better. Hewing even closer to the medieval blood libel, el-Kurd has accused Israelis of harvesting Palestinian organs so they can eat them. The charming El-Kurd is also notorious for telling an audience at Arizona State University, “If you heckle me, you will get shot.” Such murderous, if unsurprising, threats have not dampened his popularity as a campus speaker.
The silencing of pro-Israel voices and the promotion of Israel-hating voices are two sides of the same strategy. Those trafficking in ludicrous and racist claims against Israel would find it much more difficult to indoctrinate their captive audiences if the truth about Israel were permitted. But as in the Middle East and the Muslim world, this cannot be tolerated.
It is noteworthy, in this context, that a chief promoter of anti-Israel propaganda, Muslim Brotherhood-linked Qatar, is also the largest foreign donor to American universities, providing over a billion dollars from 2011-2017. This largesse is not a coincidence. A primary objective is to promote the anti-Israel agenda on campus and “persuade” faculty to disseminate anti-Israel slanders on campus and beyond.
That academia is the main institutional purveyor of Israel-hatred and antisemitism in America should not be surprising. Students and faculty have been receptive to revolutionary and extremist ideologies for a very long time. They have been more than happy to clothe themselves in communist red or fascist brown according to the current fashion. Today, they wrap themselves in a combination of the two: the colors of the far-left and Islamist fascism. Both of these ideologies are defined by their hatred of Israel and Jews.
The most benign response to academia’s descent into antisemitism and racism would be for federal and state governments to penalize—financially and otherwise—colleges and universities that violate anti-bias statutes by tolerating campus hatred of Israel, Israelis and Jews. Until now, such efforts have been weak to non-existent, and the incitement and aggression continue to increase.
American Jews should be leading the struggle for government action against campus antisemitism. There are also many non-Jews whose simple decency and aversion to bigotry would move them to join this effort. Without such a movement and appropriate government intervention, the situation will become much uglier. Genocidal antisemitism will become more deeply ingrained on campus and in academia. Worst of all, the poison will increasingly infect the wider culture, placing all Jews and their supporters in danger.
Kenneth Levin is a psychiatrist and historian and author of The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege.