OpinionBoycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)

Historical revisionism at Cornell University

Why would ostensibly progressive organizations on campus peddle anti-Semitic conspiracy theories?

A view of Cornell University. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
A view of Cornell University. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Josh Eibelman
Josh Eibelman

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Cornell chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) hosted a film screening on Sept. 22 of Gaza Fights for Freedom, a documentary produced by Abby Martin. For student organizations claiming to fight for truth and social justice, it is interesting that SJP and JVP chose to show a film created by a well-known conspiracy theorist. It should not be surprising, however, since the entire narrative SJP and JVP push consists of very thinly veiled historical revisionism.

Let’s examine Martin’s background. She started her career as a 9/11 “Truther”—a conspiracy movement that claims that the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks against the United States were actually an inside job planned by the U.S. government. After starting her own 9/11 “truther” group in California, Martin joined Russia Today, a Russian state-owned propaganda mouthpiece that was forced by the U.S government to register as a foreign agent in 2017. As an RT reporter, Martin continued to push conspiracy theories, claiming that the American government faked terrorist attacks, including 9/11, as a pretext for the war on terror. She also accused Israel of using “Hitler’s methods,” an anti-Semitic attack against the Jewish state, and has been repeatedly praised in the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer.

So why would SJP and JVP at Cornell screen a film produced by such a person?

It’s because the entire narrative these organizations propagate consists of factual and historical distortions meant to demonize the sole Jewish state. In an op-ed published on Oct. 22 in The Cornell Daily Sun (Cornell’s student newspaper), in which members of SJP and several other organizations explained their protests against the Cornell Board of Trustees meeting, the authors baselessly state that Israeli academic institutions “abet the murder of innocents.” In step with Martin’s conspiracies, the authors’ assertion amounts to a modern version of the medieval blood libel—the idea that Jews commit ritual murder.

But why would ostensibly progressive organizations on campus peddle anti-Semitic conspiracy theories? It’s because these organizations, at their core, are dedicated to Israel’s eradication. Indeed, SJP member and JVP leader Max Greenberg admitted in the Sun on Oct. 11, 2018 that his organization is dedicated to Israel’s destruction. And JVP’s national founder, Rebecca Vilkomerson, has collaborated with white-supremacist publications, terrorist figures and other anti-Semitic organizations and individuals in the pursuit of Israel’s elimination.

Some point to the “Jewish” in Jewish Voice for Peace to claim that it is impossible for such an organization to be anti-Semitic because it was founded and led by Jews. This is false. Being a member of a minority group does not immunize against bias against one’s group or any other group. Whether groups such as JVP are expressing internalized anti-Semitism or fostering it for some other reason, one fact remains true: They do not speak for the majority of American Jews. Indeed, Gallup polling shows that 95 percent of American Jews have a favorable view of Israel.

Student groups such as JVP and SJP will likely never stop pretending to be progressive and never admit to being anti-Semitic. Thus, the job of calling out every single lie, slur and defamation against Israel and the Jewish people has fallen on students like me.

With U.S. President Donald Trump’s Executive Order on Combating Anti-Semitism, the tide may be turning. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance,” which includes universities. This executive order would extend such protections to Jewish students, when they are being discriminated against on the actual or perceived basis of race, color or national origin. The order also directs federal agencies to consider the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, which posits that denying Israel the right to exist and comparing Israeli policies to those of the Nazis is anti-Semitic.

I am all for free speech on campus. But just as African-American, Latino, gay and other minority groups deserve protection from discrimination on campus, so do Jewish students. I sincerely hope to productively engage with students from SJP and JVP about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But as long as the words coming from these groups reek of hateful historical revisionism, no such dialogue will be possible.

Josh Eibelman is a CAMERA on Campus fellow at Cornell University.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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