It’s time to counter anti-Israel bias among campus student groups

There is no reason for activists’ lies, distortions and slanders except irrational hatred of the Jewish state

A sign for "Israeli Apartheid Week," the annual international anti-Israel showcase, on the campus of the University of California, Irvine, in May 2010. Credit: AMCHA Initiative.
A sign for "Israeli Apartheid Week," the annual international anti-Israel showcase, on the campus of the University of California, Irvine, in May 2010. Credit: AMCHA Initiative.
Avner Yeshurun, a rising senior studying finance at the University of Miami, and a 2022 CAMERA on Campus Fellow. Photo: Courtesy
Avner Yeshurun

Students for Justice in Palestine chapters across North America accuse Israel of “apartheid” or claim that it is a “settler-colonist state” While SJP’s underhanded rhetoric might convince some, don’t be fooled. These claims are based on lies and distortions of the reality that Israelis and Palestinians contend with.

Unfortunately, such rhetoric has become more and more common on university campuses.

A look at the Instagram accounts of the SJP chapters at the University of Florida and the University of Southern Florida shows the extent of the misinformation they spread about Israel. Conspiracies about “pinkwashing,” a term used to delegitimize Israel’s tolerance of the LGBTQ+ community, are routinely spread on the UF SJP chapter’s platforms. A link to a “Palestine Readings” section includes texts from academics who demonize Israel. A social-media post describes calls for USF to divest from Israeli products because of “Israeli apartheid,” a propaganda buzzword based on distortions of Israeli law and conditions in the disputed territories. It has been debunked numerous times by experts. The SJP chapter at Florida State has also spread such fabrications. It screened, for example, the film Five Broken Cameras, which has been exposed as biased, selective and disingenuous.

This is not a problem limited to Florida. On hundreds of U.S. campuses, anti-Zionist groups use their platforms to deny the Jewish people’s right to their historic homeland and slander the world’s only Jewish state.

It is ironic that, in fact, Israel protects the inalienable rights of all its citizens—Jews, Arabs or otherwise. Israel honors the famous dictum from the Balfour Declaration, a statement published by the British government in 1917 in support of Jewish self-determination: “It being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”

In May of 1948, Israel’s Declaration of Independence reinforced this. It said, “The State of Israel … will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace … it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”

These statements and their implementation demolish SJP’s claims of apartheid and subjugation. Zionism was, is and will always be a persecuted people’s haven in its historical homeland, and a place where they can cooperate and govern with other inhabitants of that land in a democratic system.

The proof is Israeli society itself. For example, George Karra, an Israeli-Arab judge who sentenced former Israeli President Moshe Katzav to a jail term, debunks the apartheid libel by the simple fact that he exists. Arab representation in the Israeli government does not end there. Sixteen of Israel’s 120 members of the Knesset are Muslim. Ra’am, an Arab-Islamic party, is currently a part of the government coalition. Its leader, Mansour Abbas, has personally refuted the apartheid accusation. Israel’s commitment to democracy is such that the Knesset even includes Arab parties that openly challenge Zionism.

It is clear that campus anti-Israel propaganda is a manufactured product. It comes from somewhere. The primary manufacturers are campus activist groups. At the University of Miami, for example, the UM National Lawyers Guild, SWANALSA and the Black Law Students Association hosted Ahmad Abuznaid in a discussion about Israeli “apartheid.” Abuznaid has praised convicted terrorists who carried out attacks against civilians and has equated the IDF with white supremacist groups. SJP chapters across the United States also invite speakers like Noura Erekat, who leverage co-sponsorships from student groups and academic departments to demonize Israel in an academic setting. Erekat has labeled Israel a settler-colonial state and defended the actions of terrorists.

In her book Justice for Some, Erekat claims that “the modus operandi of the time, whereby Europeans subjugated non-Europeans, was fundamental in shaping Zionist ambitions.” In Erekat’s opinion, Jews were Europeans who believed in the White Man’s Burden and thus felt they were justified in subjugating the native population of Palestine.

This claim is false on its face. First, Jews were never accepted by non-Jews as full Europeans, from their earliest appearance in Europe until six million of them were murdered in the Holocaust. Jewish history in Europe was as a long chain of persecution, libel, degradation and violence. State economic policy rendered Jews incapable of pursuing a respectable livelihood, and state religious policy prevented them from defending themselves when attacked. For the duration of the Jews’ exile in Europe, the idea of a return to the land from which they had been expelled by the Roman Empire was a pillar of hope. It never disappeared from Jewish tradition despite the chasm of time.

Furthermore, Erekat assumes that from the time of the Roman conquest until the modern State of Israel was founded, Jews were not native to the Land of Israel. As she puts it, “Do Jews have a right to self-determination in a territory in which they did not reside but settled?” This contradicts the documented reality that an indigenous, albeit small Jewish community survived in the land renamed Palestine for the entire duration of the Exile.

Israel is not a perfect entity, but it is not the sum of its imperfections either. Why isn’t Israel’s annual LGBTQ+ parade in Tel Aviv, the largest in the Middle East and Asia, included in the conversation? Why are students not told that Israel takes in refugees from the Syrian civil war for medical treatment? Why do pro-Palestinian campus groups not mention that Israel has offered Iran, which calls for its destruction, assistance with Iran’s drought crisis? Are students ever informed that Israel will call off a raid targeting a terrorist if there is a chance civilians may be killed?

These facts indicate that Israel is one of the most progressive and democratic countries in the world, comparable to any democracy in Europe or North America. It has even ranked higher than the United States, Italy and Spain on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual Democracy Index.

There is no reason for campus groups to ignore these facts except simple, irrational hatred of Israel. In their eyes, Israel can do no good, and that is the end of it. It is clear that pro-Israel campus groups specifically and all of us generally must counter this by striving to present an accurate, contextualized picture of Israel, and thus usher in the next generation of leaders.

Avner Yeshurun is a rising senior studying finance at the University of Miami and a 2022 CAMERA on Campus Fellow.

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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