Writing in 2009 about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the insightful journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, himself a Palestinian Israeli, observed that “what is happening on the U.S. campuses is not about supporting the Palestinians as much as it is about promoting hatred for the Jewish state. It is not really about ending the ‘occupation,’ ” he wrote, “as much as it is about ending the existence of Israel.”
And that is what those who observe the campus activism against Israel have never fully understood: that being pro-Palestinian, by definition, means being anti-Israel.
It does not involve urging the Palestinian leadership to come to terms with Israel about long unsettled negotiation points about borders, Jerusalem, the return of refugees and other key issues. It has never involved advising Palestinians to abandon terror, or so-called “resistance,” as a tactic for advancing political ambitions.
Those helping to promote Palestinian self-determination have not been firm in suggesting that Palestinian leaders and other officials end incitement, and that they stop the indoctrination of children in textbooks and lesson plans that demonize Israel and Jews, and teach children to look at the Jewish state as an abomination—an illegal regime, a perverse example of the malignancy of Jews who steal land, commit genocide and oppress an innocent indigenous people.
The Palestinians have never been told by their supporters that it is morally repugnant and diplomatically lethal to engage in a “pay to slay” program through which terrorists and their families were financially rewarded with $183 million in 2017, for example, garnered from foreign aid heaped on the Palestinians, purportedly for humanitarian aid.
In debating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, social-justice activists, of course, demonstrate their hypocrisy by endlessly dwelling on the many evils of Israel without bothering to examine or measure the Palestinians’ own central role in contributing to the many pathologies endemic to their civil society and institutions. Like many Western elites do when choosing sides, social-justice warriors infantilize the Palestinian victim and assume he has no agency to ameliorate his own conditions.
Many academics in the humanities and social sciences, including activists involved with efforts as disparate as Black Lives Matter, Students for Justice in Palestine and the National Association of Women’s Studies, increasingly find a linkage as they seek to affirm the rights of the victimized and name the villains responsible for this oppression—foremost among them, Israel.
The more that seemingly unrelated instances of oppression can be conflated, it is thought, the greater the ability to confront these oppressors and dilute the negative effects they have on their victims and on society at large. This trend has been called “intersectionality,” and for social-justice warriors, to know one victim group is to know any victim group—with Israel being a tempting and habitual target of their opprobrium.
That has meant, as one vexatious example, that the notoriously anti-Israel Jewish Voice for Peace, working in concert with Students for Justice in Palestine and other campus radicals, have promoted the mendacious “Deadly Exchange” lie that accuses Israel of being complicit in promoting racist violence in the United States by training police officers on how to arrest and neutralize black suspects, using the techniques and procedures gleaned from their long oppression of Palestinians. So the brutality, racism and cruelty of Israel is so malignant and powerful that it negatively affects blacks in America and the intersectional circle of oppression is closed in this perverse narrative.
Victim groups on campus, including the pro-Palestinians, claim that they join forces to fight for justice, equity and liberation, which, as SJP disingenuously claimed, “The fight against anti-Semitism must be linked to the wider fight against oppression, including the fight against Palestinian oppression.” But it is the pro-Palestinians who are singularly responsible for the majority of hostility on campuses today—not some other, vaguely defined and most invisible group of white supremacists, fascists or right-wing lunatics that haunt the liberal mind.
In fact, as studies by the AMCHA Initiative, as one example, have shown, it is the presence of groups like SJP on campuses that is directly responsible for fomenting anti-Semitic expression and behavior on university campuses, not white supremacists. AMCHA revealed that “schools with instances of student-produced anti-Zionist expression, including BDS promotion, are seven times more likely to have incidents that targeted Jewish students for harm than schools with no evidence of students’ anti-Zionist expression and the more such anti-Zionist expression, the higher the likelihood of incidents involving anti-Jewish hostility,” meaning that BDS activism spreads outward on a campus, tainting the overall environment for Jewish students who may or may not even be directly involved in the Israeli-Palestinian debate.
Equally serious was the report’s findings that SJP’s presence resulted in “incidents of Israel-related anti-Semitic harassment increase[ing] 70 percent.” And, based on SJP’s obsession with calls to boycott only Israel and suppress any and all dialogue in support of Israel, Zionism, or Jews—SJP’s actions on campuses have the end effect that “attempts to exclude Jewish and pro-Israel students from campus activities more than doubled, with expression calling for the total boycott or exclusion of pro-Israel students from campus life nearly tripling.”
Since its founding in 1993, SJP has had a long history of bringing vitriolic anti-Israel speakers to their respective campuses (now numbering some 200 with chapters), and for such collateral activities as sponsoring the pernicious Israeli Apartheid Weeks, building mock “apartheid walls” and sending mock eviction notices to Jewish students in their dorms to demonize Israel and create empathy for the Palestinian Arab cause.
SJP has a record on campuses nationwide of a pattern of radicalism, misbehavior, toxic speech and regular instances of overtly anti-Semitic behavior. AMCHA reports also “indicate a significant increase in actions which directly harm or threaten Jewish students, including physical and verbal assaults, destruction of property, harassment discrimination and suppression of speech, at schools with an SJP or similar anti-Zionist chapter.”
At the University of Toronto, Scarborough, anti-Israel students recently voted to forbid kosher food on campus unless the suppliers disavowed support for Israel. CUNY law students just introduced a resolution condemning Birthright trips to Israel, in addition to StandWithUs, Hillel and other Jewish, pro-Israel groups on their campus as dangerous and destructive; it wants them purged from campus, along with any Zionist ideology or support for the Jewish state.
At McGill—based on spurious charges that Israel is a colonial, apartheid, racist regime engaged in ethnic cleansing, land theft and ongoing genocide of an indigenous people—anti-Israel groups and individuals outrageously petitioned the administration that, in light of these accusations, any pro-Israel ideology or expression on campus should henceforth be considered to be hate speech, or as they defined it, “violent, hateful and harmful speech.”
And while Zionism, or Jewish self-determination, is under attack on campuses across the country and in Canada, pro-Palestinian activists nevertheless claim that their hostility towards Zionism has nothing to do with anti-Semitism and their loathing of the world’s only Jewish state has nothing to do with Jew-hatred.
That these campus activists are willing and ready to sacrifice the Jewish state and Jewish lives in the name of social justice and a specious campaign of self-determination by Palestinian Arabs shows how morally corrupt and deadly the conversation about human rights has become.
Their dangerous and toxic activism is often genocidal in promoting the destruction of the Middle East’s only democracy; this odious campaign for social justice should frighten us all.
Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and president emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of “Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.”