(March 5, 2021 / JNS) It was a familiar story but with an unfamiliar conclusion. A Jewish student objected to the anti-Semitic slanders promoted by a student organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction. For his pains, he was targeted for harassment and then scheduled to be hauled before a disciplinary meeting at which he was likely to be impeached from his post in student government for his pro-Israel views.
The outcome—in which, for a change, the Israel-haters backed down—is not only a victory for the student. It also provides a template for others in similar situations to follow. That’s why, though dismissed by some as a tempest in an academic teacup, the drama that recently unfolded at Tufts University outside Boston is deserving of attention on the part of all those who worry about the future of American Jewry.
For those who follow the battles being fought on North American college campuses in recent years as pro-BDS groups have worked to delegitimize the State of Israel and its supporters, what happened to Tufts student Max Price was nothing new, even if the abuse hurled at him was pretty severe.
The Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter at Tufts promoted a student referendum aimed at rebuking the university’s former police chief for participating in a 2017 exchange program in which American law enforcement and first responders receive training in Israel. The exchange programs involve information-sharing and are useful because the Americans learn from the Israelis’ time-tested experience in dealing with emergencies.
These programs are, however, the centerpiece of a propaganda campaign called “Deadly Exchange” launched by the anti-Zionist group Jewish Voice for Peace. According to them, they are a diabolical plot in which Americans are taught how to abuse and kill minorities by Israelis. In this way, groups like JVP and SJP not only attack Israel, but also delegitimize the American Jews who sponsor the trips as somehow responsible for American police shootings of African-Americans. As such, it is not merely a false and defamatory argument, but a 21st-century blood libel in which Jews are blamed for crimes committed by others.
At Tufts, that took the form of a referendum promoted by SJP in which a resolution filled with misleading and false information about the exchanges was voted on by the students.
That’s where Price, a member of the Tufts Community Union Judiciary, stepped in. His post is tasked with the job of fact-checking and removing false information from student government legislation. Price denounced the falsehoods in the referendum text. That led SJP and its supporters to single him out for a campaign of harassment, culminating in an effort to get him thrown out of his position by a disciplinary committee because of his “pro-Israel bias.”
Price’s treatment—not just by SJP but also others in student government—was outrageous. Not only was he subjected to profane insults but also forced to sit through student government meetings in which he was questioned about his Jewish background and beliefs. At a Zoom meeting during which the referendum was discussed, he was muted and literally prevented from speaking. The message from the student government and from a university administration that stood by silently as Price suffered these insults was clear: If you are a pro-Israel Jew, you are going to be treated as a racist advocate of white supremacy who must be marginalized, rather than respected and heard.
It is fear of similar treatment that more often than not convinces Jewish students to keep their heads down and stay silent when Israel is being falsely besmirched as an “apartheid state.” Indeed, that’s the whole point of the BDS movement. While ostensibly a campaign of economic warfare against the Jewish state, it has done nothing to damage its vibrant economy through its pathetic drive to undermine, for example, sales of Sabra hummus. Instead, like other successful cancel culture efforts, it seeks to silence those who refute intersectional myths about the Palestinian war against Israel being linked to the struggle for civil rights in the United States and which brands Zionism as racism.
But Price wouldn’t be silent.
In similar situations, most college kids choose to avoid putting a bull’s eye on their backs by challenging fashionable leftist theories promoted by both professors and other students. Indeed, even many of those who do speak up respond to the personal attacks by quitting student government in disgust. The same thing happens in other venues, such as journalism, when those labeled as too interested in defending Jewish rights or Israel are singled out. Walking away from such fights as not worth the grief is understandable. When that happens, though, anti-Semites win. After all, their objective is to clear the public square of proud Jews and friends of Israel.
Rather than granting a hate group like SJP such an undeserved triumph, Price fought back. And he wasn’t alone. The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, which specializes in defending students in these situations, intervened to represent him. It rightly accused the university of failing to defend Price’s rights. Allowing him to suffer anti-Semitic harassment was in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, which forbids such discriminatory treatment at educational institutions that, like Tufts, receive federal aid.
What followed was what usually happens when bullies are challenged. Rather than face a lawsuit or the escalation of this fight into something much bigger than a simple case of successful intimidation, SJP gave up. It withdrew its effort to throw Price out of his student government post.
That’s good news for Max Price and more evidence of the necessity of the Brandeis Center’s efforts.
Price was right when he told JNS that SJP’s retreat didn’t absolve them of their responsibility for the anti-Semitic treatment he received. The university also deserves blame for the passive role it played. They wouldn’t step in to stop the harassment of a Jewish student because of his unwillingness to join with others in smearing Israel. Would they have been so slow to act had an African-American or other minority student been attacked for defending his community?
While Price won this fight, there’s little reason to believe that will stop SJP and cowardly university administrators, who fear being “canceled” more than they value the rights of Jewish students, from behaving in a similar fashion the next time a student calls out anti-Semitic groups for their conduct. After all, even a Jewish publication like The Forward covered this story as if it were a misunderstanding in which both sides had some right on their side rather than a straightforward example of anti-Semitic agitation.
But this also points the way to the answer as to how the BDS movement can be beaten.
Jewish students must be armed with the facts to enable them to respond to lies like those of the “Deadly Exchange” campaign with the truth. But they need more than just information. They need to have the courage that is necessary to swim against the intellectual tide on campuses in which BDS is considered enlightened thought and support for Israel is deemed reactionary.
That’s a difficult thing to ask of anyone, let alone a college student who at that age is more eager to fit in than to be a noisy dissenter against academic fashion. Yet as has always been the case throughout history, courage is what is needed if Jewish rights are to be successfully defended.
Not every student can be expected to be as tough or to suffer the kind of opprobrium to which Price was subjected by anti-Semitic BDS supporters. But if we are to end the idea that it’s always open season on Jews who care about Israel on college campuses, then we are going to need more young men and women who can learn from his example.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.
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