(January 19, 2016 / JNS)
Malicious campaigns to intimidate Jewish and other pro-Israel students and faculty into silence are occurring on far too many North American college campuses. Driven by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and its many off-campus enablers, the campaigns are loud and they do not care about appearing extreme. They create chaos and feed off the ensuing controversy to gain attention for their anti-Israel accusations. The goal: to create an atmosphere of political conformity based on an assumption of ill-will against Israel and its supporters. Yet the campaigns will not succeed.
Examples of this radicalism and bullying is rife. At University of California (UC), San Diego in October, the keynote speaker at SJP’s national conference was convicted terrorist Rasmea Odeh, who was directly involved in a bombing that killed two Israeli college students. In January, the DePaul University SJP chapter actually held a fundraiser for her. At UC Santa Cruz, a Jewish student senator received an email warning him to “abstain” from a vote on a BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement) resolution because, as a leader of the Jewish Student Union, he had a “Jewish agenda.” At UCLA, a student was questioned about her Jewish identity and its supposed impact on her objectivity if appointed to a student government committee. Initially told she could not serve, she was later admitted after the issue became very public. At the University of Michigan, anti-Israel activists demanded that a Jewish student senator who expressed disagreement with an anti-Israel protest be subjected to an “ethics investigation” and removed from his senate position. He was exonerated.
Anti-Semitism was evident when City University of New York’s (CUNY) SJP chapter announced its participation in a national student tuition hike protest, which SJP tried to hijack, a common tactic of anti-Israel activists. The chapter’s Facebook page blamed CUNY’s “Zionist administration” for raising student fees and “reproduce[ing] settler-colonial ideology throughout CUNY through Zionist content of education.” At one CUNY demonstration, SJP students chanted, “Long live the intifada,” justifying the horrific violence in the wave of stabbings and shootings of Jews. This chant was also shouted at UC Berkeley, and NYC SJP declared, “We must support those fueling the intifada.”
A Louis D. Brandeis Center poll from last year shows that 54 percent of Jewish students “reported having been subject to or witnessing anti-Semitism on their campus.”
For most Jews, the Star of David on Israel’s flag speaks to their Jewish identities. The attempt to create campus political uniformity is often accompanied by overt anti-Semitism posing as “criticism of Israel.” Jewish students experience this as an assault on their identities and civil rights.
SJP’s more than 100 campus chapters are propelling this hate speech. They sponsor “Israeli Apartheid Week,” bring to campus virulently anti-Israel speakers, promote resolutions in student governments calling for anti-Israel divestment, and set up “die-ins,” mock checkpoints, and “apartheid wall” displays.
This obsessive hostility toward Israel and its supporters often morphs into explicit anti-Jewish hatred.
While SJP would like us to believe that they are a grassroots movement and that their campaigns spring up from campus activism, the truth is that they are supported by off-campus organizations including the fringe Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and American Muslims for Palestine (AMP). JVP and AFSC jointly run a BDS “summer camp,” and AMP gives campus activism workshops. AMP and Palestine Legal publish guidebooks offering strategy promoting BDS, and AFSC staff drafts ready-made student government divestment resolutions enabling SJP to lobby student governments. All these groups endorse the global BDS campaign against Israel, which opposes its right to exist.
Another anti-free speech tactic is SJP’s disruptions of pro-Israel campus programming.
SJP at State University of New York at Binghamton has a policy calling for “engaging in non-violent disruption” of “Zionist” events. Further, this policy proscribes contact with Jews by declaring off limits all interaction with every campus Jewish group SJP deems to be pro-Israel – from Hillel to Chabad to J Street U.
Disruptions of pro-Israel events have become a regular feature around the country, from the University of Texas to Goucher College to the University of Pittsburgh and others. Palestine Legal advises activists on how to avoid prosecution when disrupting.
This extremist strategy is to make Israel appear so radioactive on campus so as to intimidate Israel’s supporters into silence. By declaring its goal to “end the Zionist influence on our university campuses,” SJP makes this clear.
Israel’s campus detractors, however, will fail. The answer to this long-evident attempt to intimidate and muzzle pro-Israel campus voices is to increase already flourishing pro-Israel programming. The response to hateful disruptions will be more pro-Israel events. University administrators will come to realize that they must provide more oversight to ensure that events are not disrupted.
If SJP and its allies refuse to engage civilly with the wide range of pro-Israel campus voices, we are confident most students will gladly do so regardless or in spite of SJP’s hate campaign. This is exactly what SJP is afraid of and why the group attempts to intimidate and silence pro-Israel campus voices.
SJP doesn’t know it yet, but it will fail.
Roz Rothstein is CEO, and Yitzhak Santis is senior writer and analyst, for the pro-Israel education and advocacy group StandWithUs.