As woke activists who are part of the cognitive war against Israel continue their campaign of slanders against the Jewish state, a curious thing has taken place: The self-righteous moral scolds who choose to relentlessly demonize Israel to promote Palestinian self-determination often portray themselves as victims rather than moral aggressors. They are examples of what has come to be defined as crybullies, individuals that British commentator Julie Burchill characterized as “a hideous hybrid of victim and victor, weeper and walloper.
And nowhere is the crybully more likely to be found than among the pro-Palestinian activists who are relentless in their tactical assault on Israel and Zionism — and the people who support them — but who, once defenders of Israel answer back the calumnies and slurs lobbed by these activists, weaponize their status as victims and whine about the pushback they often, and justifiably, experience from their ideological opponents on campus.
Anti-Israel student activists have become crybullies. A particularly egregious case of this is currently unfolding at the University of Southern California, for example, involving the vile Yasmeen Mashayekh, a student in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering who a group of some 60 USC faculty has accused of “ongoing open expressions of anti-Semitism and Zionophobia.”
What were some of the sentiments shared by the lovely Ms. Mashayekh, ironically, though possibly not coincidentally, a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion senator in USC’s graduate student government? As cataloged on Canary Mission, on May 9, 2021, Mashayekh tweeted, “I want to kill every motherf**king zionist.” When Canary Mission responded to that odious tweet with one of their own, claiming that her tweet was “horrifying,” Mashayekh tweeted: “Oh no how horrifying that I want to kill my colonizer!!”
In June, Mashayekh tweeted, “Death to Israel and its b**ch the US.” And retweeted a tweet that read, “May i****l [Israel] burn to the ground. #SaveSilwan.” And in case there was any doubt about her feelings about the Jewish state, her June tweets included such tolerant and loving expressions as, “If you are not for the complete destruction of Israel and the occupation forces then you’re anti-Palestinian;” “Death to Israel;” and “Yes I f**king love hamas now stfu [shut the f**k up].”
While the group of faculty members called on the USC administration to take some proactive action to denounce the rhetoric and sentiment of one its students, others who support Mashayekh have been busy transforming her from a hateful, anti-Semitic bigot into a victim of Islamophobia and racism, and someone even experiencing reputational damage. In fact, pro-Palestinians on campus drafted a form letter to Yannis Yortsos, Dean of the Viterbi School of Engineering, and USC’s President Carol Folt, with the subject line, “In Support of Yasmeen Mashayekh: USC Must Act.”
Once Mashayekh’s tweets had been made public, there was understandable blowback and condemnation for her puerile and caustic comments, but to her supporters, those who shared similar attitudes about Israel, she was a victim, not a hateful perpetrator. The letter complained “about the targeted racial & ethnic harassment and abuse that Palestinian student Yasmeen Mashayekh has been subjected to in recent months by various established Zionist organizations,” as well as “continued and unrelenting digital racism that has resulted in academic penalization [and] emotional and psychological suffering — all because her identity as an exploited and oppressed person of Palestinian background is under attack.” [Emphasis added.]
And in keeping with her status as a crybully, Mashayekh, according to her defenders, is actually “an oppressed student who is being unfairly discriminated against for speaking on her people’s plight.” The actual perpetrator here? Not Mashayekh, her fellow crybullies claim, but “Canary Mission, an organization that systematically reveals the personal & private information of Palestinians and Black, Indigenous People of Color in an effort to launch targeted harassment campaigns against those who would dare to challenge colonial rule.”
At McGill University in Montreal, anti-Israel sentiment is so pervasive that the university’s student newspaper, the McGill Daily, refuses to run any content that is pro-Israel or defends Zionism or the Jewish state, and a recent editorial, apparently speaking on behalf of the whole student body, denounced Israel’s purported “colonialism, imperialism, and genocide in all forms” and claimed that the “Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is nothing short of apartheid.”
Given their success in poisoning the campus climate against Israel, one would think that the activist group McGill Students in Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR McGill) would feel victorious at having pushed their venomous ideology down the throats of their student peers. But last May, SPHR members began raving about a pernicious “blacklist [that] is terrorizing pro-Palestine students at McGill,” allegedly “compiled by a group of Zionist McGill students,” and containing “the names and personal information of countless pro-Palestine students at McGill” with the goal “to surveil and document students suspected of pro-Palestine sympathies.”
“By using this list and maintaining its secrecy,” the activists claimed, “these [Zionist students] have made themselves complicit in a vicious, racist campaign that attacks the fundamental right of racialized Palestinian and pro-Palestine students to exist at this university, without fear that they will be targeted in reprisal for signing petitions, sharing content on social media, or even expressing their views in private.”
On the race-sensitive McGill campus, the activist crybullies unsurprisingly alleged, “The users of the list, most of whom appear to be white Zionist individuals or Zionist groups, are mainly targeting racialized students and replicating practices that emerge from a system of structural surveillance in North America, which seeks to criminalize Black, Brown and other racialized peoples” and puts “racialized people at risk.” [Emphasis added]
The so-called “blacklists” referenced in some of the crybullies’ complaints at McGill and USC are such databases as Canary Mission, Discover the Networks, Campus Watch, the AMCHA Initiative, and other similar organizations, all of which have as their intention to provide students, faculty, and others with information on the ideology, scholarship, speeches, and writing of radical professors and students. These are individuals (and groups) who have very public records of pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel activism and whose words and behavior have been cataloged so that the politicization of scholarship can be exposed, and students can avoid courses taught by professors with a predetermined and evident bias against Israel.
In gathering and cataloging this data, however, none of the mentioned organizations furtively investigated the private lives of professors or campus radicals, nor did they hack into emails accounts, or take testimony from anonymous sources, or delve through association memberships, reading habits, or private writings without the individuals’ expectation that their expression would possibly be documented. Individuals who are on these databases were not spied upon by their fellow students nor their courses videotaped furtively by students.
The findings — and this is the critical point that the crybully obviously ignores — are based on the public utterances, published works, and social media posts of professors and students, behavior and speech they apparently had no problem with making public and for which they were not hesitant, at least initially, to take responsibility.
If these social justice bullies are willing and ready to spout forth their toxic narratives about their notion of Israel’s depraved and endlessly malign existence, they should expect, and be prepared for, a response and reckoning for their words and deeds—sometimes of equal or greater intellectual force. The crybully cannot expect to launch unrelenting ideological attacks on the supporters of Israel and not be answered back, confronted with counterarguments, and made to debate history and fact when propagating narratives and lies.
The deepest feelings, poet Marianne Moore once observed, emerge “not in silence, but restraint.” There’s a lesson there for the crybully.
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.