When Law Students for Justice in Palestine (LSJP) at University of California, Berkeley, School of Law promoted a bylaw that would create what critics have characterized as “no-go zones for Jews,” it may not have anticipated the thunderous and widespread denunciation it has since experienced for its toxic and radical tactic to marginalize and alienate Zionists and Jews on campus.
“LSJP is so excited to announce that multiple student affinity groups and clubs at Berkeley Law have adopted a pro-Palestine bylaw divesting all funds from institutions and companies complicit in the occupation of Palestine, and banning future use of funds towards such companies!” the group wrote in an Instagram post in August. “LSJP is calling ALL student organizations at Berkeley Law to take an anti-racist and anti-settler colonial stand and adopt the bylaw into their constitutions ASAP!”
In addition to urging the student groups to commit to supporting the ongoing BDS campaign against Israel, the bylaw also included very troubling language that seeks to expunge any speech by individuals who might be considered pro-Israel or pro-Zionist, especially speech meant to correct the many factual and historical inaccuracies in the pro-Palestinian narrative inherent in this insidious bylaw.
“[I]n the interest of protecting the safety and welfare of Palestinian students on campus,” the suggested language read, groups who adopt this bylaw “will not invite speakers that have expressed and continued to hold views or host/sponsor/promote events in support of Zionism, the apartheid state of Israel, and the occupation of Palestine.” [Emphasis added]
And in language which is Orwellian in its attempt to paint bigotry as virtue, cooperating student groups, the bylaw read, will proclaim that they are “publicly stipulating the organization’s position of anti-racism and anti-settler colonialism to speakers, ensuring that proposals for speakers emphasize the organization’s desire for equality and inclusion,” all of this for the purpose, of course, of creating “a safe and inclusive space for Palestinian students and students that are in the support of the liberation of Palestine.”
The implementation of what amounts to a litmus test of ideological allegiance—only targeted at Jews who support Israel—is grotesque but part of a decades-old campaign to malign Israel and transform it into a pariah state, while excluding its supporters from progressive groups because Israel, it is falsely alleged, is an apartheid, racist regime of white supremacy that continues to oppress innocent brown Arabs who were the actual indigenous residents of the land now called Israel.
For all the talk of a Palestinian state and Jewish state, “two states living side by side in peace,” the actual intent of the anti-Israel campaign is to weaken and destroy Israel completely and to silence the Jewish state’s supporters on university campuses. The Berkeley situation is just the latest of a continuing pattern of demonizing and maligning Zionism, Israel, and Jews in the name of Palestinian self-determination. Thus, the frequent calls for the “liberation of Palestine” or chants of “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free” articulate a fantasy in which present-day Israel is subsumed by returning millions of Arabs, purging all of its Jews and creating a 23rd Arab state in its place.
In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian debate, which forecloses on any speech that defends Israel and answers back to the lies, distortions, and slanders apparent in the language of the LSJP bylaw, the suppression of pro-Israel speech is even more serious. Pro-Palestinian activists would prefer that their rancid ideology is never challenged, of course, particularly since so much of their anti-Israel narrative is based on the oft-repeated but counter-factual references to the “occupation of Palestine,” Israeli “apartheid,” “colonialism,” “genocide” and the oppression of an Arab people at the hands of Jews. But emboldened by their success in promoting this false narrative, activists began attacking Zionism—Jewish self-determination—itself and other organizations, and programs associated with Judaism itself.
At the University of Toronto, for instance, the school’s Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) has the dubious distinction of being the only student union in Canada with a committee dedicated solely to promoting the anti-Semitic BDS movement. More outrageously, in 2019 the union members rejected Hillel’s request to recognize the “Kosher Forward” campaign to have kosher food offered on campus since, as the Union decided in their grotesquely anti-Semitic way, Hillel is pro-Israel and therefore kosher food should not be allowed.
What is next for the purge of anyone who might be considered pro-Israel? No Jews allowed in cafeterias that use SodaStream products? The removal of Jewish names from endowed professorships or campus buildings if those benefactors supported Israel? Will “Open Hillel” centers—those renegade Hillels which allow pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel dialogue and events to take place in their spaces—be allowed to remain on campuses but conventional, pro-Israel Hillels not?
Will professors who teach Jewish studies courses, or within Middle East studies departments, have to confess their opposition to Israel and Zionism in order to remain on the faculty? Will pro-Israel students be allowed to run for student government positions at all, given that they have admitted their support for and allegiance to what is alleged to be a racist, militaristic, colonial, apartheid regime?
Imagine if a student government yanked accommodations for halal food on campus because Islam can be linked to terrorism, the same spurious linkage these social justice cretins have created for “apartheid” Israel, Zionism and kosher food from pro-Israel companies. The campus-wide howling about Islamophobia and bigotry would be deafening. And since when are Jewish students—who may not support or even care about Israel—responsible for the political behavior of a foreign country thousands of miles away from campus and made to suffer for it?
The Berkeley and University of Toronto situations, of course, are part of a broader effort to marginalize Jewish students, malign Israel and Zionism without debate or counter-argument, contort history and facts to elevate the Palestinian cause and denigrate the Jewish state, and promote hatred and hostility to any supporter of Israel.
In the City University of New York (CUNY) system, law students introduced a 2021 resolution condemning Birthright trips to Israel, as well as Stand With Us, Hillel and other Jewish, pro-Israel groups on their campus as dangerous and destructive and wanted them purged from campus, along with any Zionist ideology or support for the Jewish state.
A 2016 report requested by CUNY’s own administration to investigate incidents of anti-Israelism, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, “Report to Chancellor Milliken on Allegations of Anti-Semitism,” noted that “Several pro-Israel students attended the [anti-Israel] rally. When a pro-Israel student asked what Zionism had to do with tuition, someone in the crowd responded that ‘Jews control the government and the banks’ . . . There is evidence that some members of the crowd shouted ‘Jews Out of CUNY’ and ‘Death to Jews’ . . . One student told us that a protestor shouted ‘Go back home, and get the fuck out of my country.’”
And if there was any doubt that this demonstration was only about the politics of Israel and not about Jew-hatred, the chants such as “Jews out of CUNY!” and “Jews are racist sons of bitches!” should dispel that fantasy once and for all.
At McGill University, based on their spurious charges that Israel is a colonial, apartheid, racist regime engaged in ethnic cleansing, land theft, and an 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.”
“[Zionist] ideologies are dangerous, colonial, discriminatory, and violent, and should not have a place on our campus,” the petition read, “especially given that McGill University is dedicated to upholding the tenets of equality and safety . . . It would go against McGill’s supposed commitment to justice, safety, and anti-racism to continue allowing Zionists on campus to mobilize discourse, speeches, programs, and events that support and maintain this harmful ideology [emphasis added].”
The desire to affect the complete and comprehensive purging of pro-Israel students and organizations is not, as it is often disingenuously positioned, mere “criticism of Israel.” It is much more repellent and insidious than that and can be seen now as a targeted attack not only on Israel but on Zionism, Judaism, and Jewish life itself.
The real intention of pro-Palestinian radicals, now encompassing a large swathe of academia, is, clearly, to exclude Israel and Zionism as reasonable topics of discussion and to prevent supporters of the Jewish state from even defending it or offering counterarguments to the falsehoods and lies that comprise so much of anti-Israel rhetoric and expression.
This campaign, of course, is part of a broader effort to marginalize Jewish students, malign Israel and Zionism without debate, contort history and facts to elevate the Palestinian cause and denigrate the Jewish state, and promote hatred and hostility to any supporter of Israel.
Israel-haters have made moves to reject the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism, as well, claiming it suppresses Palestinian solidarity; decide who are “bad” Jews and who are “good” Jews based on their support or opposition to Israel; proclaim, mistakenly, that anti-Zionism never amounts to anti-Semitism, although the IRHA definition designates the denial of Jewish self-determination as actually being anti-Semitic; claim they speak for Jews in deciding that Zionism has nothing at all to do with Judaism; or announce that Zionism itself is anti-Semitic; seek to disqualify Jewish students from serving in student governments because they are accused of not being impartial; in other words, that these toxic, bigoted activists want to continue to be anti-Semitic and reject any steps taken by others to reveal and sanction that hatred.
Only the supporters of one country on earth are prevented from speaking on certain campuses. Only the supporters of one country are accused of being racist oppressors of an indigenous people and who maintain a system of apartheid to deprive its victims of human and civil rights. Only communal and faith-based organizations of one religion are attacked, denounced, and said to be complicit in the predations of a country thousands of miles away from American campuses.
That country, of course, is Israel and the victims of this bigotry are Jews—even though this inherent anti-Semitism is masked with the good intentions of social justice for the long-aggrieved Palestinians.
Decrying every aspect of Israel’s existence and simultaneously denying its supporters the ability to express their defense of the Jewish state not only is unjust but defies the very tenets of what the university represents: a place where open and vigorous debate takes place to eventually uncover the truth. The efforts of radical anti-Israel activists are in the end a betrayal of what the university has, and should, stand for—the free exchange of ideas, even bad ones.
“Education should not be intended to make people comfortable,” University of Chicago President Hanna Holborn Gray once remarked, “it is meant to make them think. Universities should be expected to provide the conditions within which hard thought, and therefore strong disagreement, independent judgment, and the questioning of stubborn assumptions, can flourish in an environment of the greatest freedom.”
Jewish students should also enjoy that greatest freedom.
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 the forthcoming book The Slow Death of the University: How Radicalism, Israel-Hatred and Race Obsession are Destroying Academia.