by Richard L. Cravatts
The hostile climate on university campuses that targets Jews.
As yet more evidence that Jewish students have continued to be targets of bias on university campuses, a Spring 2021 poll by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, together with the Cohen Research Group, revealed that 65% of students in the leading Jewish fraternity and sorority have “felt unsafe” on campus, while 50% of students surveyed have felt “the need to hide their identity.”
The study, which surveyed 1,027 members of the Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) fraternity and Alpha Epsilon Phi (AEPhi) sorority, confirmed what many observers have already witnessed; namely, that half of students have masked their Jewish identity and that more than fifty percent have felt it necessary to hide their support of Israel. Additionally, of those polled, some two-thirds experienced or were familiar with anti-Semitic incidents that occurred over the previous four months.
While, sadly, bias against Jewish students still includes examples of what might be termed “classic anti-Semitism,” aspersions against Jews as a religion or people, what the poll referred to as “traditional anti-Semitic tropes,” the thornier issue of identifying the new anti-Semitism is that it has emerged as part and parcel of the university’s war against Israel. So, while jokes about Jews and stereotypes of them being “greedy” or “cheap” still persist, the unfortunate side-product of pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel advocacy is that it frequently morphs into something closer to anti-Semitic speech and behavior than mere “criticism of Israel.”
Thus, sentiment such as “The ‘Jewish Lobby’ has too much power in the United States” or “Zionism is a form of White Supremacy,” both of which were encountered by students being polled, suggests that the identity of Jews as the logical supporters of Zionism and the Jewish state is relevant to the biased person who expresses such thoughts. When sentiments are expressed like “Israel treats Palestinians how the Nazis treated the Jews” and derogatory statements such as “Zionists are murderers,” both of which were also revealed in the poll, it is clear that biases against Jews are regularly conflated with, and arise as a result of, the existence and behavior of the Jewish state.
These findings, along with other reports that have tracked anti-Israel activism as a source of anti-Semitism, make clear the relationship with active pro-Palestinian advocacy on campuses and an increase in frequency and extent of anti-Israel, anti-Semitic behavior.
Much of that anti-Israel agitation emanates from the poisonous pro-Palestinian advocacy of such noxious student groups as Student for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which has a particularly odious record on campuses nationwide with its pattern of radicalism, misbehavior, toxic speech, and regular instances of overtly anti-Semitic behavior. That radicalism has been problematic, particularly since research findings by the AMCHA Initiative, an organization that tracks anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activism at universities, “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.”
Equally serious was the report’s findings that SJP’s presence resulted in “incidents of Israel-related anti-Semitic harassment increase[ing] 70%.” 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.”
Pro-Palestinian activists promiscuously declare that their relentless anti-Zionism and denunciation of Israel has nothing at all to do with the fact that Israel happens to be the only Jewish state on the globe, or that attacks on Zionism, with the concomitant claim that Zionism equates racism, are not attacks on “Jewness” itself. But Zionism is not merely some type of political ideology; and activists’ attempts to separate Zionism from Judaism are misguided and based on a misunderstanding of what Zionism is—Jewish self-determination.
In a lawsuit against the University of Illinois, Urbana Champagne, for instance, the Brandeis Center chronicled how that school’s SJP chapter had turned Zionist students into white supremacists, conflating what they perceive to be the racist character of Zionism as being part and parcel of white supremacy, thereby slandering both Zionism and Jews. The Brandeis Center’s examples of anti-Semitic behavior on the UI-U-C campus noted, as one example, that shortly after the “2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Students for Justice in Palestine at UIUC (“SJP”) organized a rally on UIUC’s campus entitled ‘Smashing Fascism: Radical Resistance Against White Supremacy.’”
According to the case materials, “SJP promoted the rally by insisting that ‘[t]here is no room for fascists, white supremacists, or Zionists at UIUC.’ SJP later argued on its Facebook page that there exists an ‘unholy union of American fascists, white supremacists, and Zionists,’ and encouraged ‘violent resistance’—including, if necessary, ‘full-scale armed conflict’—in response. During the rally itself, SJP’s president led the crowd in a chant of, ‘No Zionists! No KKK! Resisting fascists all the way!’”
SJP may try to convince themselves and others that its rhetoric is only directed at the racist ideology of Zionism and the misbehavior of Israel in its alleged repression of the Palestinians, but it is clear from these statements and proclamations that Jewish students who support Israel may experience some palpable discomfort at witnessing such threats, denunciations, and accusations about the irredeemably evil Jewish state and its alleged racist, white supremacist behavior.
There are obvious consequences to the belief that Jews are essentially evil and want to manipulate others for selfish ends: these tropes are essential components of classical anti-Semitism, and the BDS movement, and many of its principal spokespeople, are regularly and often rightfully accused of being anti-Semitic and using boycotts to reinforce anti-Jewish sentiment worldwide, even while it is perniciously disguised as merely being a campaign of social justice.
This recent thrust in their tactical assault against Israel, using the hysteria that showed itself after Trump’s election about a phantom alt-right infecting government and academia to justify a more aggressive bludgeoning of the Jewish state, means that Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and other radical campus groups and individuals have felt no compunction at all in increasing the tenor and intensity of their tactical assault on Israel and using the current political climate to reinforce a new slur—white supremacy—against it.
Some of that tactical poison flows to campuses through The U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR), a coalition of hundreds of organizations that “is ‘at the very heart’ of the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement’s efforts to isolate Israel in the U.S,” and which provides resources for radical student groups such as SJP. “Since Trump came to power, we have seen a very open alliance between Zionists and white supremacists,” the organization’s website announced definitively. “This alliance becomes all the clearer when we look at the shared histories and values of the United States and Israel,” since “Both the United States and Israel are European settler colonial states built on the exclusionary ideology of white supremacy,” and “Zionism and the US empire, both manifestations of white supremacy, collaborate closely to achieve shared goals.”
This toxic view has taken hold on university campuses. At the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign’s SJP chapter, for example, this hateful ideology was on full display when, in a September 2017 Facebook post, the group announced that since “there is no room for fascists, white supremacists, or Zionists at UIUC,” they had organized a rally called “Smashing Fascism: Radical Resistance Against White Supremacy.” It would hopefully occur to any sentient being that characterizing Zionists as keeping company with or in fact being fascists and white supremacists is not only a historically grotesque notion, it would also seem to be self-contradictory.
And this assumption is dangerous because, if it is accepted by other leftist and radical campus groups, it will mean that, as the UN infamously achieved in 1975, Zionism again will be equivalent to racism, and any supporters of Israel can thereby be condemned and thrown into that ideological bucket of white supremacists, racists, and neo-Nazis that now seem to so animate the imaginations of Democrats, liberals, and marginalized and oppressed minorities.
It is no surprise, obviously, that when campuses attempt to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism, the anti-Israel crowd is the first to reject its use and complain about being unfairly targeted for being the bigots they actually are, precisely because much of their behavior and speech conforms to some of the definition’s criteria. Some of those points include, for instance, “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis,” and “holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”—all of which accurately describe the intention and effect of this anti-Israel activism, and particularly the base charge that the entire Zionist endeavor is a racist one, and that Israelis, in their treatment of the long-aggrieved Palestinians, have become white supremacists, virtual Nazis, themselves as a result.
A summary of UIUC Title VI Complaint filed by the Brandeis Center in March 27, 2020, noted that even though “UIUC has long been put on notice of the developing hostile environment on its campus,” the UIUC administration . . , like other university leadership, “has simply not provided the community of pro-Israel, Jewish students with a discrimination-free academic environment” and, what is worse, “ . . . in the face of most instances of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, the University simply did nothing. When the University did respond, “in response to other incidents, UIUC took actions that were obviously inadequate on their face.” And even when “UIUC took steps that might in other contexts have been sufficient, they “were insufficient in UIUC’s particular case.”
More than one report has revealed that the presence of active anti-Israel activism—particularly as part of the ongoing boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campus campaign against the Jewish state—is likely to result in an increase in anti-Jewish incidents or rhetoric. A 2018 report by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), “Students for Justice in Palestine Unmasked,” for example, noted with dismay “the rise of online harassment of Jewish students, anti-Semitic vandalism, and even physical attacks against Jewish students on campuses with a strong BDS movement.” [Emphasis added.] Just as an AMCHA report had similarly discovered, the JCPA study noted a clear “correlation between an anti-Israel campus presence and anti-Semitism . . . .”
As an example of this, the study described the University of Oregon’s student senate’s passage of “a resolution endorsing the BDS movement as an ‘anti-racist human rights movement.’” “Two months later,” the study noted, “a sign on campus belonging to the University of Oregon Hillel welcoming students in Hebrew and English was vandalized with profane statements including ‘Free Palestine you f*cks.’ The study also pointed to another instance at Stanford University where that school’s “Students for Justice in Palestine leader and university residence advisor Hamzeh Daoud posted to Facebook, ‘I’m gonna physically fight Zionists on campus next year if someone comes at me with their “Israel is a democracy” bullsh*t. And after I abolish your ass I’ll go ahead and work every day for the rest of my life to abolish your petty ass ethno-supremacist, settler-colonial state.’”
Any evaluation of both the tenor and meaning of this rhetoric that attempts to justify it or explain it away as merely criticism of Israel is clearly dishonest, just as it is disingenuous to claim that virulent social justice activism has nothing to do with Jew-hatred. Yet SJP and other Israel-haters use these tactics and this radical, hateful activism to deflect their inherent bigotry, purporting to be acting on behalf of the oppressed.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Jewish students on these campuses, whether or not they actively support Israel or are animated by Zionism could be, and are, maligned by this aggressive activism against the Jewish state, and are made to pay the price for the alleged predations of Israel simply by virtue of being Jewish. That anti-Israel radicals have hijacked the narrative about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and have cast Israel—and its supporters—as malignant and irredeemable racists and the Palestinian Arabs as innocent victims is a continuing tragedy in which Jewish students continue to be targets of the world’s oldest hatred.
Anti-Semitism, disguised as anti-Zionism, is still Jew-hatred.
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.