Dr. Richard L. Cravatts
Dr. Richard L. CravattsPR

For at least two decades university campuses have been roiled with anti-Israel activism, manifested by Israeli Apartheid Weeks, BDS resolutions pushed through student governments, and the radical activism of groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine who were often responsible for promoting this toxic campaign against Jewish students and other supporters of Israel.

Incidents of anti-Semitism have been surging worldwide and universities have not been immune from unfortunate trends, even though much of the animus towards Jews on campuses is masked as mere criticism of Israel. And this cognitive war against Israel, which frequently morphs into anti-Semitism, has increasingly resulted in a campus climate that is oppressive to Jewish students who are often vilified as racist Zionists in their support of an alleged apartheid regime that oppresses the ever-aggrieved Palestinian Arabs.

Now, a new report from the anti-Semitism group Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF) has revealed that university student newspapers, in skewing their coverage of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict against the Jewish state, have contributed to Israel’s battered reputation among many college students. The report, entitled “Institutional Bias: Campus Newspapers and Israel,” reviewed nearly 2000 articles discussing Israel that were published since 2017 in the primary student newspapers of 75 selected campuses.

“Of the 1,450 articles that address Israel,” the researchers found, “over a third – 532 – present the Jewish State in a negative way.” In fact, the report found, a mere “17% provided a positive view of the country.”

Moreover, while “Over half of Op-Eds addressing Israel on all college campuses – 307 out of 585 – were negative,” ACF also noted that “These same newspapers are notably silent on antisemitism and discrimination against Jews on their own campuses, publishing only 505 news articles about this growing trend in their own community.” That statistic is particularly relevant in light of data from the Anti-Defamation League, for instance, which revealed that some one-third of Jewish students had experienced anti-Semitism in 2021.

Examples of the anti-Israel media bias exposed by the ACF report are, unfortunately, numerous.

-One troubling one is the 2016 controversy involving The McGill Daily, which made the astonishing editorial admission that it was the paper’s policy not to publish “pieces which promote a Zionist worldview, or any other ideology which we consider oppressive.”

“While we recognize that, for some, Zionism represents an important freedom project,” the editors wrote, “we also recognize that it functions as a settler-colonial ideology that perpetuates the displacement and the oppression of the Palestinian people.”

Leading up to this revealing editorial, a McGill student, Molly Harris, had filed a complaint with the Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) equity committee. In that complaint, Harris contended that, based on the paper’s obvious anti-Israel bias, and “a set of virulently anti-Semitic tweets from a McGill Daily writer,” a “culture of anti-Semitism” defined the Daily – a contention apparently confirmed by the fact that several of the paper’s editors were BDS supporters and none of the staffers were Jewish.

Of course, in addition to the existence of an insidious anti-Semitism permeating the editorial environment of The Daily, there is also the core issue of what responsibility a newspaper has to not insert personal biases and ideology into its stories, and to provide space for alternate views on many issues—including the Israeli/Palestinian conflict—in the opinion sections of the paper.

-At Connecticut College, Professor Andrew Pessin also found himself vilified on campus, not only by a cadre of ethnic hustlers and activists, but by fellow faculty and an administration that were slow to defend Pessin’s right to express himself—even when, as in this case, his ideas were certainly within the realm of reasonable conversation about a difficult topic: the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Central to the campaign of libels waged against Pessin was the part played by the College’s student newspaper, The College Voice.

In August of 2014, during Israel’s incursions into Gaza to suppress deadly rocket fire aimed at Jewish citizens, Pessin, a teacher of religion and philosophy, wrote on his Facebook page a description of how he perceived Hamas, the ruling political entity in Gaza: “One image which essentializes the current situation in Gaza might be this. You’ve got a rabid pit bull chained in a cage, regularly making mass efforts to escape.”

Students and others complained publicly about Pessin’s old Facebook post, and he deleted the offending Facebook entry and even proffered an apology. Pessin’s apology was insufficient for the ever-suffering moral narcissists on his campus. In fact, editors of The College Voice insisted that Pessin’s thoughts were “dehumanizing” to Palestinian Arabs and had “caused widespread alarm in the campus community.” The paper’s editor, Ayla Zuraw-Friedland, initiated a campaign of lies against Dr. Pessin, contending that his post “caused widespread alarm in the campus community,” that the college community could and should “identify racism when we see it,” and that the very students viciously attacking Pessin for his thoughts were themselves “victims of racism.” In March 2015, the College Voice even ran three op-eds, beginning on the paper’s front page, that condemned Pessin and accused him of racism and comparing Palestinian Arabs to rabid dogs.

-In April of 2022, the University of Chicago’s student newspaper, The Chicago Maroon, followed that same ignoble path by violating journalistic and free speech ideals in retracting an op-ed written by two students, “We Must Condemn the SJP’s Online Anti-Semitism,” who questioned the tactics and ideology of members of the University’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a perennially toxic and corrosive anti-Israel group of radicals.

On January 26th, as the op-ed by Melody Dias and Benjamin ZeBrack noted, SJP had posted on its Instagram page the shocking admonition, “DON'T TAKE SH*TTY ZIONIST CLASSES.” Students were asked to “Support the Palestinian movement for liberation by boycotting classes on Israel or those taught by Israeli fellows.” According to the SJP post, any students who enrolled in these classes would be “participating in a propaganda campaign that creates complicity in the continuation of Israel's occupation of Palestine” and that, in its view, “Israeli-centered classes are designed to obscure Palestinian perspectives.”

Dias and ZeBrack made a number of accusations against SJP in their now-deleted op-ed, including their opinions that SJP posted the inflammatory post on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day as an insensitive, even cruel tactic; that asking their fellow students to boycott three particular classes about Israel and Zionism “taught specifically by Israeli fellows is xenophobic as Israelis cannot change their nationality, and this post demonizes that nationality by declaring all courses taught by someone affiliated with the nation as propaganda.”

Nevertheless, SJP demanded of the Maroon’s editors, “in response to these offenses,” the “Immediate deletion of the article,” a “public apology issued by the Maroon to SJP UChicago and to Palestinian Arab students for the dissemination of misinformation and the disregard of journalistic integrity and factual reporting,” and, most ominously, “a public recommitment to ensuring that all columns and articles abide by expected standards of accuracy and truth, particularly those written by Zionist authors or on behalf of Zionist organizations.” [Emphasis added.] In other words, SJP requested a separate standard of exclusionary journalistic ethics and practice when Israel, Zionism, and Jews are involved.

Astoundingly, in response to SJP’s absurd demands, two feckless editors, Kelly Hui and Elizabeth Winkler, not only deleted the offending op-ed but published a craven, apologetic editorial of their own in which they dissected the op-ed for its perceived factual inaccuracies and justified their decision by claiming that it was the op-ed written by the pro-Israel supporters which could be the source of campus enmity, not the original action of SJP in calling for a boycott of courses about Israel.

-Another example of this social justice advocacy parading as journalism was in full display in a 2021 editorial, “In support of Students for Justice in Palestine,” written by the Editorial Board of The Daily Campus, the University of Connecticut’s student newspaper.

“The UConn Students for Justice in Palestine held a rally last week to bring attention to injustices in Palestine,” the editorial read, and “[s]peakers discussed the oppression and violence experienced by the Palestinian people, the connection of our university to such injustices and the role of community members in supporting Palestine’s fight for freedom.”

Troubling to the editors, apparently, was the fact that UConn Hillel “also held a demonstration nearby in direct opposition to the ideas behind UConn SJP;” in other words, Hillel attempted to provide a balance to debate by presenting its own views and facts relevant to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Most shocking is the editorial’s one-sided, highly biased viewpoint in presenting its argument in support of the virulent pro-Palestinian Arab student group, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) while simultaneously denouncing the efforts of Hillel to defend Israel and Jewish self-determination by revealing the genocidal tactics of the terrorist group Hamas, the Palestine leadership in Gaza.

-Another very controversial editorial was published in April 2022 in the Harvard Crimson entitled, “In Support of Boycott, Divest, Sanction and a Free Palestine,” an outrageous column replete with slanders against the Jewish state that called for the Harvard community to commit itself to the corrosive BDS campaign against Israel.

The editorial apparently was inspired by the April demonstrations and programming of the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee (HCPSC) which, as part of Israeli Apartheid Week, “installed a colorful, multi-panel ‘Wall of Resistance’ in favor of Palestinian freedom and sovereignty.” The fawning editorial heaped praise on the childish mock wall and suggested that “art is a potent form of resistance” and that the writers were “humbled by our peers’ passion and skill” in creating such an activist masterpiece.

Even more importantly, they contended, fallaciously, “The admittedly controversial panels dare the viewer to contend with well-established, if rarely stated, facts [emphasis added].” What are examples of those “well-established facts” they alluded to? One panel announced in capital letters, for example, that “Zionism is: Racism - Settler Colonialism - White Supremacy – Apartheid,” mendacious slurs that echo the UN’s notorious 1975 Resolution 3379 that proclaimed that Zionism is racism.

The accusation in the editorial of white supremacy against Israel is as grotesque and unhinged as is the oft-repeated claim that Israelis are the new Nazis, committing genocide against the Palestinian Arabs, and both are not only counter-factual but are also forms of anti-Semitic expression described in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism.

The editorial also claimed that the “facts” on the HCPSC mock wall were “well-established,” which is only true inasmuch as these are facts that live in the minds of progressives and anti-Semites who promiscuously and carelessly throw around words without attention to their actual meaning and import. Progressive thought, such as was apparent in this editorial, involves allowing emotions to define things instead of facts.

The editorial’s other preposterous contention that these attitudes toward Israel, these supposed facts, are “rarely-stated” was so naïve that only college students who have just begun to counter anti-Israel activism could possibly believe them, since the campaign to slander, libel, and destroy the Jewish state has active for some two decades, and this counter-factual language and the allegations within it have been and continues to be ubiquitous on campuses worldwide.

While campus free speech is enshrined as one of the university’s chief principles, the ACF report shows us that it rarely occurs as free speech for everyone, only for a certain few who feel they are morally and rationally more fit to express themselves than their ideological opposites.

Biases are to be expected in the general marketplace of ideas; in pages of newspapers, however, editorial bias, coupled with the exclusion of alternate views, is an intellectually corrupt practice that violates the very spirit and purpose of journalism—and especially on university campuses where vigorous debate and scholarship should be sought after, not bias and suppression of others’ ideas.

Richard L. Cravatts,Ph.D. is a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East