The campus war against Israel, now some decades old, has been unrelenting in its vicious assault against the Jewish state, led by such radical pro-Palestinian Arab student groups as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) with some 200 chapters nationwide.
The real intention of this pro-Palestinian activism, now encompassing a large swathe of academia, is, clearly, to exclude Israel from the community of nations 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—the Palestinian Arab “narrative” with little or no connection to history and fact.
The desire to affect the complete and comprehensive purging of pro-Israel students, faculty, and organizations is not, as it is often disingenuously positioned, mere “criticism of Israel.” It is much more repellent and insidious than that, and new evidence reveals this activism is a targeted attack, not only on Israel but on Zionism, Judaism, and Jewness itself.
In fact, an important new report from the AMCHA Initiative, a campus antisemitism watchdog group, has exposed how the cognitive war against Israel has expanded its reach and virulence and now seeks to malign, not only Israel itself, but any ideology or communal organizations connected to Israel, Zionism, and Jewish identity.
The report, “Campus Antisemitism and the Assault on Jewish Identity,” exposes an “insidious phenomenon that has taken root on college campuses of late: a pervasive and relentless assault on Jewish identity that is likely to have dire consequences for the Jewish community in the years to come.”
As cataloged in the report, the AMCHA Initiative’s “online database of antisemitic activity includes nearly 2,000 incidents involving the targeting of Jewish students for harm since 2015. In addition, several of AMCHA’s annual reports have documented the alarming increase over time in the frequency and intensity of such incidents, particularly those motivated by animus towards Israel and its on-campus supporters . . . .”
While observers of the Israeli/Palestinian debate have long suspected that just under the surface of anti-Israel activism was a simmering and malignant anti-Semitism. It has been assumed that anti-Semites can disguise their hatred of Jews by claiming, usually disingenuously, that they were only criticizing Israel and its politics, not Judaism, Jewish communal organizations, Jewish self-determination, and other aspects of students’ Jewish identity that, as the AMCHA report uncovered, have become increasingly more visible and harmful to Jewish students.
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.
What are some of the manifestations of the targeting of Jewish identity as part of anti-Israel activism?
-Israel-haters have made moves to reject the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism, claiming it suppresses Palestinian solidarity;
-decided who are “bad” Jews and who are “good” Jews based on their support or opposition to Israel;
-proclaimed, 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;
-claimed they speak for Jews in deciding ignorantly that Zionism has nothing at all to do with Judaism;
-announced that Zionism itself is anti-Semitic; and sought to disqualify Jewish students from serving in student governments because they are accused of not being impartial.
In other words, these toxic, bigoted activists want to continue to be anti-Semitic and reject any steps taken by others to reveal and sanction that hatred.
At the University of Toronto, Scarborough, anti-Israel students voted to forbid Kosher food on campus unless the suppliers disavowed support for Israel.
CUNY law students introduced a 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.
The AMCHA report found that “Overall threats to Jewish identity . . . were found on over 60% of the campuses most popular with Jewish students, with 10 or more such incidents documented on the following campuses in the 2021- 2022 academic year . . . .”
AMCHA placed these incidents that threatened Jewish identity into three categories: (1) redefinition, (2) denigration, and/or (3) suppression.
“Redefinition” is probably the most frequent threat in which Israel’s campus enemies proclaim, mistakenly, that Zionism is a political ideology conceived with the purpose of ethnically cleansing Palestine and oppressing the Palestinian Arabs.
But Zionism, Jewish self-determination, is actually the fundamental core of Judaism, something which existed centuries before the Palestinian people were even invented in the 1960s. By redefining Zionism as a malignant political ideology based on racism, occupation, and prolonged oppression, Israel’s enemies then feel no compunction in falsely proclaiming that anti-Zionism is never tantamount to anti-Semitism, that Zionism has no spiritual connection to Judaism so maligning Zionism has nothing to do with attacking Jews for their faith, and that those who accuse pro-Palestinian activists of being anti-Semitic in their unrelenting assault on Zionism do so only to shelter Israel from critique and for its purported predations.
The “Denigration” threat was described in the report as “including expression that uses classic antisemitic tropes to vilify Jewish or Zionist identity,” This form of threat is, unfortunately, more common as pro-Palestinian activists have become emboldened to escalate their rhetoric.
At several campuses in the CUNY system, for example, the school’s SJP chapter used the Million Student March, a nationwide student demonstration for free public college tuition, to also slander Israel, Zionism, and Jews. The protest, advertised by “NYC Students for Justice in Palestine” and other affiliate groups, ascribed, using the tropes of classic anti-Semitism, the financial situation at CUNY to its “Zionist administration [that] invests in Israeli companies, companies that support the Israeli occupation, hosts birthright programs and study abroad programs in 'occupied' Palestine, and reproduces settler-colonial ideology … through Zionist content of education… [aiming] to produce the next generation of professional Zionists.”
A report requested by the University itself to review the controversial event, “Report to Chancellor Milliken on Allegations of Anti-Semitism,” noted that “Several pro-Israel students attended the 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.’”
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 have dispelled that fantasy once and for all.
So when, with not a bit of self-awareness or embarrassment, these moral narcissists at CUNY accuse the administration of being a sinister cabal of Zionist reprobates intent on promulgating racist policies for the good of Israel and to the detriment of good people like themselves (people who deserve, among other benefits, education without cost); when they call for the elimination of the world’s single Jewish sovereignty and Middle East’s only functioning democracy; and when they ghoulishly and malignantly shriek, “Intifada, Intifada, long live Intifada” and “There is only one solution: Intifada revolution!,” an unambiguous call for the murder of Jews at the hands of psychopathic terrorists, they should stop being indignant when they are accused of being actually antisemitic, even though their rhetoric is draped in the language of so-called “social justice.”
At McGill University, based on their grotesque belief that “[Zionist] ideologies are dangerous, colonial, discriminatory, and violent, and should not have a place on our campus,”, 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.” Such a demand obviously violates any concept of academic free speech, not to mention that it both degrades and prevents the expression of any pro-Israel views, a very clear example of what the AMCHA report designated as the third type of threat to Jewish students, “Suppression.”
A recent example of “suppression” took place at Berkeley Law School where the activist student group, Law Students for Justice in Palestine (LSJP), initiated a campaign to convince other of the 100 student organizations at the school to adopt an anti-Israel bylaw the group had pre-written.
“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 August Instagram post. “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 other student groups to commit to supporting the anti-Semitic boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, the bylaw also included very troubling language that sought to suppress any speech that might be considered pro-Israel or pro-Zionist, even speech meant to correct the many factual and historical inaccuracies in the pro-Palestinian Arab 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.”
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 so called social justice for the Palestinian Arabs. That, based on their Jewish identity, Jewish students and faculty are made complicit in the alleged wrongdoings of Israel, a country they may or may not even support, is an intolerable circumstance that should not continue.
The activism driving the demonization, delegitimization, and slandering of Israel on behalf of the terror-loving Palestinian Arabs has devolved; unfortunately, it has done so into a toxic campaign in which Jewish identity has now become a target of those whose tactic to promote Palestinianism is based on an unrelenting attack, not only against Israel, but on Zionism and Jewishness.
The bigotry endemic in the pro-Palestinian Arab movement is unacceptable if it includes and promotes anti-Semitism and targets aspects of Jewish identity, regardless if the campaign for the Palestinian Arabs is cloaked as if it is seeking justice for the oppressed. In that process, Jews cannot be made victims. For Jews, there is an unacceptable absence of protection, justice, and equity.
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.