Do Universities Listen when Alumni Protest Anti-Israel Programs on Campus?
By Mat Hausman
Anti-Israel propaganda is pervasive on college campuses these days, particularly now that Israel Apartheid Week (“IAW”) is in its tenth year. Many pro-Israel alumni are unaware of what goes on at their alma maters, while others know but are at a loss regarding whether or how to respond. As the anti-Semitism in campus agitation has become ever more apparent, some graduate boosters have taken to cancelling their annual pledges in protest. The withdrawal of a single donation is unlikely to change institutional policy, but it provides an opportunity to educate those who are supposed to be in the business of education, and occasionally stimulates constructive dialogue. This is no small task considering the loathing for Israel expressed by so many in academia and their complicity in suppressing contrary viewpoints.
In a recent letter to the administration of Clark University, I cancelled my annual pledge after learning of an “apartheid wall” sponsored on campus by Students for Justice in Palestine (“SJP”) during Israel Apartheid Week. The purpose of the letter was not simply to vent, but to expose the revisionist message of IAW. The body of the letter (with some changes for the sake of brevity and civility) appears below.
I graduated from the university in 1981 followed by my wife in 1982 [, and] … we always donate something when we get the call from undergraduate students manning the phones during the annual alumni pledge drives. And so it was this year, when we agreed to [match our donation from] last year.
Shortly [after committing our pledge], however, I was quite disturbed to read of an Israel Apartheid Week (“IAW”) activity held on campus. Despite its ubiquity on college campuses across North America, IAW is not a benign activity and is not about free speech.
Although its advocates might claim otherwise, IAW deals in shameful propaganda that is disingenuously promoted as political discourse. Its stated goal “is to educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system and to build Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns as part of a growing global BDS movement.” Its message, though, is one of deception and historical revisionism.
The architects of IAW contend they are not anti-Semitic; but Israel is not an apartheid state under any definition of the term, and to argue otherwise requires the repetition of odious lies and the denial of objective history. Because the claim of Israeli apartheid is a malicious fiction, the dubious motivations underlying Israel Apartheid Week (as well as the BDS movement) can be neither minimized nor ignored.
The International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute of 2002 defines the term “apartheid” to encompass acts similar to crimes against humanity “committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”
Though the term is meant to evoke images of South Africa under Afrikaner rule, it just as easily could describe any country in which racial and ethnic minorities are systematically segregated and discriminated against by operation of law. An argument could be made that the term applies to states in which “infidels” are subjugated, isolated and discriminated against based on their descent or beliefs. The past confinement of Jews in the mellah in Morocco or in ghettos and separate towns in Iran, North Africa and throughout the Mideast, as well as laws making Jordan and Saudi Arabia officially judenrein, offer apt examples.
In contrast, Israel is a democracy in which Jews and Arabs have equal rights under the law. Israel is often accused of apartheid by Palestinian advocates and western academics despite the absence of any laws or policies creating such a system. Israeli Jews and Arabs generally live where they choose and benefit from the same health, welfare and infrastructure policies and programs. The only difference is that Israeli Arabs are exempt from military service, whereas other Israelis, including Jews, Druze and Circassians, are not. Thus, Arab citizens receive the same governmental benefits as other Israelis without being required to bear the same service obligations.
Although the promoters of IAW contend that Israeli Arabs are treated as second-class citizens, they in fact enjoy the highest standard of living, highest literacy and longevity rates, and lowest incidence of infant mortality of any Arab-Muslim population in the Mideast.
Israel also has an open political system in which Arab citizens vote, run for office and serve in government. Additionally, they have freedom of speech to a degree not tolerated elsewhere in the Mideast, as demonstrated by those Arab Knesset members who openly support Israel’s enemies and engage in seditious speech and conduct – sometimes from the floor of the Knesset – that would not be countenanced in other countries. Whereas American law requires all who serve in Congress to swear an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, Israel presently requires no similar pledge of loyalty.
There is no dispute that Arab citizens enjoy the same governmental benefits as all other Israelis. Clearly, Israel does not practice apartheid, and in fact does not even employ the same kinds of safeguards against sedition and treason that are taken for granted in the United States and other western democracies.
Among other falsehoods promoted by unbalanced critics of Israel is the canard that she is a colonial aberration created by strangers to the region. In reality, however, Jews have the longest historical presence in their homeland, with an ancestral population that has been extant since before the Dispersion two-thousand years ago. There is irrefutable archeological, ethnographic and literary evidence of continuous Jewish habitation since time immemorial.
It seems ironic that an institution that stands against prejudice would permit a forum for malicious propaganda on its campus. Despite the claims of other universities that allowing such programs is mandated by the free speech clause of the First Amendment, the Constitution has no application in such circumstances. The First Amendment only prohibits the government from curtailing speech and expression (although this restriction is not unlimited). It does not require employers, nongovernmental organizations or private universities to tolerate, permit or facilitate speech that is offensive and meant to incite. When a movement promotes an anti-Israel narrative premised on crass historical revisionism and political propaganda, one must look beyond its facial disclaimers and examine its true motivations.
[The university] is certainly free to permit or even promote whatever activities it chooses on its campus, but alumni donors are just as free to cancel their pledges in protest. Despite many warm memories of my time [on campus], I cannot in good conscience donate under these circumstances.
I fully expected the university not to respond at all; or if it did, to trumpet the now familiar refrain that permitting such displays is about free speech, or worse, that Israel is an apartheid state that engenders righteous condemnation. After all, many prominent colleges and universities – including, among others, Yale, Boston University, Michigan State University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Toronto and Brooklyn College – have permitted anti-Israel programs on their campuses. These events typically feature propaganda that is dishonestly presented as legitimate political criticism, and often involve groups that are endorsed by Islamist organizations or their fronts.
At some schools, Jewish students have been harassed and physically assaulted during Israel Apartheid Week, while at others Jewish organizations have been vandalized. Institutional officials often deny the hate speech that is heard and documented at campus events and typically refuse to provide forums for pro-Israel students who want equal time. Jewish students are frequently portrayed as chauvinistic for defending themselves and their views, and are sometimes forcibly removed when discovered attending IAW programs. This happened last year at Brooklyn College, where IAW supporters claimed that pro-Israel students were being disruptive, although it was later shown that they were silent observers.
Israel Apartheid Week goes hand-in-hand with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (“BDS”) movement, which employs disinformation to influence institutions into repudiating and isolating Israel. Supporters of BDS falsely accuse Israel of apartheid and ethnic cleansing and often promote theories of undue Jewish power and control. Acolytes of both movements seem obsessed with the so-called Jewish lobby, to which they attribute pernicious influence reminiscent of traditional anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
Though campus agitators claim their Israel-bashing is protected speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, they do not seem to believe that the same protections apply to those with whom they disagree. Rather, they tend to accuse people who oppose them of hate-speech and racism, and refuse to engage in fair and honest debate. Institutions that succumb to boycott pressure, or whose faculty members actively promote IAW and BDS initiatives, cannot claim to be fostering intellectual honesty or integrity among their students. Instead of nurturing independent thought, they are imposing a collective authoritarianism that is clearly influenced by anti-Semitic ideology and anti-democratic political beliefs.
To his credit, Clark’s president, David P. Angel, promptly responded to my protest letter and requested the opportunity for a chat. He explained that although the university permitted SJP to hold an event during Israel Apartheid Week, it also allows pro-Israel programming on campus and has refused to join the boycott frenzy. In fact, Clark was one of a hundred or so universities that formally rejected the boycott resolution of the American Studies Association(“ASA”), and instead established or maintained reciprocal relationships with a number of Israeli institutions. In a quote posted by the ADL, President Angel stated:
Clark University rejects the call for an academic boycott of Israel made by the American Studies Association. Academic boycotts, whether of Israel or any other country, undermine the free exchange of thoughts and ideas that are central to academic freedom. Clark University fully supports the statement of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) against academic boycotts.
The actions of this university and its president are commendable and stand in stark contrast to other institutions that have sacrificed their intellectual integrity in the furtherance of a dubious agenda that, at its core, is motivated by bigotry.
Nevertheless, the presence of IAW events on college campuses remains deeply troubling and belies a misunderstanding of the intent of the messengers and their message. This is particularly so with respect to SJP, a group that has been denounced for engaging in disruptive conduct and propagating rhetoric described as anti-Semitic.
This group’s agenda was on full display recently at UCLA, where the campus chapter spearheaded a campaign demanding that the school’s judicial board investigate student council members who travelled to Israel on trips sponsored by certain pro-Israel organizations. It also pushed an initiative demanding that candidates for student government pledge in writing not to participate in Israel trips sponsored ADL, AIPAC or Hasbara Fellowships. These initiatives attempted to delegitimize mainstream organizations that support the Jewish State, and both they and SJP were lauded by anti-Israel activists and associations. As reported by the Investigative Project on Terrorism in 2011, for example, SJP has been endorsed by American Muslims for Palestine, an organization that seeks to delegitimize Israel.
Whereas SJP is welcome on many college campuses, Northeastern University in Boston temporarily suspended the organization’s chapter there, which reportedly had a lengthy record of agitating against Israel, extolling terrorism, and in the past disrupting Holocaust Awareness Weekand being linked to inflammatory messages posted around campus. Its reinstitution on campus was applauded by those who disparage Israel and deny her legitimacy. The organization also recently came under fire at Vassar College for what that institution’s president described as a “racist, anti-Semitic graphic” posted on social media.
The participation of progressive Jewish students in such groups is twisted, and efforts by liberal intellectuals to justify their complicity as being consistent with Jewish values is pure sophistry. There can be no justification for conduct that smacks of self-rejection and, which taken to its logical extreme, seeks to empower Islamists whose stated goal is the eradication of Israel and extermination of her people. This behavior appears motivated by the same impulse that compelled apostates to assist the Catholic Church in persecuting Jews from the Middle Ages through the Enlightenment; that encouraged Jewish Bolsheviks to advocate criminalizing the practice of Judaism after the Russian Revolution; and that spurred kapos to brutalize fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps. The societal backdrop may change over the years, but the pathology of self-loathing seems to remain constant.
The goal of such radical organizations is not to foster peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews, but instead to advocate the elimination of the Jewish state; and their tactics expose a collective superego that brokers neither compromise nor dissent. They will not engage in honest debate and have no regard for those who challenge their propaganda or question their support for a Palestinian narrative that is devoid of historical foundation. In that these groups support Islamists who believe in genocide and express their beliefs through intimidation and social disturbance, their message regarding Jews seems Nazi-like in its intensity.
Free and open debate on college campuses may be a lofty ideal, but it does not require tolerance of hatred and incitement. Although the First Amendment impedes the government’s ability to restrict speech, it leaves the public and private sectors free to impose whatever limitations are necessitated by human decency and the need for peaceful relations among citizens. There is no constitutional imperative requiring private organizations, employers or universities to subject people to abhorrent speech, physical threats or political abuse.
No university would allow campus programs sponsored by white supremacists or neo-Nazis, and many universities have rules banning hate-speech. It seems incongruous that institutions which prohibit harassment of minorities and women would allow programs that promote anti-Semitism, or permit extremist organizations to intimidate Jewish students. The spouting of repugnant stereotypes by white racists would never be deemed essential to the open exchange of ideas. Yet, progressives and Islamists who malign Israel and condone violence are given free reign, regardless of their hateful words or their support by radicals and extremists who espouse doctrinal anti-Semitism.
The tendency on college campuses to sanitize Jew-hatred by labelling it political criticism arises from the leftist orientation of many professors – often Jews themselves – who are motivated by the rejection of traditional values in general and Jewish values in particular. It is also facilitated by a progressive agenda that demeans Israel, apotheosizes Palestinian nationalism, and views doctrinal Islam as indigenous. Ironically, Islam spread across the Mideast, Asia and Africa by the conquest and subjugation of aboriginal populations and indigenous cultures. The conundrum with respect to Israel is that the Jews maintained their national identity and indigenous presence even after their homeland was usurped through jihad. Palestinian nationalism, in contrast, is essentially a political creation of the latter twentieth century.
Academics often rationalize Hamas and Hezbollah as legitimate responses to European colonialism, but the central purpose of these and other Islamist organizations is to wage jihad against “infidels” and incorporate their lands into the Islamic umma. This is the same dogmatic instinct that precipitated the Islamic invasion of Europe in the eighth century and set the stage for the Crusades that followed three hundred years later as a reaction to Muslim conquest – all to the catastrophic detriment of Jews living there and in the Mideast. Leftist ideologues, however, tend to disregard history that undercuts Arab-Muslim claims which have been adopted as progressive causes; and their contempt for the past is often expressed as support for movements and groups that push anti-Israel or Islamist agendas.
It is impossible to separate the anti-Israel left from its agenda of malice and revisionism. Supporters of IAW, BDS and their ilk have simply substituted the word “Israel” for “Jew” while continuing to peddle stereotypes and conspiracy theories rooted in classical anti-Semitism. Accordingly, it is disingenuous to defend their campus activities as simple political speech. If universities that enable progressive excess really valued intellectual truth and honesty, they would suspend their devotion to political correctness and condemn these movements for the vileness of their message. To tolerate hateful treatment of Israel without criticism is to legitimize anti-Semitism as a political doctrine, which historically has been used to justify disenfranchisement and genocide on a grand scale.