Anti-Israel forces and the battle for the Jewish future
By Deborah Fineblum
(JNS) – You send your kids off to college, and they come back telling you that Israel is an occupying force with no rights to the land. This Jewish state you taught them to love? Their professors and friends have convinced them that it’s nothing more than a Zionist hoax.
“These parents are thinking, ‘I’ve just had my child colonized by the enemy of our people,’ ” says Richard Landes, a retired history professor at Boston University. “Under the illusion of fighting for the underdog, they’re buying the whole victim narrative put forward by the same people who run all 17 nations that surround little Israel.”
These days, campuses are increasingly battlefields where chief among the spoils are the hearts, minds and loyalties of the next generation of the Jewish people.
Countless Jewish students were captive audiences last year for Israel-baiting professors, and many witnessed (and even participated in) anti-Israel demonstrations and divestment campaigns. And on many campuses this past spring during “Israeli Apartheid Week,” student unions featured “walls” festooned with a list of Israel’s “crimes.”
Not surprising is a recent Anti-Defamation League (ADL) study that found that incidents of antisemitism on campus have nearly doubled over the past year. And a recent study by Brand Israel found that support by American Jewish college students (62 percent who had witnessed anti-Israel activity on their campuses) for Israel plummeted from 84 percent to 57 percent between 2010 and 2016.
“I knew I was walking into a den,” says Adah Forer, who graduated last spring with a degree in history from the University of California, Berkeley. “When I asked what it was like for Jews there, I was told an Israeli flag was burned on campus in 2008.”
Graffiti was also found recently in a campus bathroom stating that “Zionists should be sent to the gas chamber.”
But despite years spent in front of “left-leaning professors,” Forer emerged with her love of Israel forged in the fire of anti-Israel pressures. As the campus’s StandWithUs Emerson fellow and president of the pro-Israel group Tikvah, leading pro-Israel counter-demonstrations became a defining piece of Forer’s college experience.
But hers isn’t necessarily typical.
A flurry of anti-Israel events
Watchdog groups like CAMERA, Canary Mission and AMCHA Initiative have had little trouble finding anti-Israel events on campuses across North America to report on this past year. A sampling includes:
• The UCLA student government debated whether representatives who went on trips to Israel sponsored by Jewish groups should face sanctions. This following on the heels of student government leaders raising doubts about whether a student can sit on a campus judicial panel because he or she is Jewish.
• On the eve of the Passover holiday, when most Jewish representatives had left campus and were unable to vote, the Students for Justice in Palestinian (SJP) chapter at Tufts, working with the campus Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), put up a surprise BDS resolution calling on the university to divest from companies that do business with Israel.
• SJP at Swarthmore College collected hundreds of student signatures petitioning the school to stop serving Sabra-brand hummus, a product of Israel-based Strauss Group. (Upshot: the administration added another brand of hummus.)
• More than a dozen protestors burst in on an event held by Armenian, Kurd and Israeli students at UCLA: One member tore down the flags and ripped up the panelists’ notes. The protestors made sure their anti-Israel shouts and chants shut down the program while several policemen looked on but did nothing.
• At San Francisco State University, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s speech was drowned out by the catcalls of protesters, who made it impossible for him to finish his speech. Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi, a professor of “ethnic studies and race and resistance studies,” stated “Zionists are not welcome on our campus.”
• At New York University, SJP and JVP convinced 53 student groups, including the Slam! Poetry Club, to sign on to support BDS, and refuse to co-sponsor events with any Israel advocacy and Jewish groups.
This coalition is an example of “intersectionality,” where seemingly unconnected groups – often Hispanics, blacks and gays and lesbians – are being solicited as allies of campus anti-Israel groups.
Forer, the UC Berkeley grad, says such “intersectionality” is a fact of campus life today. “Anti-Israel forces are becoming more strategic by hijacking other minority groups and convincing them that they’re all victims,” she says.
Anti-Israel student groups
Behind much of these on-campus attacks on Israel are student groups that have increased their numbers in chapters across North America.
• Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which began at UC Berkeley a quarter-century ago, has exploded from 80 campuses to more than 200 in just eight years, and are typically led by Arab students with Christian and Jewish followers. The national organization’s website says SJP is “centered on freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinian people, who have been living without basic rights under Israeli military occupation and colonialism since 1948.” AMCHA Initiative has found that having an SJP chapter increases a school’s rate of anti-Israel and antisemitic incidents, as well as BDS campaigns. Among the online comments by attendees at last year’s national SJP conference: “Israel really needs to die, and I pray it happens in my lifetime” and “When I stomp, I imagine Zionists’ faces under my feet.”
• Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which also began in Berkeley in the 1990s, is arguably the largest Jewish campus anti-Israel group, with members known for heckling and shutting down speakers they disagree with and pushing BDS through school governments.
• The four-year-old IfNotNow is growing in numbers and in strength. Its website says it’s “a movement led by young Jews who promise “… we will be the generation to end our community’s support for the occupation and create a Judaism that stands for the dignity of all people.” Not only have INN chapters organized “anti-occupation Passover seders,” but now they have been targeting younger Jews this summer, holding training sessions for camp counselors working at eight Jewish camps to teach “anti-occupation” propaganda to their campers. One suggestion: leading the Kaddish mourning prayer for Palestinian terrorists killed in Gaza.
This summer IfNotNow also set up a table marked “Birthright” at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport to pull over travelers to Israel on Birthright Israel (the program has sent more than 650,000 young Jews on free, 10-day trips to Israel) to warn them of “the truth” about the country they were about to visit, most of them for the first time.
In addition, five members of IfNotNow made a highly publicized walk-off from the last day of their own Birthright trip to join with the anti-Israel group Breaking the Silence, so they could “learn about the occupation,” they said.
“Like J Street, IfNotNow is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and dangerous,” says Andrew Pessin, professor of philosophy and Jewish studies at Connecticut College and co-editor of Anti-Zionism on Campus: The University, Free Speech, and BDS (Indiana University, 2018). “IfNotNow and J Street U pose as sincere progressive students questioning the morality of Israel.”
That positioning “masquerades as pro-Israel and pro-peace so it can pull students in, often funneling them onto the more violent JVP,” says CAMERA Executive Director Andrea Levin.
The boost in BDS campaigns
Back on campus, insisting that schools “boycott, divest and sanction” Israel remains the No. 1 method of fomenting an anti-Israel student body. Since the time of the Second Intifada in Israel in the early 2000s, anti-Israel forces have been pressuring local governments, unions and churches to divest from any financial connection to Israel and its businesses, hospitals and universities. On campuses, this means getting the school government to pass these resolutions, which, in turn, pressure their administrations to adopt them.
The purpose of BDS, according to the ADL, is nothing short of the “demonization and delegitimization of Israel.”
The Jewish Virtual Library has tallied BDS 119 votes in the last five years. Though 64 percent were defeated, BDS has passed at many institutions of higher education, including the Universities of Michigan and Minnesota, George Washington University, Oberlin and Barnard colleges, and several University of California system branches. An AMCHA study shows that schools that even consider BDS resolutions witness an uptick in antisemitic events. At UC Santa Barbara, for example, Jewish students were threatened, and a student wearing a Star of David necklace spit on. The vote there on BDS was by secret ballot. “That means representatives aren’t accountable to the students who elect them,” says Pessin.
And, though none of the student governments that have voted for their universities to divest has succeeded in convincing their administrations to actually cut ties with the Jewish state, these anti-Israel votes have what the ADL terms “a negative impact on public perceptions of Israel” on campus, where everyone is pulled into “a highly politicized and publicized debate.”
‘Teaching Them What to Think’
The student anti-Israel groups, however, are not operating without help from their elders.
For the last 20 of the 37 years he’s spent as a history professor at Hamilton College, the climate has become “more uniformly liberal,” says Robert Paquette, who also directs the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization. “The line between activism and scholarship is increasingly blurred, with Angela Davis, who was suspected of conspiring to murder a judge, paid five figures to speak here,” he says. “Our universities, which used to be in the business of teaching students how to think, are now teaching them what to think. And their top cause today is the demonization of Israel.”
In fact, nearly 2,000 faculty members across North America have endorsed a BDS agreement to boycott Israeli institutions and refuse to write recommendations for students wishing to study there. This is according to Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, who taught Hebrew and Middle East studies at UC Santa Cruz for two decades and is executive director of AMCHA Initiative, which monitors the situation.
Brandeis University professor, author and leading expert on American Jewish history Jonathan Sarna puts it this way: “The real problem is when a faculty’s diversity is only defined in terms of gender and race, but never in terms of ideology. We lose our balance when students can’t understand the people who voted for Donald Trump because there aren’t any there.”
And “with faculty increasingly moving left,” he says, “students hear consistent criticism of Israel. Sadly, most don’t know enough to judge for themselves.”
Moreover, any professors not on the anti-Israel bandwagon may find themselves “pariahs,” according to Landes. “Tenured or not, in this age of political correctness, openly defend Israel and suddenly you’re not invited to speak at conferences anymore, and you’re shunned in the faculty lounge.”
Pushing the dial even further to the left are the many schools where the salaries of professors of Middle Eastern studies are being paid by endowed chairs that bring millions into universities’ coffers. Many of these endowments are by wealthy Arabs and Arab-sympathizers.
Among these is Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Alsaud, the fifth wealthiest person in the world. Although the Saudi’s $10 million for the Twin Towers Fund was refused by New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani after the 9/11 attacks, no such rebuff greeted the prince’s $20 million endowments to both Harvard and Georgetown universities. Another example: Both NYU and Columbia now have Hagop Kevorkian chairs paid for by that Armenian’s millions. And, as they use their lecterns as anti-Israel bully pulpits, professors can punish any student who speaks in Israel’s defense.
“Grade-shaving is real,” says Paquette. “If your professor doesn’t like what you represent, prepare to pay for it when the grades come out. So parents say to their kids: ‘We’re spending $50,000 a year. Keep your mouth shut and graduate.’ ”
Follow the Money … and the Studies
None of these anti-Israel programs comes cheap. And, observers say, American laws governing NGOs and other nonprofits often protect the groups from transparency in their funding streams.
In the United States, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund supports everything from BDS campaigns and anti-Israel lobbying to NGOs funding anti-Israel activities. Among its campus grantees are JVP ($280,000), Palestine Legal ($150,000) and the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights ($90,000).
“There’s an alarming drop in federal prosecutions of terror finance activity in the charitable sector,” says Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst for the U.S. Department of the Treasury, now with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who testified before Congress.
Umbrella groups that help fund the anti-Israel forces in North America include the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (previously known as the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation), which is a major enabler supporting BDS campaigns on a multitude of campuses. Also known as Education for Just Peace in the Middle East, it has a hand in more than 300 BDS organizations.
In addition, those involved in charities that were connected with or found guilty in American courts of terrorist activities have now regrouped as the American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), says Schanzer. The AMP specifically helps SJP run BDS campaigns and has supplied chapters with such resources as “Apartheid Walls” for Israeli Apartheid Weeks. As a not-for-profit corporation with 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, Schanzer told JNS that “AMP would not have to file an IRS 990 form that would make its finances more transparent” and can receive tax-exempt donations.
One study out of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs found that SJP “is not as they claim, a ‘grassroots’ student organization … but that it ‘maintains affiliations with Arab and Islamic terror groups, is overtly anti-Semitic, incites hatred and violence against Jewish students, and rejects the existence of the state of Israel in any borders.’”
“If you’re anti-Israel, there are 150 NGOs happy to fund you,” says Landes. “But if you’re launching a pro-Israel campaign on your campus, the pickings are slimmer.”
Of course, not all universities are equally embroiled in anti-Israel activities. Lists of those with the greatest number of incidents and overtly anti-Israel professors tend to include such schools as Columbia, Portland State, San Francisco State, UCLA and Vassar.
San Francisco State is among the worst for Jewish students, according to Brooke Goldstein, founder of the Lawfare Project which provides legal help for Jews facing antisemitism. “Discrimination, harassment and intimidation–it’s all there, with the mayor of Jerusalem heckled so viciously he couldn’t deliver his speech,” she says. “You can be attacked there simply because you are a Jew who believes that after 2,000 years of persecution, the Jewish people deserve to be safe.”
Jewish students at UC Berkeley, says Forer, “usually hurry by during our counter-demonstrations, but some of them would stop and want to take action.”
Soon, the ones who walk by may decide that “it’s not OK to wear a Jewish-star necklace, much less an IDF sweatshirt,” says Rossman-Benjamin. “This milieu is driving a wedge between Jew and Jew. Jewish students who say, ‘I only criticize Israel because I care about her,’ and insist on ‘safe space’ for anti-Israel hate, get co-opted by bigger forces determined to wipe out the Jewish homeland and the Jewish people.”
Now, school is back in session, and many observers expect anti-Israel forces to continue to crank up the heat. For example, according to Forer, “the student council president at Berkeley has already announced that part of his agenda for fall is BDS.”
Says Pessin: “Now, it’s no longer the two-state solution they’re demanding, but the wholesale destruction of Israel – ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!’ It’s chilling to hear so many Jewish students and professors echoing this call for the destruction of Israel.”
In next week’s issue…
Campus in Crisis Part II: The “Out of Touch” Jewish World Fights Back.
CAP: A mock Israeli checkpoint set up during “Israeli Apartheid Week” on the campus of University of California, Los Angeles. Credit: AMCHA Initiative.