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. The 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.
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. On many campuses this spring during “Israeli Apartheid Week,” student unions featured “walls” festooned with lists of Israel’s “crimes.”
An Anti-Defamation League study found that incidents of anti-Semitism on campus have nearly doubled over the past year. And a study by Brand Israel found that support for Israel by American Jewish college students (62 percent who had witnessed anti-Israel activity on their campuses) plummeted from 84 percent to 57 percent between 2010 and 2016.
“I knew I was walking into a den,” says Adah Forer, who graduated this spring with a degree in history from the University of California, Berkeley. An Israeli flag was burned on her campus; graffiti found in a campus bathroom proclaimed: “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
Watchdogs like CAMERA, Canary Mission and AMCHA Initiative have had little trouble finding anti-Israel events on North American campuses to report this past year. A sampling includes:
• The UCLA student government debated if representatives who went on Jewish-sponsored trips to Israel should face sanctions. This followed on the heels of student government leaders raising doubts about whether being Jewish should disqualify a student from a campus judicial panel.
• On Passover eve, when most Jewish representatives were off campus and unable to vote, the Students for Justice in Palestinian (SJP) chapter at Tufts, together with Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), advanced 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 hummus, a product of Israel-based Strauss Group. Their claim: Using Sabra in the cafeteria makes the school an “accessory to the occupation of Palestine.” (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 tore down the flags and ripped up the panelists’ notes as the protestors shut down the program. Several policemen looked on but did nothing.
• At San Francisco State University, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s speech was drowned out by catcalling protesters. Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi, a professor of “ethnic studies and race and resistance studies,” has stated that “Zionists are not welcome on our campus.”
• At New York University, SJP and JVP convinced 53 student groups 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 Hispanic, black and LGBTQ people — are solicited as allies of campus anti-Israel groups. “Anti-Israel forces are becoming more strategic by hijacking other minority groups and convincing them that they’re all victims,” says Forer.
Behind many of these on-campus attacks are student groups whose numbers have increased 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. Chapters 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.”
• 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 to heckle and shut down speakers they disagree with and push BDS through school governments.
• J Street U is operated by J Street, which calls itself “pro-Israel and pro-peace.” From its website: “We recognize that the ongoing occupation and settlement of the Palestinian territories is politically unsustainable and morally untenable.”
• IfNotNow says it’s “a movement led by young Jews to reclaim the mantle of Jewish leadership from the out-of-touch.” INN chapters have organized “anti-occupation Passover seders” and this summer have targeted younger Jews, holding training sessions for camp counselors working at eight Jewish camps to teach “anti-occupation” propaganda to their campers.
‘Teaching Them What to Think’
Student anti-Israel groups are not 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.
“With faculty increasingly moving left,” says Brandeis University professor, author and leading expert on American Jewish history Jonathan Sarna, “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 Mayor Rudolph Giuliani after the 9/11 attacks, no such rebuff greeted the prince’s $20 million endowments to both Harvard and Georgetown universities. Using 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.
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.
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 anti-Semitism. “Discrimination, harassment and intimidation — it’s all there,” 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.”
In a matter of days, school will be back in session, and many observers expect anti-Israel forces to keep cranking up the heat.
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): “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.”