Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared on Times of Israel’s website.
Perhaps when literary critic C.S. Lewis despaired of “omnipotent moral busybodies . . . who torment us for our own good,” he was speaking about those well-meaning, but naïve college students who “torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” Lewis’s observation seemed to have been given credence in the past weeks by the very public, tendentious rants of members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a toxic campus group of anti-Israel activists who have help lead a campaign of libel and delegitimization against the Jewish state, and, at times, ugly anti-Semitism disguised as being merely criticism of Israeli government policies.
SJP has a long history since its founding in 1993 of bringing vitriolic anti-Israel speakers to their respective campuses, and for sponsoring Israeli Apartheid Weeks, building mock “apartheid walls,” and sending mock eviction notices to students in their dorms to help them empathize with Palestinians. And SJP members apparently wish to live in a world where only their predetermined virtues and worldview prevail, and feel quite strongly that, in the case of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, at least, the answers are black and white, there is a moral side and an immoral side, and that anyone who does not, or cannot, see things as clearly and unambiguously as these enlightened students do is a racist, an oppressor, or a supporter of an illegal, apartheid regime trampling the human rights of the blameless, hapless Palestinians.
Of course, this vituperative activism has not gone unnoticed by pro-Israel groups and individuals on campus, even resulting in SJP chapters being suspended for their errant behavior, as happened in 2014 at Northeastern University, as one example, after “a series of violations, which included vandalizing university property, disrupting another group’s event, failure to write a civility statement, and distributing flyers without permission.”
In general, however, SJP has been unimpeded in spreading its calumnies against Israel, fending off any criticism of their invective as attacks on the rights of free expression and academic freedom. The problem for SJP, unfortunately, is that while they are perfectly content to propel a mendacious campaign of anti-Israel libels, and base their analysis of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict on falsehoods, distortions, and a false reading of history and fact, so certain are they of their moral authority that they will never countenance any views—even facts as opposed to opinions—which contradict their hateful political agenda.
SJP communications are now frequently defined by the baleful whining of these ideological bullies intent on having only their views aired while suppressing the contradictory views of others. In fact, a leaked memorandum from the Binghamton University SJP chapter revealed that members would be required to never even engage in dialogue with pro-Israel groups on their campus, and they would be prohibited from “engaging in any form of official collaboration, cooperation, or event co-sponsorship with [pro-Israel] student organizations and groups, due to their unyielding support for the Apartheid State of Israel.” What is more, the memo read, SJP members “shall in no manner engage in any form of official collaboration with any student group which actively opposes the cause of Palestinian liberation nor with groups which have aided and abetted Zionist student organizations in the interest of undermining or denigrating the work of Students for Justice in Palestine,” meaning, of course, that the so-called intellectual debate that universities purport to promote in exactly this type of debate will never take place when SJP is involved.
And because they cannot win an honest, open ideological debate about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict because they deal solely in untruths, false history, and misrepresentations (Israeli apartheid, as the central example), SJP has characteristically tried to insure that no pro-Israel voices are heard, either by disrupting or shutting down pro-Israel events and speakers or urging administrators to disinvite speakers they deem to be Islamophobic, too pro-Israel, or critical of their own tactics and activism. Accomplishing that, the memo continues, should include “Political theater to protest the event, engaging in non-violent disruption of the event, or any other tactic deemed appropriate by the attending members not including violence.”
They also react in feigned horror when pro-Israel groups use some of the same tactics that SJP has made their modus operandi. At the University of Chicago, for example, SJP distributed posters across campus on October 14th as part of the “International Day of Action on University Campuses for Palestine,” the stated purpose being “to commemorate the lives of these latest victims of Israeli state violence,” including, they mistakenly stated, a 13 year-old boy. They were, in other words, paying homage to the murderous young psychopathic Arab men and women who had spent the last weeks stabbing, shooting, stoning, and ramming cars into Jewish civilians for the purpose of murdering them. In SJP’s morally defective view, though, the murders should be honored, not the innocent victims of the terroristic carnage.
In response, an unidentified group plastered posters of their own around the Chicago campus, these with the phrase “Stabbing Jews for Peace” under the three letters above, SJP, a clear reference to Students for Justice in Palestine. The SJP members were shocked, shocked, that anyone with a moral compass at all would be offended by their offensive poster, writing that “Shockingly, some members of the University community have taken offense at our simple efforts to acknowledge the humanity of those Israel has summarily executed.” And then, with no apparent sense of irony, given their history of suppressing the speech of those who disagree with their lethal ideology, SJP wrote that the attack posters not only showed “disrespect to the dead, [but] these reactions display a profound lack of concern for our freedom of expression, a core principle of any university community.”
And morally blind as they are, they did not understand why some members of the U Chicago community might wonder why only dead Arabs were being counted and honored by SJP, and none of their eight Jewish victims murdered over the past weeks. How did SJP analyze this issue? By seeing it as collective racism against Palestinians, and that it is “More worrisome . . . that [the posters] are also evidence that some members of our community seemingly suffer from an inability to see Palestinians as human beings.” Perhaps it is because many normal people view a Palestinian who murders two parents in front of four small children in the back seat of their car, as one gruesome example, as a human being, but not one who deserves respect, adoration, or honor.
SJP’s Boston University chapter exhibited some of the same moral obtuseness this week when members complained in a letter to the editor of BU’s Daily Free Press about an October 16th event, sponsored by BU’s Students for Israel and Hillel, “Vigil for Victims of Terrorism,” which, in SJP’s view, “was an example of the one-sided, manipulative propaganda present on our campus.” Why was that? First, said SJP, “The deliberate use of the word ‘terrorism’ to refer to the Palestinians is an attempt to dehumanize them.” Always completely insensitive to the sensibilities of Jewish students, Israelis, or anyone supporting Israel in word and deed, SJP did, however, in this instance take great umbrage at the potential harm the vigil could do to the BU community. An event like the vigil “serves to divide our campus by triggering families and students at BU, who are deeply connected to Palestine and the experiences of living under the ongoing occupation. We are calling for a condemnation of this inexcusable political agenda that cannot coincide with the mission of inclusivity and cultural diversity at BU.”
Apparently, BU’s SJP chapter members could not understand why only the victims of terror would be mourned, not the murderers, who, propelled by raw Jew hatred, had chosen to martyr themselves in the name of jihad. And then, the group who will not even engage in dialogue with anyone with opposing views on the very thorny and difficult Israeli/Palestinian conflict, denounced the vigil as a political event. “We are calling for a condemnation of this inexcusable political agenda that cannot coincide with the mission of inclusivity and cultural diversity at BU,” they wrote. “We urge BU students, professors, and administration to foster an inclusive environment and prevent outside organizations from propagating toxic rhetoric that destructs the common ground this community is built on”—this from an activist group which arguably has had the most corrosive, divisive effect on campuses nationwide.
While universities have always claimed to be dedicated to encouraging vigorous debate and dialogue by letting SJP and other radical groups to mount annual hate-fests to demonize and vilify Israel and Jews, SJP has effectively hijacked most discussion of the Middle East on campus, and their odious events, including resolutions for boycotts and divestment against Israel, are not platforms at which opposing views are generally aired and discussed. In fact, these so-called pro-Palestinians seem to care very little about the actual self-determination and state building of the hapless Palestinians. As is frequently the case when speaking about the Israeli/Arab conflict, the discussion often glosses over the real problems of Palestinian culture, politics, and society (including its cult of death, Jew-hatred, and yearning for martyrdom through the murder of Jews), and targets all criticism on the perceived defects of Israel, principal among them Zionism, imperialism, occupation, and settler colonialism.
Concern for the long-suffering Palestinians may be a commendable effort, but SJP’s caustic activism and demonization of pro-Israel supporters as a tool for seeking social justice for that one group “represents a profound betrayal of the cardinal principle of intellectual endeavor,” observed commentator Melanie Phillips, “which is freedom of speech and debate,” something universities should never stop diligently defending.