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 Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.
Nazifying ideological opponents is a tactic that campus anti-Israel groups and individuals have long used as part of the ongoing cognitive war against Israel, in which Zionism is racism, Israelis are the new Nazis, Gaza is equivalent to the Warsaw Ghetto, Israel is committing genocide against the guiltless Palestinians (a “Holocaust in the Holy Land,” as one student event called it), and the Star of David of the Israeli flag is regularly manipulated to incorporate a swastika.
This intellectually destructive behavior is nothing new for these anti-Israel activists; what is new is that they made a tactical pivot after the election of Donald Trump, choosing to join the chorus of shrill voices accusing the White House, conservatives, Republicans, and even white people in general of being a new incarnation of racists, fascists, and white supremacists, emboldened and given influence by the Trump administration’s alleged racist and xenophobic ideology.
This newest thrust in their tactical assault against Israel, using the hysteria about a phantom alt-right infecting government and academia to justify a more aggressive bludgeoning of the Jewish state, means that Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and other radical campus groups and individuals have felt no compunction at all in increasing the tenor and intensity of their tactical assault on Israel and using the current political climate to reinforce a new slur—white supremacy—against it.
Some of that tactical poison flows to campuses through The U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR), a coalition of hundreds of organizations that “is ‘at the very heart’ of the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement’s efforts to isolate Israel in the U.S,” and which provides resources for radical student groups such as SJP. “Since Trump came to power, we have seen a very open alliance between Zionists and white supremacists,” the organization’s website announces definitively. “This alliance becomes all the clearer when we look at the shared histories and values of the United States and Israel,” since “Both the United States and Israel are European settler colonial states built on the exclusionary ideology of white supremacy,” and “Zionism and the US empire, both manifestations of white supremacy, collaborate closely to achieve shared goals.”
Apparently, this toxic view has taken hold on university campuses. At the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign’s SJP chapter, for example, this hateful ideology was on full display when, in a September 2017 Facebook post, the group announced that since “there is no room for fascists, white supremacists, or Zionists at UIUC,” they had organized a rally called “Smashing Fascism: Radical Resistance Against White Supremacy.” It would hopefully occur to any sentient being that characterizing Zionists as keeping company with or in fact being fascists and white supremacists is not only a historically grotesque notion, it would also seem to be self-contradictory.
And this assumption is dangerous because, if it is accepted by other leftist and radical campus groups, it will mean that, as the UN infamously achieved in 1975, Zionism again will be equivalent to racism, and any supporters of Israel can thereby be condemned and thrown into that ideological bucket of white supremacists, racists, and neo-Nazis that now seem to so animate the imaginations of Democrats, liberals, and marginalized and oppressed minorities.
A student-published “disorientation guide” for entering freshman at Tufts University in that post-election year echoed the same perverse theme: the guide not only disingenuously described the Tufts University Hillel of “exploiting Black voices” for inviting the parents of Trayvon Martin to discuss “gun violence,” but also, more egregiously, accused Tuft’s Hillel of being an organization that supports a “white supremacist state”— namely Israel.
In 2019, in a paean to the intersectionality of oppression that currently animates progressive thought, two student groups, Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine and Claremont Prison Abolition, hosted an event to investigate the specious “ties between the cause for Prison Abolition and Palestinian liberation.” Attempting to create a uniting of oppression, the event promised to “move through the Palestinian liberation movement and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)’s rejection of Zionism in order to unmask the white supremacist and settler colonial projects that have worked to maintain Black and Brown bodies in bondage both domestically and internationally.”
In 2019, Rabab Abdulhadi, the troublesome and eternally anti-Israel associate professor and director of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies (AMED) program at San Francisco State University, was delivering a guest lecture at UCLA. Abdulhadi, it will be remembered, was embroiled in controversy this year for a planned, though eventually canceled, virtual speaking appearance by Leila Khaled, a terrorist in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, whose resume includes her role in the 1969 hijacking of an Israel-bound plane and her arrest the following year during a failed hijacking of an El Al flight.
At UCLA, Abdulhadi was at her hate-Israel best, claiming, according to a Jewish student attending the talk, “that those who support Israel want to ethnically cleanse the Middle East and those affiliated with Israel and pro-Israel organizations are white supremacists.” Abdulhadi apparently doubled down on the white supremacy slur against Zionism and the Jewish state, as she has undeterred in her personal jihad against the Jewish state, asserting that Rep. Ilhan Omar is “attacked by AIPAC and all these pro-Israel organizations because [she is] Muslim,” and that the United States and Israel have “shared values” of “killing people, colonialism and white supremacy.”
In a June 2020 online debate sponsored by Canada’s York University, associate professor Faisal Bhabha, who teaches at the university’s Osgoode Hall Law School, after asserting that “Zionism isn’t about self-determination, it’s about Jewish supremacy” and being challenged for that thought by another panelist, doubled down on his toxic views, stating definitively that “I’m equating white supremacy with Jewish supremacy.”
Columbia University, of course, has been a well-spring of anti-Israel scholarship and invective, particularly emanating from the university’s anti-colonial, anti-Israel, anti-Western, and often anti-Semitic Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies. In 2018, Columbia’s Middle East Institute, Columbia/Barnard JVP, and other progressive groups co-sponsored a conference which announced it would on the first day have as its topic “On the Palestine Exception (with some thoughts concerning anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and Zionism in the academy),” but it became clear that the actual purpose of the event was to demonize Zionism and the Jewish state yet again. The event ludicrously tried to conflate Zionism with white supremacy, even linking it to Islamophobia and other bigotry. “[T]here is the little-known ZionistNazi alliance to rid Germany of its Jewish population . . ,” a description read. “Richard Spencer is, therefore, hardly an aberration in linking the basic precepts of Zionism to the White Supremacist desire of a white ethno-state . . . . The link between White Supremacy, male chauvinism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and Zionism is clearer than ever.”
The year before, as part of the annual “Israeli Apartheid Week” hate-fest, Columbia’s chapter of SJP held a subtlety-entitled event, “Zionists are Racists.” The description for the event resurrected the long-discredited slur from the 1975 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379, the odious resolution that declared “Zionism is Racism.” “With the support of newly liberated African nations,” the description read, “the bill recognized the supremacist ideology of the Israeli nation-state that had predicated its settler colony upon racial apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Come learn about Israel’s racist and imperialist policies and… discuss what the BDS struggle looks from the perspective of South Africa.”
These perpetrators of this unrelenting anti-Israel agitation have been leading a virulent campaign to demonize and delegitimize Israel for years now, and it is astonishing that radical groups and individuals ignore all the factual and shameful chronology (of which they have been central fomenters and cheerleaders in the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign), and instead are trying to promote the fantasy that, not only do Zionism and Israel embody and perpetrate white supremacy themselves, the true threat to Jewish students and other Israel supporters, they contend, is from the Left’s perennial boogeymen, the lunatic fringe of white power extremists who these willfully-blind activists believe, and want others to believe, are the chief perpetrators of anti-Jewish bigotry.
It is no surprise, obviously, that when campuses attempt to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism, the anti-Israel crowd is the first to reject its use and complain about being unfairly targeted for being the bigots they actually are, precisely because much of their behavior and speech conforms to some of the definition’s criteria. Some of those points include, for instance, “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis,” and “holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”—all of which accurately describe the intention and effect of this anti-Israel activism, and particularly the base charge that the entire Zionist endeavor is a racist one, and that Israelis, in their treatment of the long-aggrieved Palestinians, have become white supremacists, virtual Nazis, themselves as a result.
“If you cannot answer a man’s argument,” Oscar Wilde once quipped, “do not panic. You can always call him names.” The cognitive war against Israel has employed many toxic ideological tactics and name-calling in the past, and the current charge against the Jewish state of being a well-spring of white supremacy is the latest in the unrelenting effort to libel, slander, and make an eternal pariah of the Jew of nations, Israel.