EXCLUSIVE: ‘Cesspool’ of Antisemitic, Anti-Israel, Racist Behavior at U of Tennessee Uncovered by Covert Watchdog Group
A ring of anti-Israel students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) has created a “cesspool” of antisemitism and racist behavior, a campus watchdog group revealed to The Algemeiner on Thursday.
Canary Mission — a secretive group that monitors anti-American, anti-Israel and antisemitic activities on college campuses — said it has uncovered a “disturbing trend” of extreme Jew-hatred and other forms of bigotry at UTK. This, it says, is being spread by members of the school’s branches of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Muslim Students Association (MSA).
“We know that SJP nationally has an antisemitic agenda to remove Israel from the river to the sea,” a Canary Mission representative, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Algemeiner. “However, they usually attempt to clothe their hatred with a thin veil of human rights. In the case of the University of Tennessee, there is no veil, just raw bigotry.”
The watchdog named six key individuals at UTK responsible for the dissemination and active promotion of antisemitic and racist ideologies: Eyad Hijr, a 2016 graduate with ties to the MSA; Mohamed Ali, a sophomore and member of SJP, MSA and the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement; Hesham Annamer, a sophomore affiliated with MSA; Stori Nuri, a junior who is the president of SJP, co-president of MSA and a supporter of BDS; Jordan Welsh, a BDS-supporter who recruits members to the UTK SJP’s Facebook page; and Afeef Youssef Kamah, a student connected to MSA.
According to Canary Mission, the UTK chapter of SJP has morphed into an “echo chamber of hate speech,” where each offending post by one of its members is re-posted and re-tweeted to its followers. “We have never seen such a like-minded group of bigots,” the watchdog told The Algemeiner.
According to UTK SJP’s mission statement on Facebook, the group “categorically opposes any form of prejudice or discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. At the same time, SJP manifestly rejects attempts to equate principled criticism of Zionism, or of the character or policies of Israel, with antisemitism.”
These words, Canary Mission said, are to be taken as antisemitism hiding behind a mask of human rights activism, with open Jew-hatred, support for terrorism and homophobic and racist slurs — all-too-common themes, spanning several years, found in the social media postings of key members of UTK’s SJP and MSA groups.
In 2014, in a series of tweets, Hijer used foul language to attack a Jewish social media user.
In the same exchange, Hijr subsequently wrote, “…I already hate you. You dirty filthy Jew. All your people do is f***ed s*** up. Wish hitler was still around to show you guys.”
That same year, UTK MSA’s Annamer — a 2016 nominee for the position of UTK MSA board member — bemoaned American leadership for not emulating the Nazis, tweeting:
In 2015, UTK SJP head Nuri tweeted:
The racism is not only directed at Jews, Canary Mission found, but also blacks and whites.
In 2014, Hijer tweeted a quote from fellow UTK student Jesse West that read:
The original tweet received 25,000 re-tweets and 52,000 likes.
In February 2014, Canary Mission said, it was reported that Drost Kokoye –a UTK SJP and MSA member and anti-Israel agitator in Tennessee — met radical anti-American Islamic cleric Zaid Shakir, co-founder of the Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California, with SJP co-founder Hatem Bazian and others.
In a report by the Investigative Project on Terrorism cited by Canary Mission, Shakir “defends terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and hopes for a day in which America is a Muslim country ruled by Islamic law… He suggests that ‘Zionist’ forces and the FBI were behind the February 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.”
One UTK student in particular — SJP’s Welsh — was noted by Canary Mission for his extreme promotion of violence, espousing radical anti-American and Communist beliefs, and bragging on social media about his ownership of lethal assault weapons. Welsh has shared numerous photos of himself on Facebook posing in army fatigues — sometimes in a Soviet military beret — and aiming various rifles.
In 2011, Welsh posted an image of Hitler, to whom he referred as “The original Emo Kid,” a slang term that is sometimes used to describe people who do not care what others think of them.
It may come as a surprise that such displays are found at a Tennessee school, Canary Mission said, since “most attention to anti-Israel and antisemitic activity is directed at the West and East coasts — notably in the UC and CUNY systems.” The group explained to The Algemeiner that by drawing attention to and exposing members of UTK’s SJP and MSA chapters, it aims to “highlight how we must not allow these neglected regions to develop into hotbeds of hatred and extremism.”
“We all have an obligation to publicize this vile bigotry,” the watchdog said. “If we ignore it, it will grow, it will become something more dangerous. Canary Mission has a duty of care to let the general public know what is going on in universities across North America. None of us can close our eyes to the growth of hate speech and the dangerous rhetoric that is accepted and encouraged in radical organizations like SJP.”
Responding to Canary Mission’s findings, UTK Hillel Director Deborah Oleshansky told The Algemeiner that antisemitic and racist activity is “obviously of concern and something we keep an eye on.”
According to Oleshanksy, Hillel and MSA share a “good relationship, but with SJP it’s different.”
“The general Jewish community and general Muslim community have a very strong and positive relationship. Hillel has partnered with MSA, and we both work very hard together towards outreach between the two communities,” she said.
When UTK’s SJP chapter was founded, Oleshansky said, UTK Hillel was “a bit concerned, but they told us they were focusing on the humanitarian issue. They did have a faculty adviser, whom we met with, and they did indicate at the time that there would be no violence or incitement to violence. They just wanted to raise awareness of the Palestinian issue, which is a legitimate issue.”
Both Hillel and SJP agreed at the time that “violence is never the answer; it is not productive to anybody,” Oleshansky said, adding, “So far, that’s been the case at UTK.”
However, Oleshansky did raise concern over the possibility of the reemergence of an issue that was prevalent on campus some 10-12 years ago relating to antisemitism and hate speech.
“People from off campus were coming to UTK and causing trouble. We were able to work with the university and have them removed. My concern is that we are now back to an old problem of the campus being used by non-students with a particular agenda that is not the agenda of UTK,” she told The Algemeiner.
UTK’s SJP and the UTK administration had not responded to The Algemeiner‘s request for comment by press time.