SJP’s Assault on Jewish Life at the University of Illinois
In response to an antisemitic presentation shown at a mandatory staff meeting for resident hall advisers at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana (UIUC) entitled “Palestinian Resistance to 70 Years of Israeli Terror,” university Chancellor Robert Jones commendably denounced the “division, distrust, and anger” that the presentation elicited.
Predictably, UIUC’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter immediately stepped up their radical rhetoric, releasing a list of “demands” that the university had “48 hours to respond [to]” before they took “immediate action.”
The demands issued included “drawing a clear distinction between antisemitism and anti-Zionism,” an apology “to University Housing and Multicultural Advocates for accusations of antisemitism leveled at both offices and their staff,” and an explicit statement that the presentation in question “contained no antisemitic content.” The manifesto concludes with a notice that “failure to comply” will lead to further demands that Chancellor Jones resign.
On the surface, this display of righteous indignation might seem like a sense of entitlement run amok. However, intimidation, threats, and reluctance to compromise driven by an unwavering commitment to the anti-Zionist struggle have characterized the Palestinian national movement’s leaders for decades. The list of historical facts that corroborate this claim is substantial:
- In 1937, when the British Peel Commission proposed a partition of the Palestine mandate into a Jewish state and an Arab state (comprising 18% and 75% of the land, respectively), Arab leaders completely rejected the idea, and opposed any Jewish settlement on the land.
- In 1939, Jerusalem Grand Mufti al-Husseini rejected a British proposal to halt all Jewish immigration to — and land purchases in — mandatory Palestine.
- Leading up to the United Nations partition plan of 1947, leaders of multiple Arab countries threatened immediate invasion should a Jewish state declare independence. Of course, they kept their word and initiated a devastating war meant to eliminate Israel and kill its Jewish inhabitants.
- The Palestine National Charter of 1968 insisted that only Jews whose families had lived in Palestine before the “Zionist invasion” would be allowed to remain after the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) armed struggle to destroy Israel had succeeded.
- In 1994, PLO leader Yasser Arafat delivered a speech in South Africa in which he pledged to continue the “jihad” against Israel, insisting that the recently-signed Oslo Accords were simply a means to an end.
- The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, founded in the early 2000’s, demands that Israel “decolonize all Arab land” under the threat of economic warfare.
- Hamas, the Gaza-based Islamic terrorist group that rules the Strip, demands payment from Israel under the threat of increased violence.
To be sure, UIUC’s SJP chapter is not committing physical violence (although some chapters defend those who do).
But given the “obey or else” zeitgeist that has propelled the Palestinian movement’s leaders for decades, it is entirely unsurprising that university students who struggle against the Zionist cause feel that they are in a position to issue ultimatums, threats, and “demands” for others to unquestioningly appease their pernicious goals.
SJP’s initiatives are not driven by a desire to empower “marginalized people” or to fight for “social justice,” but to destroy Israel, fueled by a decades-old antisemitic ideology that Jewish self-determination and majoritarianism in less than one percent of the Middle East’s land somehow stands in the way of peace.
Accordingly, all members of the campus community who support Israel’s right to defend itself and who dare to challenge SJP’s propaganda are branded “colonialists” and “oppressors” who must acquiesce to the demands of those fighting for “justice” and “liberation.” To compensate for their relentless Israel-hatred, SJP chapters issue half-hearted condemnations of antisemitism as a strictly “white supremacist” construct, as if Islamic antisemitism does not exist. Such demagogic behavior inevitably leads to the marginalization of the Jewish community and mainstream Jewish organizations on campus, such as Hillel and Chabad, because the majority of American Jews identify as Zionists.
As Dr. Alex Joffe noted in his recent illuminating analysis of the wider BDS movement, “Jews are given the choice of either joining the revolution for ‘justice’ or being condemned for their tribal adherence to retrograde parochial causes.”
Thankfully, university leaders such as Chancellor Jones are standing up to this unacceptable assault on campus Jewish life. Until they denounce political intimidation and accept an open exchange of ideas, the only reasonable response to SJP chapters’ “demands” is firm rejection.
Zac Schildcrout is a campus adviser and online editor for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA).