The Campus in Historical Context
I have written many articles on the campus climate, and some have raised hackles because my articles have relied on empirical data and observation to suggest that hysteria is unwarranted. Some see that as minimizing the serious problem of anti-Israel and antisemitic activity, but that is not my intent. Rather, I believe context is needed to properly assess the danger. Too many people lack the historical perspective to see how little has changed over the years — which is itself a problem — except some of the names.
Don’t believe me?
Consider what AIPAC wrote in 1969:
To most American students, the Middle East is far away; it does not arouse their interest or passion. Nevertheless, the impact of Arab propaganda at these institutions cannot be minimized on the basis of the size of the available evidence. Dissenting activist minorities have weight and influence disproportionate to their size. Thus, Arab appeals which cater to the active left present a critical problem today. The Arabs have found a wavelength.
Around this time, the American Zionist Youth Foundation (AZYF) published “The New Tone of Arab Propaganda on Campus,” which warned that the previous year’s activities “were but preparatory to a wider and more intensified campaign in the academic community.” The report found that Arab propagandists “had turned Israel into the Simon Legree [the cruel slave-owner in Uncle Tom’s Cabin] of the Middle East holding a whip over an enslaved and degraded Palestinian population.”
AZYF noted that Arab propaganda had shifted away from “fanatical calls for holy war” to efforts “to present a Palestinian cause that is progressive, reasonable and democratic.” The report cited a focus on “influencing and gaining control of campus newspapers and other media.”
Faculty were also a problem. “Many colleges,” the report said, “contain Near Eastern or Oriental departments some of whose faculty members have a very warm, romanticized ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ image of the Arab world.”
One big difference from today is that there were “central offices of Arab propaganda” with Arab consulates and an Arab Information Center sponsored by the Arab League involved, and a “suspicion that central direction is organized.” Arab governments are very involved in funding university programs today, but do not support student organizations the way they once did.
Think Jews are in danger now? The AZYF reported that fistfights broke out at Columbia when ushers tried to evict Israeli students from an event. A Jewish student who was accused of making a hostile remark was beaten up and the Israeli student who tried to help had his arm broken.
Instead of “Apartheid Weeks,” students held “El Fatah Weeks” or “Palestine Weeks.” At Berkeley, for example, a display at the student union featured antisemitic literature and poetry. AZYF reported on 30 such events across the country, which it said had limited effectiveness and were failures at NYU and Harvard.
The Arabs’ “success” was to keep the Palestine issue alive and prominent on campus. “This has been accomplished not only by the sheer number and frequency of Arab activities but through their sharpened focus on the Palestinian people and their fight for national liberation.” On the other hand, “the overzealousness of the Arab propaganda effort has at times unwittingly activated students whose sympathies for Israel had therefore been dormant.”
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) also produced a report in 1968 that examined the situation on 17 campuses, including UCLA, Berkeley, Harvard, Columbia, and Duke. The main instigator, the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) of that time, was the Organization of Arab Students (OAS), with the main differences being the former is not comprised only of Arabs or supported by Arab governments.
In 1967, at the University of Arizona, Arab students threatened to withdraw from the International Students Club if Israeli students were allowed to participate — because, they said, Israelis did not represent Middle Eastern culture and they did not recognize the existence of Israel. Arab students forced an Israeli student out of his position as secretary of the same club at Arizona State. In 2020, Jewish students were forced out of the student government at USC.
SJP has had nine conferences; OAS held its 16th in June 1967 at MIT. Demonstrating intersectionality before anyone knew the word, it was reported that “Arab students attempted to align themselves with other dissident groups on campus and in the nation in general.” They expressed solidarity with the antiwar movement and tried to build a relationship with black students by joining their call for the “liberation” of South Africa and other African nations, and comparing the Palestinian struggle “against Zionist invasion and exploitation” to the resistance of Black Americans to inequality in America. The Arab students also objected to “equating any criticism of Israel or any support of Arab rights as antisemitic.”
This may also sound familiar. Arab propagandists in the 1960s denied Israel’s right to exist. “In this area the Arabs have a particularly insidious ally in the form of the American Council for Judaism (ACJ), whose voice they adopt at any opportunity.” ACJ played the same role village idiot Jewish Voice for Peace does today. ACJ’s assistant director Michael Selzer spoke at Rutgers Hillel, for example, and “accused the Jews of practicing racism against their Arab minority.”
An example of the more direct role Arab states played in campus propaganda was the frequency of speeches by Fayez Sayegh of the Kuwait Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At Princeton, he said “a creative and peaceful future in the Middle East lies in the restoration of democratic Palestine.” In Vermont, he “described the Zionist goal as the further expansion of their territories to include parts of Lebanon and Syria, and of Transjordan and Sinai, and the establishment of a Zionist state with no Arabs inside its borders.” In Minnesota, he reportedly said, “the eviction of the Arab refugees was premeditated, calculated and planned from the start of the Zionist movement.”
Another interesting parallel: In 2019, a Duke/University of North Carolina “Conflict Over Gaza” conference was described as “an anti-Israeli hate-fest.” In 1968, Duke held a conference sponsored by, among others, Standard Oil of New Jersey, with one person representing the Israeli point of view and a Jordanian, Egyptian, and Syrian expressing the Arab position. At the conclusion, several professors protested the university’s sponsorship for a propaganda activity during which the legal validity of Israel’s existence was challenged, Israelis were accused of expelling the Arabs, and Israel was described as “an unscrupulous aggressor using sheer power to justify what it cannot justify under international law” and violating the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.
Like today, the AJC report found “the general attitude on the campus is one of indifference toward the Arab-Israeli and any other Middle East issues.” It concluded, “Arab propaganda has been basically ineffective in reaching or effecting large numbers of the campus population. This does not, however, imply that it has not worked intensively and in many cases successfully in seeking to reach and effect what may be considered ‘molders of campus opinion.’ Specifically, success was achieved with special interest groups such as antiwar dissenters, extremists, left-wing groups, Black students, foreign students, and influential and/or politically-minded students.”
One of the greatest concerns about campus propaganda is its potential impact on US public opinion.
Jews think of the period when these reports were written as a golden age when Americans loved Israel because it was seen as the David that defeated the mighty Arab Goliath in the Six Day War. For perspective, just 41% of Americans sympathized with Israel in the February 1969 Gallup poll; after 51 years of anti-Israel activity, the figure was 60% in 2020.
Another perspective is provided by an ADL report published in 1991, which noted that “since 1988, as the Palestinian intifada in the West Bank and Gaza had intensified, an anti-Israel propaganda lobby which had grown steadily in the United States for many years has broadened and accelerated its activities.” Much like today, the ADL found “a range of independent groups working in common interest, rather than a formal, officially interrelated, centrally coordinated network – wages a sophisticated campaign in the US to sway Americans from their historically strong support for the State of Israel.”
Think trips to “Palestine” are new? The Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) sponsored “Eyewitness Israel” tours; afterward, students who visited the West Bank and Gaza Strip issued a statement condemning Israel.
What about student government resolutions?
In 1990, the National Convention of the United States Students Association (USSA), a national association of student government representatives, passed resolutions calling for the establishment of more sister-city relationships between US and Palestinian universities, recognition of the PLO, and the suspension of aid to “the oppressive government of Israel.” Oh, and they threw in opposition to Soviet Jewish immigration to Israel.
The JVP of the time was called New Jewish Agenda, which, for example, co-sponsored an event comparing Saddam Hussein’s actions to Israel’s.
The situation on campus has remained depressingly unchanged for the last half century. Anti-Israel organizations come and go, always replaced by others, as the hatred of Jews and Israel on campus is as inescapable as death and taxes.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign policy analyst and authority on US-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews, and After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.