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October 6, 2020 6:05 am

Follow the Money or Follow the Lies: Students for Justice in Palestine at Duke

avatar by Ben Stone


Perkins Library at Duke University in Durham, NC. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Many proponents of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement conflate the struggle for racial justice in the United States and the war against Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. Duke University’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter, unsurprisingly, is no exception; they hide behind their social media accounts to promote outright falsehoods, attempting to paint anti-Zionist activism as a virtuous fight against colonialism.

According to the ADL, “Zionism is the Jewish national movement of self-determination in the land of Israel — the historical birthplace and biblical homeland of the Jewish people.” What SJP is doing — spreading lies about Zionism — is an aggression against the Jewish people that cannot be taken lightly.

To quote Duke SJP’s Instagram page directly: “We are motivated by that revolutionary love and support that has existed between both communities of color who live under white supremacist settler-colonial states.”

This is racist and uneducated agitprop. Around 75.5% of the eight million Israelis are Jewish, with 52% of those Jews coming from Sephardi or Mizrahi backgrounds.

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Furthermore, Israel’s security apparatus is not developed to be an oppressive system, but a steadfast line of defense against terrorist attacks and suicide bombings in Israeli population centers. But perhaps most glaringly, this statement propagates an especially antisemitic idea: that Jews somehow perpetuate the same kind of ideology that led to the Holocaust.

Another howler that Duke’s SJP chapter has uttered is that Israel is somehow responsible for police brutality in the US, and therefore also responsible for the murder of George Floyd. As I recently wrote, these claims “[aren’t] rooted in seeking justice for a murdered man, but in advocating hatred of Israel.” Specifically, the Duke SJP post in question says that the “officers from the US police force responsible for the killing of George Floyd received training in restraint techniques and anti-terror tactics from Israeli law-enforcement officers.” This is an entirely unfounded claim.

A recent article published in the Morning Star — a UK-based far-left outlet — made a similar claim, only to later issue a public correction of their statement, clarifying, “We have amended this and the headline as there is no evidence that the conference mentioned in the report involved training in restraint techniques specifically. We would like to apologize for any confusion caused.” 

Furthermore, the Israeli embassy in London released a statement addressing this false claim: “The said 2012 event in the Israeli Consulate was on counter-terrorism training that involved information sharing and explosive disarmament training. No arrest tactics were taught as part of the event.” If that isn’t convincing enough, there is also evidence demonstrating that Minneapolis police used neck restraints and chokeholds as early as 2002, a decade before the 2012 training collaboration with Israel.

If even a radical paper can publicly apologize for the misinformation they spread, then the Duke SJP chapter should be able to do the same for their Instagram post. Similarly, if even the virulently anti-Zionist organization Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) — which spearheaded the slanderous “Deadly Exchange” campaign blaming Israel for police brutality in the US — can attempt to walk back their own toxicity, then so can Duke SJP. (Indeed, JVP admitted on June 5, 2020 that painting Israel as the source of police brutality in America “furthers an antisemitic ideology.”)

SJP’s willingness to proliferate falsities that even a cursory Google search can disprove perfectly underscores a phenomenon that journalist Matti Friedman noticed as early as 2014: “The Jews of Israel are the screen onto which it has become socially acceptable to project the things you hate about yourself and your own country.”

What’s more, perhaps SJP should look inward before they point the finger at others for their ostensibly damning associations: funding for SJP has been a controversial topic in the past, with 2016 Congressional testimony revealing “strong ties to American Muslims for Palestine (AMP). Several members of AMP were formerly members of the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), which was dissolved after it was discovered in 2005 that the organization sent $12.4 million to Hamas.”

Hamas has been designated a terrorist organization by the US State Department.

It is remarkably hypocritical for the Duke SJP chapter to attempt to connect Israel to the murder of George Floyd, when there is a much more direct link between a terrorist organization and their own national organization’s funding.

Duke University pledges to uphold integrity, inclusion, and education, as stated in their bylaws: “The University is committed to creating a rigorous scholarly community characterized by generous hospitality toward diverse religious and cultural traditions.” Organizations such as Students for Justice in Palestine jeopardize these core values by promoting hatred and lies, rather than fostering discourse between different parties. The rhetoric that SJP employs is antisemitic propaganda with no basis in reality; the Duke community should not take their ideas seriously.

Ben Stone is a 2020/21 CAMERA on Campus Fellow at Duke University.

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