Anti-Jewish Hate Fills Rutgers University Event on Israel
On November 18, 2022, the Rutgers New Brunswick chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Endowment Justice Collective (EJC) hosted a panel entitled “Divestment From Israeli Apartheid At The University Level.”
The event was moderated by Rutgers post-graduate student Abire Sabbagh, who has a history of promoting the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement at UC Davis. The panel included Iman Abid, Director of Advocacy and Organizing at the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights; Israel critic Dov Baum; Wassim Kannan, Vice-Chair for the New Jersey Chapter of American Muslims for Palestine (AMP); and David Litwin, co-founder of Jews for Palestinian Right of Return.
The event centered on gathering support for BDS’ anti-Israel campaign through the demonization and delegitimization of the the Jewish state.
Wassim Kanaan set the tone for the evening, when he was asked by Sabbagh if he could “walk us [the audience] through how Israel perpetuates apartheid, and why it is important to name it as an apartheid and settler colonial state.”
Kanaan’s response included numerous falsehoods: that Israel appropriates Palestinian water in the West Bank and destroys water infrastructure; that Israel has laws dictating where Arabs can and cannot live; and that Israel constructed segregated roads in the West Bank. These are all false.
Litwin continued in a similar vein, when he stated that “what the BDS movement has shown is that the problem is the presence of a racist, settler colonial, Zionist regime … Someday soon, we’re gonna see the toppling of the apartheid regime.”
Litwin is apparently proud to combine “Zionists” — a dog whistle for Jews — with modern perceptions of evil, such as racism, colonialism, and apartheid.
Litwin’s rhetoric follows the blueprint of Soviet-era antisemitism, justifying antisemitism by demonizing the State of Israel as the collective Jew.
As Wilson Center Scholar Izabella Tabarovsky writes, “Despite its claims, the Soviet anti-Zionist campaign was hardly motivated by a search for justice, peace or liberation for the Palestinian people. Conceived by master propagandists, it was an instrument whose purpose was to divert attention, manipulate, solidify control, purge enemies, and broaden influence for one of the most oppressive regimes in humanity’s history.”
Across their “movement,” BDS activists have a sordid history of towing the same line, promoting Nazi–era antisemitism and horrific stereotypes about the Jewish people, under a thin veneer of “social justice” and “liberation.”
Naturally, the panelists at the Rutgers event attempted to use such language to appeal to marginalized groups in the US, including people of color.
For instance, Iman Abid argued that “the more that we use language like white supremacy when we talk about Zionism, is really critical.” Kaanan also added that, “Israel is a European outpost in the Middle East, Israel is a white supremacist effort in its inception.”
Abid and Kanaan do not acknowledge that most Israeli Jews are of Middle Eastern and North African descent, or that Jews are always targeted by white supremacists. Their depiction of Israeli history — and the make-up of Israel’s population — is an utter lie.
To conflate Zionism and the State of Israel with “white supremacy” is an intellectually lazy attempt to delegitimize a successful effort at decolonization and liberation. The Jewish people have returned from across the Middle East, North Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas to their indigenous homeland, the cradle of the Jewish faith, culture, traditions, and Hebrew language.
They also did it with the full support of the international community and the United Nations.
Members of the Rutgers panel ignored all these facts, and also attempted to promote the BDS campaign to supporters of LGBTQ+ rights.
During the discussion, Wassim accused Israel of pinkwashing — claiming that Israel’s progressive policies concerning queer rights are an effort to justify Zionism, which he says equals “oppression, segregation, and discrimination.”
When pressed further, Wassim told the crowd that he “had no idea how things are for LGBT+ Palestinians.”
The answer is that homosexuality is outlawed in the Gaza Strip, and that gay people are persecuted in the Palestinian territories.
Fellow panelist Dov Baum appeared to answer the question, only to use her airtime to argue that the “occupation” is responsible for the hardships faced by queer Palestinians. Of course, she did not mention the absence of civil rights for queer Palestinians in the West Bank, or that Hamas runs the Gaza Strip, so there is no occupation there.
Omitted from the conversation was the indisputable fact that Israel is one of the most progressive countries in the region concerning LGBTQ+ rights. Some significant milestones include LGBTQ+ Israelis being able to get gender affirmation surgery, serve openly and equally in the IDF, and the right for same-sex couples to adopt children.
The BDS movement wants to destroy the State of Israel, as panelists in the Rutgers event demonstrated through their language (“toppling” the Israeli “regime” is just one example of many).
Every diatribe echoed the sentiment of BDS leader Omar Barghouti, who has long opposed peace and co-existence. “A Jewish state in Palestine, in any shape or form, cannot but contravene the basic rights of the land’s indigenous Palestinian population … definitely, most definitely, we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.”
Panels like this only further contribute to Rutgers’ reputation for being a hostile campus for Jewish students. Since this event, the SJP chapter at Rutgers has called for retracting the IHRA definition of antisemitism; yet another attempt to marginalize Jewish voices. Rutgers should reconsider lending its imprimatur and university spaces to these speakers promoting antisemitism on campus.
Walter Holzberg is Campus Advisor for CAMERA On Campus covering the New York and New Jersey Region.