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January 11, 2023 1:38 pm
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University of Chicago Students for Justice in Palestine to Boycott Course Taught by Former IDF General

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avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Illustrative Anti-Israel protestors, c. 2021. Photo: Matt Hrkac/Wikimedia Commons

An anti-Zionist group at the University of Chicago has called for a boycott of a course taught by retired Israeli Defense Forces General Meir Elran.

In an op-ed published Tuesday in the Chicago Maroon, SJP accused Elran of “anti-Palestinian violence” and described his course as “nothing less than the incursion of Israel’s military complex onto the university’s campus.”

Elran, head of the Homeland Security Program at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, is currently teaching at University of Chicago as a visiting professor through an exchange program sponsored by the Israel Institute, a nonprofit organization that connects colleges and universities with scholars who can teach courses about modern Israel.

On Thursday, Professor Elran declined to comment on SJP’s campaign “at length” but stressed that he will “continue teaching…in accordance with the best practices of the University of Chicago.”

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“No principle of ‘academic freedom’ or ‘intellectual inquiry’ justifies hosting classes taught by complicit Israeli military personnel,” SJP wrote on Tuesday. “Particularly not classes that misrepresent Palestinian history, treat Palestinian deaths as fodder for ‘strategic’ military reflection, and inundate students with the Orientalist worldview of Israeli colonists.”

The group added that it plans to wage a “sustained, student led campaign against Elran’s course for the duration of this quarter.”

On Wednesday, Asaf Romirowsky, a Middle East expert and executive director of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA) and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), told The Algemeiner that SJP is advancing a “classic cancel culture narrative.”

“That he’s a former military official adds more fuel to the fire, but they would have the same reaction to any pro-Israeli or Israeli scholar,” he added. “And we’ve seen this historically with other pro-BDS, SJP groups.”

The Algemeiner also spoke with Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, executive director of AMCHA Initiative, a nonprofit that monitors antisemitism on campus. She said, “A university like the University of Chicago, which prides itself on promoting free speech and academic freedom, should forthrightly address these attempts to stifle the academic exchange of ideas and bully Jewish students into silence.”

The proposed action against Elran is the latest campaign by UChicago SJP. Last January, the group urged students to boycott courses about Israel and those taught by Israeli academic fellows. SJP charged that university courses educating students about Israel are “controlling the narrative” to erase Palestinians, and presenting the Israel-Palestine conflict “as a conflict between two equals in an effort to legitimize its existence.”

“Don’t take sh*tty Zionist classes,” UChicago SJP said in a social media post. “Support the Palestinian movement for liberation by boycotting classes on Israel or those taught by Israeli fellows. By attending these classes, you are participating in a propaganda campaign that creates complicity in the continuation of Israel’s occupation of Palestine.”

In May 2022, the group worked with the incoming Undergraduate Student Senate to issue a joint statement that said, “From the river to the sea USG supports a Palestine that is free.” The slogan, commonly used by Palestinian nationalists, calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, in place of Israel.

While Jewish and Zionist student groups, including UChicago Hillel and UChicago JStreet, later endorsed a resolution to retract the statement, it did not pass and voting totals for the measure were never made public.

Anti-Zionism is becoming one of the “core elements of collegiate life” in America, according to the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism’s annual report on anti-Israel activism on college campuses.

Released last October, the report, titled “Anti-Israel Activism on U.S. Campuses, 2021-2022,” said that while not all incidents were intended to be antisemitic, many, “in effect,” were.

It cited, for example, the graffitiing of anti-Israel propaganda on Hillel centers. Last December, University of Oregon’s Hillel office was vandalized and tagged with a message that said, “You genocidal rasist [sic] f***s.” In another incident at Michigan State University on September 10, 2021, someone graffitied “Israel Forget 2,977 Lives” on a 9/11 memorial, referencing a conspiracy theory blaming Jews for staging the terrorist attacks of that day.

“This antisemitic vitriol directed at pro-Israel students is deeply unsettling and makes our colleges and universities feel less safe and secure for Jewish students,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said after the report’s release. “University leaders must learn how to recognize and adequately respond to antisemitism whenever it arises, including when anti-Israel activities cross the line into antisemitic hatred.”

Follow reporter Dion J. Pierre at @DionJPierre.

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