Antisemitic Activity Thrived on College Campuses in March
by Alexander Joffe
March was marked by “Israeli Apartheid Week” activities held at campuses across North America. These included Arizona State University, MIT, Georgetown, the University of California at Berkeley, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and others. As usual the spectacles featured events, protests, and “apartheid walls,” and were complemented by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) “vigils” for Palestinian killed in Israeli military operations, most of whom were claimed as members of terrorist organizations.
At the University of Minnesota, the SJP chapter planned an event to support the “Holy Land 5,” referring to the Holy Land Foundation case, which saw the Federal government shut down a US-based Hamas funding source.
Student governments also continue to be focal points for anti-Israel hostility. At the University of Michigan, a leader of the campus BDS group was one of the two candidates endorsed by the campus newspaper to become president of the student government.
In contrast, the student governments at Boston University and the University of Illinois adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. However, the student government at George Washington University passed an “Ending Antisemitism Order,” which will launch a “task force” designed to “speak assertively, collaborate instructively, and remedy conflicts compassionately.”
The IHRA definition was also subjected to a direct challenge at George Washington University, where a university-sponsored outside investigation exonerated a psychology professor, Lara Sheehi, who had been the subject of complaint regarding harassment of and retaliation against Jewish and Israel students. The review, which the university declined to release, found “the allegations in the complaint about the lecture are largely inconsistent with the recording of the event or significantly decontextualized,” and alleged that the “expansive view of the definition of antisemitism, which, if accepted in the university environment, could infringe on free speech principles and academic freedom.” A complaint with the US Department of Education is still pending.
At the same time BDS supporters continue to claim they are being “silenced.”
In at least two cases, local SJP chapters complained at length in student media of having been silenced by university administrations. At the University of Chicago, the SJP chapter reiterated its complaints that the school had used campus police to prevent its members from holding a protest inside an administration building. The 2,000 word diatribe remained on the home page of the student newspaper for a month.
At Northwestern University, the student newspaper presented a long report detailing the purported “silencing” of Palestinian and pro-BDS students on campus. In a comment that revealed the demand for validation behind the BDS movement, a former student complained that “I don’t even care what they say, I just want to hear that Northwestern is literally just considering that we exist as human beings and deserve like, I don’t know, some support in any capacity.” Pro-Israel organizations were also accused of promoting both administrative “silence” and a hostile atmosphere for pro-BDS students.
In contrast to the pro-BDS complaints regarding “silencing,” the student newspaper at McGill University rejected a pro-Israel op-ed on the grounds that it “doesn’t align with our values as a paper” since “Zionism is a settler-colonial ideology that has perpetuated the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.”
Stating that national Jewish and pro-Israel organizations shape anti-Palestinian bias, or are de facto “white” and “racist” was also a feature of a recent controversy at the University of Michigan Law School, where an email announcement regarding an ADL event produced an outpouring of invective.
SJP’s goals of creating a hostile atmosphere on campus towards Israelis and supporters of Israel was challenged at Lafayette College when administrators rejected an application to form a chapter on campus. SJP as well as the national free speech organization FIRE, opposed the move. Administrators stated, accurately, that “that the chapter’s events could violate college policy by targeting or disrupting other clubs and individuals on campus.”
The manner in which anti-Israel bias has been naturalized by faculty and administrations was demonstrated at the City University of New York (CUNY), which has been roiled by a series of antisemitism controversies. Reports indicate that students at the Borough of Manhattan Community College will be given credit for attending an anti-Israel film as part of the March “Palestine Solidarity” series sponsored by the school’s “Social Justice and Equity Center.”
This came as the center featured a month-long “Visual Timeline of Occupied Palestinian Land,” which accuses Israel of the “longest military occupation in history,” and describes Hamas not as an Islamic terror organization, but an entity striving to create “an Islamic society in historic Palestine.”
The college later apologized “to anyone who was offended and felt unsafe” but refused to state who was responsible for the display. Also at CUNY Law School, the local SJP chapter demanded that the administration revoke a speaking invitation to an Israeli scholar as “a violation of the unanimous passing of a BDS resolution by student government in 2021.”
An example of naturalizing anti-Israel bias by students was displayed at Tufts University where the student government awarded $10,000 to Students for Justice in Palestine for a “Palestine Solidarity Concert.” No student representatives voted against the proposal. Other examples were the invited appearances of BDS activists Muhammad el-Kurd and Noura Erekat at the University of Pennsylvania.
Earlier in March el-Kurd had admitted that he and the BDS movement falsely apply the term “apartheid” against Israel deliberately:
I’m not talking about the crime against humanity, but the negative word that is “apartheid” and the negative connotation in the psyche of the public — I think it is capable and it has been engineering and establishing a cultural shift in the way people approach and talk about Palestine. But I’m less concerned with the accuracy of the word. You know, me and my friends have these arguments about, like “It’s settler colonialism,” “It’s apartheid,” It’s police brutality,” “It’s ethnic cleansing,” It’s this,” It’s that.” I don’t care. As long as there is a conversation happening in which the villain is portrayed clearly, I think that is good.
In another telling example of the underlying rejectionism that propels the conflict on American campuses and in the region, the appearance of former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at Duke University was marked by repeated interruptions, screaming, and a walkout of 100 audience members yelling “From the river to the sea Palestine will be free.” A protest held outside the venue featured speakers who alleged “Israel has occupied Palestine for over 70 years, and has been denying every right for the Palestinian people,” and chants of “Resistance is justified, if people are occupied.”
The Duke SJP chapter later justified the walkout and protest, saying that “Hosting Bennett on campus was a shameless attempt to normalize Israeli apartheid,” complaining that faculty comments about protests were “trivializing,” and rejecting “meaningful dialogue.”
In another example of how higher education intersects with the corporate sphere, reports indicated that leading BDS supporter Linda Sarsour was among the many speakers scheduled to participate in the Arab Conference at Harvard. The conference, organized by the Harvard Arab Alumni Association and other student groups, is designed to bring together Harvard students with a variety of corporate representatives. Sarsour’s participation, however, set off alarms with Jewish and other alums.
Consulting giant McKinsey was among the sponsors of the conference, and in a statement, the company noted that upon learning “a speaker at an event our recruiting team was sponsoring at Harvard University had a history of anti-Semitic comments, we immediately stepped away from the conference, cancelled our in-person recruiting meeting, and withdrew two speakers from the program.” Later reporting, however, complained that the head of Harvard’s Hillel had incorrectly attributed a specific statement to Sarsour that had been made by a representative of American Muslims for Palestine, a leading BDS group.
For her part, Sarsour stated that she had never heard of McKinsey but complained about efforts to “cancel” and “silence” her.
The penetration into K-12 education of BDS and anti-Israel related antisemitism was also documented recently by the appearance of Huwaida Arraf at a Michigan “diversity assembly” for 10th graders. Arraf, an organizer of the BDS group “International Solidarity Movement” and a failed Democratic Congressional candidate, “deviated from the prompts” and delivered an anti-Israel diatribe which, as the principal described, “discussed the conflict in Gaza from their own personal political perspective and experience.”
The Arraf situation also points to the continued efforts by far left educators to incorporate anti-Zionist and antisemitic content into curricula in the name of ethnic studies and diversity. The ongoing controversies in California over now-mandated ethnic studies were also highlighted in March by the firing of a consultant by the Mountain View Los Altos High School District, after allegations of antisemitism.
The ongoing antisemitism issues on campus and in politics help account for FBI hate crime statistics that show American Jews continue to be targeted disproportionately. Another report from the ADL indicates that campus antisemitic incidents increased 41% in 2022.
In the economic sphere, it appears that despite repeated assurances from senior management that practices had been changed, ratings company Morningstar continues to downgrade Israeli companies with operations across the Green Line. A variety of groups have again called for states to take action against Morningstar for violating local anti-BDS laws, but reports indicate that some states fear retaliation from the company.
The author is a contributor to SPME, where a version of this article was first published.