Anti-Israel Activity Raged on College Campuses in April
by Alexander Joffe
April saw the BDS movement launch multiple assaults on Israel and its supporters; this was achieved through “human rights” organizations, the United Nations, students and faculty on campus, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) bureaucracies. These many fronts are often designed to manufacture a narrative and consensus in which Israel is the greatest conceivable evil, and turn the world against Israel and Jews.
April saw a variety of campus BDS developments. Among the most important was at George Washington University, where a university sponsored investigation by a Washington law firm exonerated psychology professor Lara Sheehi of charges that she harassed Israeli and Jewish students and then retaliated against them when they complained. At the same time, the US Department of Education announced that it was continuing its investigation of antisemitic incidents at the institution.
One of the most disturbing revelations from the Sheehi incident was her use of psychoanalysis to further political goals. A detailed analysis of her writings and social media postings demonstrated that her classroom conduct and professional publications are centered in “Liberation Psychology, a body of theory that insists the only ethical way to practice psychoanalysis is for therapists to commit themselves to helping oppressed peoples liberate themselves.”
Sheehi’s course was a diversity requirement for beginning psychology graduate students, but “Sheehi did not assign readings to stage a debate about this politicised version of psychoanalysis; instead, she constructed a syllabus to advocate for it. The syllabus emphasises the need to ‘decolonize’ psychoanalysis by exposing its dominant ideology of privileged ‘whiteness.'”
The University of Vermont resolved a Department of Education investigation that stemmed from 2021 complaints regarding the treatment of Jewish students by a teaching assistant and by two student groups, which deliberately excluded “Zionists.” The university agreed to revise its Title VI policies and training and its overall anti-discrimination policies to include antisemitic harassment.
At the same time, the Department of Education has announced plans to weaken rules that condition Federal aid on campus free speech policies. These rules, which were relevant to the Vermont case, have also helped pressure other institutions to address incidents of discrimination against Jewish students.
American university programs in Israel also continue to come under attack by BDS supporting faculty and students. In one case, Columbia University’s announcement of a new “global center“’ in Tel Aviv was attacked by a group of faculty members, who complained that “The state of Israel, through formal and informal law, policy and practice, refuses to abide by international human rights laws and norms both domestically and in its treatment of Palestinians.” The university maintains 10 other global centers in cities such as Nairobi and Beijing. In a characteristic move, The New York Times emphasized the number of Columbia faculty who opposed the center while failing to note than a much greater number wrote in favor.
Elsewhere, the Pitzer College Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter resumed its campaign against the school’s study abroad program at the University of Haifa. The group decried Israel’s existence and claimed that Arab students at Haifa, who comprise more than 30% of the student body, are subject to discrimination. Pitzer SJP later complained that the college had painted over its “apartheid wall” display, which constituted “anti-Palestinian racism” and “silencing.”
At Fordham University, a study abroad partnership with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was angrily criticized by the school’s SJP chapter as a “blatant endorsement of the apartheid & genocidal state of Israel.” The chapter, which remains an unrecognized club thanks to the administration’s refusal to extend recognition, added “we hope that he [sic] Jewish Studies Department recognizes that this trip to occupied Palestine directly impacts the Palestinians on campus & their families within the diaspora and apartheid.”
Finally, the SJP chapter at American University issued a statement decrying that school’s renaming of the Israel Studies center after a major gift. Among other things, the statement, which was cosigned by other SJP chapters and American University clubs, claimed that “The Center for Israel Studies and AU’s leadership, both of which promote Zionism as a benign ideology, threaten Palestinian students’ right to safely exist on AU’s campus. The role of university leadership is also an obligation to protect Palestinian students on this campus, and to not actively participate in the gaslighting of our brutal realities under Israeli control.”
A BDS resolution was unanimously adopted by the student government at California State University at Fullerton. In a classic example of entryism, whereby activists use official positions to promote partisan agendas, the vice president of Cal State Fullerton’s SJP chapter is also the student government’s “inclusion and diversity” officer, and will be the next student government president. Another BDS resolution was passed in the student government at the University of Texas at Dallas during a session that took place over Passover.
Efforts to shut down and protest ‘Zionist’ speakers, and to bully institutions with allegations that the presence of Zionists is “anti-Palestinian,” continued in April. A talk at Columbia Law School given by centrist Israeli politician and lawyer Michal Cotler-Wunsh on the topic of Zionism was protested by BDS activists, who accused the school of being “actively complicit in the dehumanization and repression of Palestinians.” The protestors claimed that Zionism could not be a “protected identity” but rather a “genocidal activity” and that “defenses of settler colonialism have no place on Columbia’s campus.”
Cotler-Wunsh was greeted by similar protests at New York University (NYU), which included chants of “from the river to the sea Palestine will be free.” An NYU spokesman condemned the protests and noted the university “also flatly rejects the sentiment chalked outside the event’s venue that asserted that Zionists are not welcome. It is untrue, wrong as a matter of principle, and at odds with NYU’s academic and community commitments.”
At the University of Chicago, the SJP chapter has objected to the selection of New York Times columnist Bret Stephens as Class Day speaker. Stephens, a Chicago graduate, is accused of having used “heavily racialized language to devalue Palestinian life in particular and Arab life more generally” and “constant victim-blaming of Palestinians.” The invitation was “once again an example of the fact that this campus has always been hostile to Palestinians– there’s a strong Zionist presence and Palestinians are constantly harassed and persecuted for any statement of support for Palestine. Bringing Bret Stephens in is a reaffirmation that this place is not for us.”
The BDS movement also attempted to prevent an event from taking place in a think tank setting. Reports indicate that BDS activists registered some 150 false names for a joint National Association of Scholars event presenting a new report on BDS in order to “sell-out” the event and prevent in-person attendance. The tactic was discovered after the event organizers followed up with registrants who then stated they had not in fact registered.
As pro-Israel students and faculty are harassed on campus, support for BDS and for terrorism continues to be expressed unfettered, sometimes with implicit university backing. At Yale University an invited speaker, Houria Bouteldja, spoke on “France and Whiteness.” In the past Bouteldja has sympathized with an Islamist murderer, claimed European Jews had “cultivated the Nazis” and were passively responsible for their own genocide, opposed LGBTQ rights, and has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel. Jewish students had not called for the lecture to be canceled but objected to the timing of the lecture during Passover, which would limit their attendance. The university responded that the free speech policies would not permit the lecture to be rescheduled.
A number of campus protests demonizing Israel were held in late March and April including at Purdue University, where protestors shouted “Al-Aqsa don’t you cry, Palestine will never die,” and “There’s no both sides to genocide,” and at Cornell University, where protestors shouted “Israel is the enemy of all humanity,” and “Zionism is the enemy of all humanity,” and “Israel off the earth.” A number of Israel Independence Day events were also opposed and disrupted, including at Rice University.
In another example, at the University of California at Irvine, the local SJP chapter’s social media account celebrated several Palestinian terrorists as “martyrs.” This continues a trend of embedding Islamic religious concepts within the BDS movement as a means to motivate Arab and Muslim students. The background to this was seen at an Al Quds Day rally in Houston where a local Muslim religious leader spoke to the crowd, saying, “We will not forget the Palestinian martyrs, and we will continue to resist until this Zionist cancer is uprooted from the face of the Earth. We would rather die, as the Palestinians have been dying, since the last 75 years, and die with pride and honor.”
Academic institutions continue to demonstrate that much repeated “antiracist” ideals do not apply to Jews and antisemitism. At the City University of New York (CUNY), where a variety of antisemitic incidents have been reported over the past few years, an ongoing lawsuit now has produced a recording in which the president of Kingsborough Community College, himself Jewish, stated there were “too many Jews” on the faculty. The recording came as other reports have detailed how Jews have been systematically removed from the CUNY administration,
The hostility of DEI bureaucrats towards Jews and their support for BDS is increasingly widespread. In an especially problematic and ironic incident, an African American woman, Tabia Lee, the faculty director for the Office of Equity, Social Justice, and Multicultural Education at De Anza Community College, was fired from her position after faculty complaints regarding her insufficiently accusatory approach. Lee reported that the angry dogmatism of faculty and administrators led to accusations she was “whitesplaining” and inattentive to the supreme goal of “decentering whiteness.”
Predictably, Lee noted that “When I brought Jewish speakers to campus to address antisemitism and the Holocaust, some of my critics branded me a “dirty Zionist” and a “right-wing extremist.”” The school has a long history of anti-Israel activism from students and faculty.
BDS also continues to dominate the “human rights” industry. In April, more than 100 human rights organizations signed a statement urging the United Nations not to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition, claiming it “has often been used to wrongly label criticism of Israel as antisemitic, and thus chill and sometimes suppress non-violent protest, activism and speech critical of Israel and/or Zionism, including in the US and Europe.” The letter instead advocated either of the alternative statements, the Jerusalem Declaration and the Nexus Declaration, both of which deliberately exclude defamation of Israel and the problem of double standards.
The controversy also continued over Francesca Albanese, the United Nations “Special Rapporteur on the “situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” Albanese’s history of antisemitic and anti-Israel remarks, including comments regarding the “Jewish lobby” controlling the US, support for BDS, comparisons of Israelis and Nazis, false claims regarding “dozens” of journalists killed by Israel, and touting Palestinian “self-defense,” was cited as disqualifying when she was appointed to the position in 2022. But she has come under increasing criticism in the aftermath of the murder of Israeli civilians for remarks that claimed Israelis have no right to self-defense “when it comes to the people it oppresses/whose lands it colonizes.”
Finally, in the international sphere, the Moody’s rating agency downgraded Israel’s economic outlook from positive to stable, while retaining its A1 credit rating, citing “deterioration of Israel’s governance” as a result of the proposed reforms that would “materially weaken the strength of the judiciary and as such be credit negative.” The firm also warned of “weakening of institutional strength and policy predictability” for investors,” echoing warnings made over the past months by Israeli economists and corporate leaders.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich dismissed the Moody’s report as not being reflective of Israel’s strengths, stating, “The fear raised by the Moody’s analysts concerning the controversy among the public and its effect on Israel’s political and economic stability is natural for anyone who is not familiar with the resilience of Israeli society.”
The author is a contributor to SPME, where a version of this article was first published.