“We know that Zionism is ethnic cleansing, destruction, mass expulsion, apartheid and death, but it is also something very tangible. The reason we can have hope is that Zionism is a human ideology and a set of laws that have been challenged and can be destroyed.”
This is a snippet of the platform for the 2018 National Students for Justice in Palestine Conference being hosted this November by UCLA. As a Zionist, this is a vicious attack by both the group and UCLA.
Zionism is not racism, nor is it colonialism. Rather, it is the desire of the Jewish people to turn to fruition their 2,000-year longing for and connection to Israel. Moreover, Zionism is not monolithic, as Zionists sit on many ends of the political spectrum and hold different views on the conflict. Therefore, attacks on Zionism amount to denial of the right of the Jewish nation to self-determination in a land it has remained connected to throughout history, and this must be recognized as anti-Semitism.
Students for Justice in Palestine’s event platform is undeniably anti-Semitic, and UCLA’s welcoming of this group displays a worrisome normalization of radical anti-Israel ideology on university campuses that cannot be tolerated.
Students for Justice in Palestine is a student group active on many campuses that consistently uses anti-Semitic rhetoric, which creates a hostile environment for Jewish students.
There are many societal issues Israel has to address, but to advocate for a boycott of the entire country or to deny Israel’s right to exist, as Students for Justice in Palestine often does, is one-sided, radical, anti-Semitic ideology, which sets a double standard for Israel on the world stage and fails to acknowledge not only the extremely complex history of the region, but also the diversity of opinion within Israel.
There is no shortage of cases of explicit anti-Semitism exhibited by Students for Justice in Palestine, with one such case including an article by the group in The California Aggie titled “Students for Justice in Palestine — kill and expect love?” In the article, the group claimed that “the Israeli state systematically sterilizes its African population in order to support a white-supremacist bio-political project.” The claim that Israel sterilizes its Ethiopian population has long been discredited, but the author’s especially heinous accusation bears similarity to the anti-Semitic tropes of the middle ages, such as the blood libels and the claim that Jews caused the Black Plague by poisoning wells. Unfortunately, such rhetoric, which delegitimizes, demonizes and holds Israel to a double standard, is increasingly accepted as legitimate political discourse.
In a statement defending the conference, UCLA stated that it is its obligation to allow students free speech “regardless of whether the ideas they express are controversial or offensive.” However, it concedes, “Especially in a university setting, controversial topics should be discussed thoughtfully and respectfully, free from demonization, insult or ethnic bias.” How is it realistic to expect a group that is inherently anti-Semitic to abide by these standards?
Interning in Israel over the summer, I had the pleasure of attending a moving event in the heart of Jerusalem, which brought Palestinian families and Israeli families together to celebrate the World Cup. The inspiring event was hosted by a grassroots organization entitled Kulna Jerusalem, which works to bring Palestinians and Israelis together in order to advance coexistence through mutual understanding. Movements like these, which emphasize the humanity in both Palestinians and Israelis, are the only path to resolving the conflict. Demonizing rhetoric from groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine is not only harmful to university communities, but also makes peace that much harder by simplifying and further polarizing a complex conflict.
As the 2018 CAMERA Fellow, in which I contribute to an organization that works to correct reporting inaccuracies on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I have learned the importance of students challenging the information we hear. No conflict is one-sided, and there should be no toleration for groups that use hate as a means of activism.
Michael Harel is a senior majoring in political science.