Last week, on the day after Rosh HaShanah, Pipe Dream published an op-ed by a senior, Michael Harel, who argued that Students for Justice in Palestine should be barred from college campuses because, in Mr. Harel’s view, SJP is an anti-Semitic organization. The holy days known to Jews as the Days of Awe — the ten days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, during which YHWH leaves open the Gates of Heaven — will, I hope, not have elapsed fully before this response reaches Mr. Harel, as I believe he should have every right to make amends to our God for his craven propagandizing before the fast-breaking meal Wednesday evening.
I write as a recent alumnus, a graduate of Binghamton University as of this past spring, but, more urgently, I write to Mr. Harel as a fellow Jew whose investment in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no less profound than his. Harel writes that he recently completed an internship in Israel; I, too, have spent considerable time in that country, one summer as a volunteer kibbutznik between my freshman and sophomore years and another as a prose-slinger on a fellowship in the sand-blasted city of Jerusalem between my junior and senior years. It’s entirely possible that I frequented the same bars as Mr. Harel in my time in Jerusalem, shopped at the same bookshops or planted prayers between the same holy stones. How Harel returned to the United States with the scales still firmly planted between his eyes is a mystery to me.
Harel begins his piece by confusing Jews and Zionists, a fond practice of both anti-Semites and right-wing Zionists. Though the title of his essay attacks SJP as one of many “Anti-Semitic groups,” the lines he quotes from SJP’s platform explicitly attack Zionism, not Judaism or Jews. As Mr. Harel, a senior majoring in political science, really ought to know, Zionism is a political movement with a body of supporters that includes vast numbers of gentiles and, indeed, quite a few noted anti-Semites. In fact, the largest Zionist organization in America is not only not Jewish but explicitly Christian: CUFI, or Christians United for Israel, is an organization of Evangelicals whose leader, John Hagee, has praised Hitler for sending the Jews back to their promised land. Indeed, in the United States the forces of political anti-Semitism are among the most reliable supporters of the policies of the State of Israel — to skeptical readers I recommend a perusal of the stances of Richard Spencer (Nazi), Sebastian Gorka (Nazi affiliate) and Steve Bannon (Nazi propagandist).
Continuing, Harel writes that “Zionism is not racism, nor is it colonialism … 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.” Harel’s ongoing attachment to political semantics is almost admirable, but even he cannot help but have noticed that, in practice, Zionism has often meant racism and colonialism. The expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians from their ancestral homes in the War of 1948 was certainly an act of colonialism — one excused by the eminent Israeli historian Benny Morris as a necessity for the creation of a secure Jewish state. But such justification is not available to the propagandist of the ongoing occupation of Gaza and the West Bank (and have no doubts — the blockade of Gaza is a form of occupation). Abba Eban himself, the noted Israeli diplomat, once remarked that Israel had as much to fear from an independent Palestine as the Soviet Union did from Luxembourg, and, indeed, no serious spectator can fail to notice the astonishing asymmetry in the Israeli and Palestinian capacities for force. If it looks like colonialism, and it sounds like colonialism, and it demolishes villages like colonialism …
Harel’s willful ignorance of SJP and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more broadly should surprise no one. In his final paragraph he admits his membership in CAMERA, the so-called Committee for Accuracy in Middle-East Reporting in America, an organization devoted since 1982 to the defense of the Israeli settlement enterprise in the West Bank. But there is time left before Ne’ilah (at the time of writing), so, Mr. Harel, please: Forswear your allegiance to the Hasbarists and join your Jewish brothers and sisters in the fight for real Jewish liberation, which can only come when Palestinians are as free in their land as we are in ours.
Jonathan Gelernter graduated in spring 2018.