A few days ago I saw a video posted by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which showed a student holding and then throwing a torn poster from the SJP table. I was shaken by the clear act of aggression and disrespect, which is not representative of Binghamton’s Jewish or Zionist community whatsoever. I was also scared that SJP would capitalize on the incident and blow it out of proportion to gain publicity while also bashing Israel.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. Tousif Khan, president of SJP, declared: “Unable to engage in civil discussion or find any way to justify the ongoing occupation, apartheid, ethnic cleansing and genocide of Palestinians they resort racist violence to silence us.” This statement essentially blames all Zionists on this campus for the action of one student who is not affiliated with any Jewish or pro-Israel organizations. It is a statement of hatred, a statement that encourages division instead of calling for peace and discussion. The claim that Israel is a genocidal state is completely false; Israel has no intentions of killing innocent Palestinians. There are a variety of political opinions within Israel regarding the conflict, but the overwhelming majority of Israelis desperately want peace. The criticism of Jews not being able to engage in civil discussion is also ironic given that SJP is against “normalization” with Zionists, meaning they will not engage in any discussion with people who support Israel’s right to exist.
When I scrolled through the comments on Instagram, I saw Jewish students pleading with others to not use this event as a way to demonize all Jews or Zionists and other students spewing incendiary messages that in some cases even threatened Israel and ‘Zionists’. . Comments that stood out included “F***ing #zionistc**ts did that to me, they would find it hard to walk home.. Evil f***ing satanic pr*cks all of them,” and comments equating Zionism with racism. Many students who supported Israel also claimed that their comments on the post had been deleted by SJP, despite the commenters only seeking a peaceful dialogue. To make it worse, I woke up the next day to find a one-sided article about the incident spread across the front page of Thursday’s Pipe Dream paper. The author failed to provide background about the provocative and anti-Semitic nature of SJP, and while SJP’s president was interviewed, pro-Israel students were not. Am I angry about this? Yes. Am I surprised by any means? Not at all.
Demonization and targeting of Jewish students and Zionists is very typical of SJP. Their now-disbanded original chapter, which their current organization was founded out of and whose Facebook page they assumed ownership of, was widely criticized in 2014 for posting fake eviction notices on the doors of many students. This was an attempt at mimicking how Israel has evicted Palestinians from their land (while failing to mention that Palestinian homes have been demolished after being illegally built in unauthorized locations or had been owned by terrorists). The eviction notices instilled fear in many Jewish students campuswide. The incident resulted in UPD involvement.
Additionally, the vast majority of what SJP claims is blatantly false or taken out of context in order to further demonize the Jewish state. For example, the heinous accusation that 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes in 1948 was featured on the infamous poster, but many Palestinians fled from their homes in fear or due to their own leaders’ encouragement. Muslim Arab communities that signed peace treaties with Israel were allowed to stay; hence, the existence of Muslim Israelis living peacefully in Israel today, side-by-side with Jewish Israelis and with equal rights to all other Israelis (albeit certain systematic issues). The 1948 Arab-Israeli War was waged against Israel by some Palestinians, Iraq, Transjordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, so it is not surprising that some Palestinians who fought from within the territory were evicted from their homes. The most prominent Palestinian leader during this war was Grand Mufti Amin al-Husseini, a leader who just a few years prior had helped recruit people to join the Waffen-SS Nazi forces.
During their last protest, in November 2018, members of SJP refused to have an open dialogue. At the protest, SJP members chanted “Hey hey, ho ho, Israel’s got to go!” As one junior neuroscience and English double-major named Sarah (last name withheld due to fear of threats) recalls,
“They were screaming ‘IDF soldiers are terrorists!’ and that they kill babies, and I told them that’s not true though, because I have many friends and family in the army and then they said ‘Well then they’re terrorists’. I tried speaking [to someone else] and the conversation got heated and I said my friend was killed by a terrorist and they said ‘Too bad’. Throughout the entire conversation they were laughing at us and not addressing anything we said.”
Israel, a nation of 71 years, with more problems than I can count, with political instability, and clear divisions, a nation that I regularly criticize, is my home. It is the only place in the world where I feel completely at peace. Surrounded by nations that want to destroy it, I feel safer in Israel than I do anywhere else. I have hundreds, potentially thousands of relatives living all across the nation of Israel. So to constantly see and hear that Zionism, which is defined simply as the right to self-determination of the Jewish people in their historical homeland, is equated with racism, is truly disheartening. Zionism does not mean supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or a one-state solution or denying that Israel has problems with discrimination and injustice; rather, it simply means supporting Jewish self-determination. SJP corrupts the meaning of Zionism and demonizes Israel. They took an act that was done by a random student and twisted its meaning, blaming pro-Israel groups and Zionist students on campus. Instead of focusing only on how the action made them feel, they instead used it to attack the pro-Israel community on campus, a community that the student who attacked them was not even involved with. As a campus, when any sort [of] attack occurs, we have an obligation to denounce it. No one, neither SJP members nor the pro-Israel community, should ever feel attacked.
Benjamin Carleton is a freshman double-majoring in linguistics and political science.