MEMBERS OF Students for a Just Palestine protest a scheduled lecture by Ambassador to Ireland Ze’ev Boker at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
Students for “Justice” in Palestine (SJP). The irony in the name is itself comical. I will never forget my first encounter with the anti-Israel club on my campus at York University in Toronto. In my first semester, I was on my way to class when I was stopped in the middle of the hallway and asked “Hi, are you Jewish? Show us your passport.”
So goes the story of SJP on North American campuses. Among other activities, like fund-raising for convicted terrorists, shutting down free speech and bringing active terrorists to speak to students, SJP’s modus operandi is casting the blame for the actions of the government of Israel, onto the Jewish students on campus – behavior that falls into the textbook definition of antisemitism.
As a first-year university student, I was shocked at being accosted for my Jewishness. I quickly learned that it was York University’s anti-Israel club staging a mock checkpoint to demonize Israeli security measures that protect Israeli civilians and visitors from Palestinian terrorist attacks.
That encounter was just the tip of the iceberg. During my time at York, that same group organized a number of staged “die-ins,” anti-Israel rallies, student government motions to boycott Israel and more. But more than any political or “human rights” group, they also harassed Jewish students, vandalized the Israeli flag and continuously made the Jewish community at York feel like we had to live through the conflict on our own campus. Why? For no other reason than we were Jewish or pro-Israel.
In 2011, York’s anti-Israel club hosted former British MP George Galloway, a notoriously anti-Israel extremist. They even used student tuition money, including my own, to pay for the speaking engagement. It was partially because of such hatred on campus that I became a campus organizer for StandWithUs in Canada and quickly learned that York University was not the only campus dealing with issues of antisemitism, bullying and terrorist associations from extremist anti-Israel groups.
For example, in 2015, SJP chapters in Chicago held rallies and fund-raised for Rasmea Odeh, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), who was convicted for her involvement with a terrorist attack that killed two Israeli students. But it’s not just the local chapters causing problems. National SJP (NSJP) hosted at their national conference Khader Adnan, a member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, who has called for suicide bombings.
While the NSJP movement has quite literally given a voice to terrorists, chapters across North American campuses have gone out of their way to silence pro-Israel or even pro-dialogue speakers with fanatic aggression. For example, at Ryerson University in Toronto, a member of SJP, Omar Flasteen, orchestrated a walk-out at a student government meeting to ensure that a Holocaust Education Week motion would fail to pass. Similarly, at McGill University, a BDS-affiliated group hijacked a student government meeting to vote Jewish and pro-Israel students off of the Judicial board, once again conflating the issues of antisemitism and a disagreement over Israeli government policy.
The list goes on and on. At UC Berkeley, a professor and SJP cofounder has openly called for an intifada (violent uprising) and spread blatant antisemitism on his own Twitter account. At Stony Brook University, the SJP chapter advocated removal of the Hillel group from the campus and replacing it with a “non-Zionist entity.” At UC Berkeley, Jewish students have been called “Zionist pigs” and “baby killers” and compared to Hitler. At NYU, a joint statement was signed by 53 student groups, including SJP, which declared that the student organizations would boycott two pro-Israel student groups on campus. Going back just a few years, who could forget the UC Irvine SJP students who orchestrated the censorship of then-Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, the action itself a violation of US constitutional rights?
As a new member of the StandWithUs digital department since moving to Israel, my job is not only to ensure that the world is learning about Israel, but to fight the bigotry and misinformation that groups like SJP perpetuate. That is why we are spreading awareness through the #NoHateOnCampus campaign. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most complex conflicts in the world, and while everyone has a right to their opinion, there’s a fine line between criticism and openly calling for the destruction of the only Jewish state as well as silencing and bullying Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus.
Academia must be a place where both sides can learn to communicate and better understand the other and help to bring about peaceful coexistence. Instead, one side is continuously shutting the other down. We believe that it’s time the Department of Education and all people of conscience speak out against SJP’s hate speech – not to silence them, but to hold them accountable and send a clear message that there is no room for silencing another’s opinion, and that it takes two to actually have a conversation.
The writer is the former Canadian Campus Director of StandWithUs, and current Digital Associate at StandWithUs in Israel.