Most Jewish students were apathetic, but no one felt afraid or intimidated or thought we needed “safe spaces.” We had our own versions of “J Street,” which mostly consisted of a small number of ill-informed nudniks who talked a lot but did little and, within a couple of years, faded into oblivion.
This was also the heyday of Arab student organizations that were backed by Arab states that wanted to use them to advance their political agendas on campus. Like Arab Americans today, internal divisions prevented them from having a coherent message, but to the extent they had a unifying principle it was support for the PLO’s commitment to Israel’s destruction. Several of today’s most radical professors got their start in anti-Israel propaganda as student leaders.
Today, the major anti-Israel group, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), is not backed by the Arab states and rarely led by Arab students. Many of its leaders are intellectual lightweights from the far left, including many Jews, who are so blinded by hatred for Israel they don’t recognize their boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign is anti-Semitic, anti-democratic, anti-peace and damaging to the Palestinians who they are pretending to help.
Since my day, one significant change in Palestinian propaganda was to tone down the extremist rhetoric, at least for English-speaking audiences. Instead of bombastic speakers threatening to throw the Jews into the sea, a new articulate class of Palestinian polemicists learned to sprinkle their condemnations of Israel with references to peace. Their positions are uncompromising, but their argument was simplified to a pithy three-word slogan used to answer any question: “End the occupation.”
Of course, there is no mention of what would happen if Israel simply capitulated to this demand. There is no promise of peace, no offer of concessions, and no commitment to end terrorism. No, I take that back; Arafat did make these promises when he signed the Oslo agreement, which were reiterated by Abbas, but they had no intention of following through and; hence, we have no peace, no concessions and no end to terrorism. Israel has shouldered the blame, however, despite repeated offers to make risky concessions to achieve a two-state solution that both Arafat and Abbas rejected.
The campus battle typically mirrors the broader political debate and so it was not surprising that Israel’s detractors were more moderate for a time, but the Palestinians have turned the conflict into more of an Islamic-Jewish religious war. Though students generally eschew the radical Islamic argument against Israel’s right to exist, the campus rhetoric has returned to the extreme language of the past.
It is not uncommon, for example, to have speakers representing Hamas, and their student acolytes, advocating Israel’s destruction. Critiques of “Zionists” are usually thinly-veiled attacks on Jews. BDS supporters regularly welcome the likes of Ali Abunimah, who advocates a one-state solution, a euphemism for the destruction of Israel.
Students are angry about how minorities are treated on campus, complaining of “hostile campus environments” and demanding “safe spaces”; yet, many of those same students engage in strident campaigns against their Jewish peers. For example, a popular chant by SJP members at University of California campuses and elsewhere is: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” This may sound innocuous to the typical geography-challenged college student, but this catchy refrain is an implicit appeal for genocide and an explicit call for the destruction of Israel.
Imagine if a similar chant called for any other country or people to be wiped out. How long do you think that would be tolerated by left-wing students and the administrators who appease them?
The typical double-standard is being acted out at the University of Chicago where members of a Jewish fraternity were found to have made offensive remarks. The university is being pressured to suspend the fraternity and, talk about the pot calling the kettle black, Students for Justice in Palestine is among the complainants. No one is defending the Jews’ freedom of speech because their remarks were directed at other minorities. SJP chants calling for the destruction of the Jewish state; however, are considered protected speech.
At Vassar, which is becoming the poster child for what is wrong with American universities today, and a bastion for anti-Semitism, I reported that the Jewish Studies Department, among others, sponsored a speech by a radical professor who supports the anti-Semitic BDS movement. Faculty in attendance shockingly failed to challenge her outrageous lies about an alleged Israeli goal to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians, an Israeli plot to kill Palestinians to harvest their organs, and the intentional bombing of Palestinian hospitals and nursing homes by the IDF.
In addition to lobbying the Vassar student government to adopt an anti-Semitic BDS resolution, SJP activists are now selling t-shirts with the image of one of the world’s most notorious terrorists, Leila Khaled. The proceeds are meant for the “Palestinian resistance,” which is a euphemism for terror.
For those who don’t know, which I suspect includes virtually everyone at Vassar, Khaled was a member of the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist organization. On August 29, 1969, Khaled was part of a team that hijacked TWA Flight 840 on its way from Rome to Athens, diverting the plane to Damascus, based on what proved to be inaccurate information that Israeli Ambassador to the United States Yitzhak Rabin was on board. No one was injured and the passengers were exchanged for the release of 13 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody. After the passengers disembarked, the hijackers blew up the nose section of the aircraft.
A year later, on September 6, 1970, Khaled and another terrorist attempted to hijack an El Al plane from Amsterdam to New York. The attack was foiled; one terrorist was killed and Khaled was wounded. After the flight was diverted to London, Khaled was turned over to the British authorities. The same day, other PFLP terrorists commandeered three different planes and flew them to Amman. After removing the passengers, the planes were blown up.
Jordan’s King Hussein was humiliated and his throne was in danger. In response to fears that the hostages would be killed and Hussein dethroned, Britain agreed to release Khaled in exchange for the hostages. Six other terrorists in prison for previous attacks were freed from Switzerland and Germany as part of the deal. Khaled has been free ever since.
Apparently Vassar’s SJP consider this terrorist their King or Mandela. The only reason they don’t have bin-Laden’s picture on their shirts is probably the fact that, unlike Khaled, he did not target Jews on 9/11. This episode is one more indication of the immorality and anti-Semitism of SJP.
As we’ve come to expect from feckless university officials, Vassar’s president defended the anti-Semitic activities on her campus as a matter of free speech. I wonder how she would feel if white students wore shirts with a picture of the grand dragon of the KKK to raise money for the white separatists in Oregon? You can bet she would deny those students their rights or find herself on the unemployment line with the president of the University of Missouri.
Sadly, we are seeing an escalation in anti-Israel rhetoric; notably a return to the genocidal views that were suppressed to portray the Palestinian leadership as moderate. Worse, university and faculty are once again turning a blind eye toward anti-Semitism as part of their selective defense of free speech and academic freedom.
Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and the novel, After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.