Anti-Israel campus activity vilifies Jewish students in US - ADL report

Severe anti-Zionist rhetoric on occasion descends into antisemitism and seeks to exclude Zionists from campus spaces.

Israel Apartheid Week at Columbia University. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel Apartheid Week at Columbia University.
(photo credit: Courtesy)

A new report by the Anti-Defamation League has found that rhetoric used by anti-Israel groups on US college and university campuses frequently demeans and ostracizes pro-Israel Jewish students, and occasionally descends into antisemitism.

In preparing the study, ADL experts identified what, they said, was “a pattern of anti-Israel groups and activists blatantly demonizing pro-Israel and Zionist students,” who also on occasion espoused antisemitic tropes, such as those alleging Jewish or Zionist power and control over the media and political affairs.

ADL’s Center on Extremism, which monitors anti-Israel activities across the country, found this language primarily came from a handful of student activist organizations that often work in concert to spread anti-Israel and anti-Zionist messages on US campuses.

Such activity negatively impacts large sections of the Jewish student community “for which a connection with Israel is an integral component of their religious, social, or cultural lives and identities”

ADL’s study said that as a result of this activity, many Jewish students reported feeling compelled to hide aspects of their identities.

Students at Columbia University hold a ''die-in'' demonstration (credit: ACF)Students at Columbia University hold a ''die-in'' demonstration (credit: ACF)

According to the study, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) was the most active anti-Israel group on campus in the US, with a network of some 180 chapters across the country mostly in the Northeast, Midwest and California, along with around 20 chapters in Canada.

Another of the primary anti-Zionist campus organizations is Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) which works closely with SJP.

ADL’s report said that the organization sees Zionism “as racist and a form of ‘Jewish supremacy,’” while “several of the more radical members of JVP espouse rhetoric that peddles antisemitic tropes including language about inherent Zionist greed or nefarious control over political developments.”

The study also pointed to the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), and the Young Democratic Socialists of America, as other problematic organizations engaging in anti-Israel activity on campus.

Support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is a central feature of the anti-Israel movement on campuses, with BDS campaigns that often go beyond the central demands of the organized movement and use language “accusing Israel of perpetrating ethnic cleansing, genocide, apartheid and more.”

During the 2020-21 academic year, student governments considered 17 BDS-inspired calls, 11 of which passed.

A number of BDS resolutions called on their universities to sever ties, usually through endowments or other investments, with companies that provide services or equipment to the Israeli military. To date, none of these universities have divested from these companies, and in many cases, the university president directly condemned BDS and the resolution, ADL’s report noted.

In relation to the general rhetoric of anti-Israel groups, the ADL report says that often the language regarding Zionism and Zionists is so vitriolic that it often reached a level in which the goal appeared to be the exclusion of Zionists from campus spaces.

“This illiberal and exclusionary language can have the effect of making many Jewish students feel attacked for their identities,” the report read.

The report pointed to one incident in December 2020, when the SJP chapter at the University of Illinois, Chicago posted a meme on their Instagram account that actively encouraged the shaming of Zionists by calling them “colonizer,” “racist,” and told them to “go back to Brooklyn,” a clearly antisemitic comment.

In February 2021, the National SJP Conference featured US Palestinian Community Network’s Nesreen Hasan, who remarked that “liberal Zionists” do not have a place in social justice spaces.

In another incident, in November 2020, a Facebook post from SJP at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne (SJP UIUC) called for pro-Israel students to be excluded from racial justice organizing, claiming that white supremacy and racism are inherent to pro-Israel advocacy.

Anti-Israel activity spiked in May 2021 during the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, during which time a “significant segment of campus anti-Israel groups engaged in what may have been an unprecedented amount of divisive and inflammatory messaging about Zionism and Zionists, as well as expressions of support for violence.”

The report said that “the cumulative effect of the month’s events was that many Jewish students were left with a heightened sense of being isolated or under attack in particular when Jewish institutions were vandalized, which occurred on at least three occasions.”

Also contributing was the sheer frequency and severity of rhetoric equating Zionists with nefarious groups such as Nazis; calling for the end of Israel’s existence; and intimations of support for violence, the report said.

“As we saw acutely during the May conflict with Hamas, the anti-Israel movement’s drumbeat of rhetorical attacks on Zionism and Zionists can truly hurt and offend many Jewish students, leaving them feeling ostracized and alienated,” said ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt.

“Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to harass and intimidate. While all students have a right to express their views about Israel openly, expressions of antisemitism under the guise of Israel criticism are unacceptable. Administrators, students and faculty need to ensure a safe and inclusive environment for all students, regardless of religion, nationality or ethnicity.”