As I See It: The academic intifada

The global demonization of Israel and the Jewish people is gathering terrifying pace and ferocity, not least on university campuses.

Boycott Israel sign (photo credit: REUTERS)
Boycott Israel sign
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The global demonization of Israel and the Jewish people is gathering terrifying pace and ferocity, not least on university campuses.
During last summer’s war in Gaza, the Western media uncritically promulgated as truth the inflammatory Hamas lie that Israel was willfully killing Palestinian children and most of Gaza’s war casualties were civilians.
The result was an eruption of hatred and violence against Diaspora Jews in Britain and Europe.
Galvanized by this rout of reason, Palestinians have felt emboldened to ratchet up their incitement against Israel.
So Mahmoud Abbas has been inflaming the violence and rioting that has been escalating in Jerusalem by making false and incendiary claims that Israel was attempting to desecrate the Aksa Mosque.
On Western university campuses, the demonization of Israel and intimidation of Jewish students has similarly shifted onto an even more intense and vicious level.
According to a report by the Anti-Defamation League, more than 75 anti-Israel events have been reported on US college and university campuses this autumn, more than twice as many as last year and accelerating after Operation Protective Edge.
In the last few days, it was revealed that 15 Jewish and education advocacy groups have written to the presidents of more than 100 American universities which have Students for Justice in Palestine chapters, to warn them of an SJP strategy for disrupting pro-Israel events and ostracizing, harassing and silencing Jewish students.
Dozens of Jewish and pro-Israel students’ events were being disrupted, they wrote, and Jewish and pro-Israel students were being harassed, intimidated, and “stripped of their constitutionally protected freedom of expression and association.”
There is a veritable tsunami of such attacks swamping Jewish university life. Last August a Jewish student at Temple University in Philadelphia, who approached the SJP table at a campus activities fair to challenge their false claims, was punched in the face.
Anti-Israel student activists at the University of Michigan hurled death threats at Jewish student council members and called them “dirty Jew” and “kike.” At the University of California, Berkeley, a Jewish girl holding an “Israel Wants Peace” sign was rammed with a shopping cart by an SJP activist.
At Harvard, the Palestine Security Committee frightened Jewish students by placing mock eviction notices on their dormitory rooms. At Northeastern University in Boston, SJP activists vandalized a menorah and disrupted Jewish events. At San Francisco State University, the General Union of Palestine Students hosted an all-day event where participants could make posters and T-shirts that said, “My Heroes Have Always Killed Colonizers.”
Similar outrages are taking place on Canadian campuses.
At Ryerson University, a student who approached the Muslim Students Association table at Clubs Day was called a f***ing Zionist and other similar epithets.
At York University, known for its radicalism, a large poster in the glass-walled student center visible to all the students passing by glorifies terrorism by depicting a Palestinian with a rock behind his back facing an IDF machine gun.
Earlier this year Hen Mazzig, a former IDF commander who tours campuses speaking to students, described how Boycott Divestment and Sanctions organizers target students who know nothing about the Middle East with emotive and inflammatory BDS campaigns libeling Israel as a human rights abuser. Such campus motions obviously cannot hurt Israel economically; the real aim is to demonize Israel and intimidate Jewish students.
After University of Windsor students voted to support the BDS movement last March, the vice president of academic affairs for the university’s student alliance found his “Support Our Troops” banner spray-painted in blue with the Star of David and the word “Zionist.”
Crucially, such intimidation is not confined to the student body but is rooted in similar activities by university lecturers. The campaigner against campus anti-Semitism, Tammy Rossman Benjamin, has pointed out that faculty members have advanced lies and distortions about Zionism, Israel and Jews and advocated the elimination of the Jewish state.
The effect on those whose minds they have a duty to open has been devastating. Jewish students have reported feeling emotionally and intellectually harassed and intimidated by their professors, to the point that they afraid to express a view that is not anti-Israel.
Those who have tried to expose the abuse they are experiencing have been vilified and attacked. At a University of California, Davis, anti-Israel “occupation” rally last November, a student who expressed concern about the anti-Semitic banners on display was assaulted by a protester who screamed in his face, “You are racist and you should die in hell.”
The supposed crucible of knowledge, reason and enlightenment has turned into an incubator of hatred and bigotry, falsehoods and incitement, intellectual terrorism and physical violence. What we are seeing is an academic intifada. Yet in the face of this monstrous onslaught on Jewish students and perversion of scholarship to poison young minds against Israel, the leadership of Diaspora Jewry has done precious little.
Campaigners like Benjamin or groups such as Stand- WithUs (at whose meeting I spoke in Toronto this week) have been doing invaluable work countering the lies and helping support the beleaguered Jewish students. But they are doing it virtually alone and unaided. Given the nature and scale of what is going on, the silence from the Jewish community as a whole is quite astonishing.
Jewish leaders should be shouting from the rafters about what is happening on campus. They should be naming and shaming these bigoted lecturers for the hatred and lies they are spreading. They should be calling to account the university vice chancellors for failing to protect their Jewish students. They should be taking legal action against them for betraying their duty of care or allowing incitement of hatred, intimidation and discrimination on their watch. They should be jumping up and down over the way states such as Qatar or Saudi Arabia have twisted university curricula into hate-fueled or extremist propaganda outlets by pouring funds into university coffers.
But Jewish leaders aren’t doing any of this. Too timid to rock the boat, or maybe because they themselves don’t know enough to realize just how heinous are the lies being told about Israel, their instinct is instead often to try to marginalize, isolate or shut down some of these heroic folk trying to combat the falsehoods and intimidation on campus. This is shameful. A huge effort is needed to counter this evil with the hardest of home truths. Time our leaders woke up and smelled the coffee.
Melanie Phillips is a columnist for The Times (UK).