Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.
A recent survey conducted by Alums for Campus Fairness, “A Growing Threat: Antisemitism on College Campuses,” asked some 500 Jewish-affiliated college students and recent alumni what their perceptions were regarding campus anti-Semitism. The findings of the survey were troubling, given that: “Nearly 100% of respondents said antisemitism is/was a problem on their campus,” “95% of respondents identified antisemitism as a problem on U.S. college campuses, with three out of four describing it as a ‘very serious problem,’” almost “half of current students say antisemitism is getting worse on their campus,” and “69% of students and grads say they have avoided certain places, events, or situations at school because they are Jewish.”
Anyone familiar with current state of affairs on university campuses knows that the root of much of this animus towards Jewish students is the ongoing university campaign against Israel and Zionism, and that Jewish students, whether they even support the Jewish state or not, regularly find themselves the target of derision, bigotry, and condemnation simply because they are Jewish.
In fact, research has demonstrated quite clearly that agitation against Israel—including the toxic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign—by such corrosive student activists as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) increase both the frequency and intensity of anti-Semitic speech and expression. A 2019 report by The AMCHA Initiative, a campus anti-Semitism watchdog organization, for example, revealed that “BDS’s mandate to boycott or suppress programs, collaborations, events, or expression that promote ‘the normalization of Israel in the global academy,’ as well as the academic BDS-compliant ‘common sense’ mandate to criticize, protest and boycott individuals who are deemed complicit with or supportive of Israel’s alleged crimes, appear to greatly encourage antisemitic behavior.”
An earlier AMCHA report had found similar connections between anti-Israel activism and the presence of anti-Semitism on those campuses with SJP chapters. That report concluded, shockingly, that the “presence of one or more anti-Zionist student groups is very strongly correlated with the overall number of antisemitic incidents. 99% of the schools with one or more active anti-Zionist student group had one or more incidents of antisemitic activity, whereas only 16% of schools with no active anti-Zionist student group had incidents of antisemitic activity.” Campuses with SJP or other anti-Zionist student groups, the report found, were “very strongly associated with the occurrence of antisemitic expression. 91% of the schools with one or more active anti-Zionist group showed evidence of antisemitic expression, whereas only 16% of schools with no active anti-Zionist student group showed evidence of antisemitic expression.”
SJP and other student groups, along with their faculty sponsors, are the foot soldiers in the worldwide campaign of Palestinianism, but the ideology which animates the Palestinian cause is evident not only in the ivy walls of academia, but also in the UN, NGOs, the State Department, the Arab street, and in parliaments and congresses where the chattering classes purport to be committed to Arab self-determination and seem to have no issue with sacrificing, if necessary, the Middle East’s sole democracy as part of that effort.
Central to this propaganda campaign to enshrine Palestinianism—in which the suffering of the Palestinian has finally trumped the historic suffering and dispossession of the Jews—is the wholesale, deliberate appropriation of the language and symbols of the Jews by the foes who wish to eradicate, not only the Jewish past, but the very existence of the Jewish state. Thus, the actual genocide of European Jewry during the Holocaust is either minimized or denied by the Arab world at the same time that Israel is denounced for committing a new “holocaust” against the Palestinians through ethnic cleansing, military barbarism, and war crimes.
Palestinians regularly refer to themselves as being dispersed in a Diaspora, what they call their own “Nakba,” a catastrophe, just as Jews had traditionally spoken of their own scattering from their homeland after the destruction of the Second Temple. While Arab aggression and homicidal impulses against Jews have been unrelenting—before and since the creation of Israel—Palestinianism has been successful in casting the Arab Palestinians as the perennial victim of Jewish supremacism, even though the irredentist aims of the Islamists to establish a Muslim-only state in historic Palestine is the very form of self-determination that is repeatedly decried on the part of Israel for being racist, inhumane, internationally criminal, and morally unacceptable.
The West’s wide embrace of Palestinianism has been led, for the most part, by the intellectual elites, whose own biases against Israel and the United States serve to animate, and widely promote, the campaign to vilify, defame, and delegitimize Israel. While the ideological antics of anti-Israel student groups are the most visible aspects of the hate-Israel agenda, this acting out and shrill rhetoric from students would be inconsequential were it not for the full intellectual and moral support this movement enjoys from faculty members―those with the prestige and academic muscle to lend credibility and influence to the war of ideas against the Jewish state.
The liberal slant of university faculties has made it inevitable that many college professors question the integrity of Zionism, if not forthrightly denounce the very existence of Israel as a moral stain on the world that oppresses Arabs and tars the United States as an accomplice in this perceived unjustified colonial, militaristic oppression. The self-righteous professors who perpetually denounce Israel, though, may or may not have a great moral commitment to the Palestinians at all.
In fact, that is often incidental to their primary objective: not to actually assist the Palestinian self-determination with constructive, tactical advice and support—which has always been sorely, and visibly, lacking—but to weaken support for Israel with the ultimate intention, shared by Israel’s jihadist foes, of eventually eliminating it altogether. The phony rectitude which they use to insulate themselves from critique comforts those who would otherwise see the fundamental moral cruelty of their assaults of Israel. And they are also craven in their self-righteousness for taking such a strident stance against Israel, a point of view and a philosophical approach that requires no courage in the Jew-hating West.
Of course, virtue-signaling one’s commitment to the oppressed is rampant among the campus Leftists, many of whom feel that, because they seek social justice for the Palestinians and are attempting to strike down what they define as the new Israeli version of apartheid, anything they say or do to delegitimize Israel is acceptable, even necessary. Thus, they hector Israel to mend its political ways not only to end Palestinian suffering, but also, they allege, for the good of both Israelis and Diaspora Jews.
These fatuous professors (and their complicit students), who never have had to face any physical threat more serious than being bumped while waiting in line for a latte at Starbucks, are very willing to scold Israel when it defends itself from unceasing rocket attacks from Gaza meant to murder Israeli civilians. These same professors, many of the vilest critics of whom are from departments of humanities, literature, anthropology, history, and sociology, are, without any expertise in military affairs, eager to advise Israeli officials on the rules of war and denounce the lack of “proportionality” in Israel’s attempts to defend its population from jihadist murderers. And so eager are they to publicly assert their righteousness as defenders of the Palestinian cause, they embrace and “eroticize” terroristic violence and willingly align themselves with Israel’s deadly foes who seek its annihilation, catering, as essayist David Solway lyrically put it, “to the ammoniac hatred of the current brood of crypto-antisemites [sic] posing as anti-Zionists.”
This cultural condescension, the disingenuous lie from the Left that all cultures are equal, but some are more or less equal, to paraphrase Orwell, leads liberals into the moral trap where they denounce Israel’s military self-defense as being barbaric, criminal, and Nazi-like (because Israel is a powerful, democratic nation) and regularly excuse or apologize for genocidal Arab terrorism as an acceptable and inevitable result of a weak people suffering under Western oppression. Violence on the part of the oppressed is accepted by liberals because it is deemed to be the fault of the strong nations whose subjugation of those defenseless people is the very cause of their violent resistance.
In fact, when Israel-loathing Leftist professors, such as Columbia University’s toxic Joseph Massad, apologize for Palestinian terror, he justifies it by characterizing the very existence of Israel as being morally defective, based, in his view, on its inherent racist and imperialist nature. For him, nations that are racist and imperialistic cannot even justify their own self-defense, while the victims of such regimes are free to “resist,” based on the Left’s notion of universal human rights―but especially for the weak. “What the Palestinians ultimately insist on is that Israel must be taught that it does not have the right to defend its racial supremacy,” Massad has written, “and that the Palestinians have the right to defend their universal humanity against Israel’s racist oppression.”
As part of academia’s fervent desire to make campuses socially ideal settings where racial and cultural strife ceases to exist, Palestinianism gains traction as part of the campaign to realize “social justice” for marginalized victim groups—the long-aggrieved Arab Palestinians among them, now the Third World’s favorite victim.
For the Left, according to David Horowitz, a former radical leftist turned conservative, social justice is “the concept of a world divided into oppressors and oppressed.” Those seeking social justice, therefore, do so with the intention of leveling the economic, cultural, and political playing fields; they seek to reconstruct society in a way that disadvantages the powerful and the elites, and overthrows them if necessary—in order that the dispossessed and weak can acquire equal standing. In other words, the Left yearns for a utopian society which does not yet exist and is willing to reconstruct and overturn the existing status quo—often at a terrible human cost—in the pursuit of seeking so-called “justice” for those who, in their view, have been passed over or abused by history. According to Horowitz, this “radicalism is a cause whose utopian agendas result in an ethic where the ends outweigh and ultimately justify the means,” a view which has meant that Western leftists have come to share sympathy for the tactics and ideology of jihadists who seek to overturn Western ideals in their pursuit of an Islamic caliphate, what Horowitz calls an “unholy alliance” of the Left and Islamists in their pursuit of social justice.
In this dangerous alliance, Israel is continually slandered as a racist state, an aggressive, militaristic regime that inflicts disproportionate suffering on the hapless Palestinians, lubricating the argument that this inequality is inherently and inexorably wrong, that it must be corrected and made just. Thus, when such radical student groups as Students for Justice in Palestine have as their core mission, as their name implies, bringing their own vision of justice to the Middle East, it is justice only for the oppressed, the Palestinians, and not for the oppressor, Israel, whose position of power was made possible only because of a “hierarchy of class and race [which] exists globally.”
For the Left, social justice is solely for the disenfranchised, the ‘victims’ of unjust Western societies, those whose suffering is ostensibly caused by and is the fault of imperialistic, capitalistic, militant, hegemonic nations—America and Israel foremost among them. And on campuses, where liberal professors have nearly made sacred the politics of race and class and have identified specific sets of favored victim groups for whom justice will be sought, the cult of “victimhood” has even led to compulsory instruction on the mechanics of achieving social justice for the weak in society.
This view of the Jew, or of Israel, the Jewish state, as a political destabilizer, is, of course, also central to the ideology of Palestinianism and the notion that the victims of Jewish power are the dispossessed and weak for whom liberal academics purportedly seek justice. Any tactics, including terror and violence, are considered appropriate and excusable in the victims’ cause of throwing off the yoke of oppression, so the Palestinian, clearly made to suffer daily humiliation and endlessly deprived of a homeland and the right to self-determination, has become the perfect example of the contemporary victim archetype, the Third-World “other,” an ever-present, homeless, dispossessed tragic refuge whose plight could be traced directly to supposed colonialism on the part of the “settler” state of Israel.
This rationalization, that violence is an acceptable, if not welcomed, component of Palestinianism—that is, that the inherent “violence” of imperialism, colonialism, or capitalism will be met by the same violence as the oppressed attempt to throw off their oppressors—is exactly the style of self-defeating rationality that in this age has proven to be an intractable part of the war on terror. America-hating and Israel-hating academics have not infrequently wished for harm to come to these countries at the hands of the victim groups to whom they readily give their sympathies. They frequently, and mistakenly, ascribe to poverty and helplessness the inclination to lead to terrorism on the part of otherwise weak and oppressed individuals. And, like leftist apologists for revolutionary violence in earlier examples of resistance, they see an opportunity for the tables to be turned on the oppressors and an equal distribution of suffering to be brought about in the resulting power shift.
The nearly total rejection by the Left of any recognition of goodness on the part of Western countries, cultivating and promoting Palestinianism, is, according to commentator Melanie Phillips, symptomatic of academics’ belief in their own moral superiority, a feature which, at least in their own minds, gives them a more genuine and principled worldview.
“In the grip of a group-think that causes them to genuflect to victim-culture and the deconstruction of western morality and the concept of truth,” Phillips wrote, “a dismaying number of our supposedly finest minds have been transformed from people who spread enlightenment to those who cast darkness before them.”