By: Avraham Frohlich  | 

Unpack With YUPAC: Anti-Israel Activism on College Campuses

A recent Anti-Defamation League report provided an overview of anti-Israel activism that occurred on college campuses throughout the 2021–2022 year. While some of the 359 reported incidents could be characterized as good faith criticism of Israel and its policies, many included overtones, and in some cases outright expressions of, antisemitism. 

The report begins by noting eleven cases of vandalism that took place on college campuses. In December 2021, students wrote “Free Palestina You genocidal racist" on the Hillel building at the University of Oregon. Another incident of vandalism was the application of red handprints outside the Hillel at the University of Michigan. These instances seem to be attempts to “implicate Hillel, or possibly the campus Jewish community as a whole, in the bloodshed allegedly perpetrated by Israel.” 

Ten instances of harassment were also reported throughout the year. In April 2022, residents of a Jewish fraternity at Rutgers were harassed by a group of people waving Palestinian flags. In July of 2021, following a request from a pro-Israel student for his fellow classmates to “promote anti-Israel materials on a separate chat unrelated to academics,” the students sent him texts such as “zionist killer,” and "you do not deserve to be at CUNY."

Students often held those who identified as Jewish or Zionist responsible for Israel’s alleged human rights violations. On at least three occasions, groups stated that “Zionism or Zionists should not be allowed on campus or should be shunned from the campus community.” This exclusion was brought to an extreme when, in February of this year, two students were forced out of a sexual assault survivor support group because they had Zionist views.

American universities collectively held 143 anti-Israel events this past year. The report goes out of its way to stress again that some events were simply “mainstream criticism of Israeli policies.” Many, however, included “the antisemitic denial of the Jewish right to self-determination in the Land of Israel,” “classic antisemitic ideas” and “support for violence.”

In a lecture titled “Zionism as Racism and Racial Discrimination,” Professor Noura Erakat of Rutgers University suggested that Zionism is a “bedfellow” to Nazism, repeatedly opposed Israel’s right to exist and approved of military action to end Israel’s existence. While they later distanced themselves from the event, the lecture was supported by the university's diversity, equity and inclusion office.

Not to be outdone, many universities hosted the popular Palestinian rights activist, author and journalist Mohammed El-Kurd. Much of El-Kurd’s criticism of Israel in the past has involved intense anti-Israel rhetoric. In May 2021, he tweeted that Zionists have an “unquenchable thirst for Palestinian blood,” while writing in a book that “they [Israelis] harvest organs of the martyred [Palestinians].” He has also denied the historical connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, calling such a claim a “fictional indigenity.” 

The phrase “resistance by any means necessary” remained popular on college campuses this past year. According to the report, “A notable segment of anti-Israel activists and professors expressed support for armed confrontation with Israel.” Some even promoted violence against Israeli civilians. On many campuses, students disseminated images of a rifle-totting Leila Khaled, a terrorist and noted member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a U.S. State Department-designated terrorist organization.

Throughout the year, colleges passed thirteen BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) resolutions this past year. One such resolution at Princeton University nearly passed in a referendum given over to all of the students. Such staggering anti-Israel sentiment in an elite university such as Princeton should be very troubling for those of us who support the state of Israel. 

Perhaps most indicative of students' anti-Israel leaning were the 165 anti-Israel activities staged by campus groups, ranging from protests to the distribution of anti-Israel fliers to attempts to disrupt or block pro-Israel speakers. On some campuses — including at the University of Michigan, Boston University and Harvard University — students erected “apartheid walls” to protest the Israeli security barriers that run through the West Bank.

At the University of Michigan, students protested the Birthright program, which organizes a free trip to Israel for young Jews, writing on social media that “birthright is propaganda that manipulates Jewish heritage and identity into support for the Israeli apartheid state." Cleveland State University's Solidarity for Palestinian Human Right student group hosted a rally in which the anti-Israel activist Abbas Hamideh spoke, informing students that the "European invaders of Palestine are not Semitic.”

College anti-Israel organizations were often behind these events and have strong footings on college campuses throughout the United States. Among these are Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), CUNY for Palestine and Harvard Out Of Occupied Palestine (HOOP). SJP alone has 206 chapters in the United States and has added 25 chapters this past year. These chapters, some of which support violence against Israel and target Zionist students and groups, have accounted for 25 anti-Israel incidents this year. The also popular JVP considers Zionism to be a form of “Jewish supremacy,” and regularly advocates for the complete elimination of a Jewish connection to the land of Israel. According to its website, JVP currently has 200,000 supporters on its email list and 10,000 individual donors.

Taken as a whole, the above-mentioned incidents indicate the prevalence of anti-Israel activity on college campuses throughout the U.S. This reality causes many students to hide their connection to Israel while in college and makes others “feel targeted and unsafe.” At Yeshiva, we are often reminded of the popular anti-Israel feelings that pervade American college campuses (see above). However, the notion of a college atmosphere that is permeated with anti-Israel (and often antisemitic) sentiment may seem a distant reality. Nevertheless, the above is a pertinent reminder of our obligation to promote a shared and balanced narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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Photo Caption: Pro-Palestinian supporters in Washington D.C.

Photo Credit: Ted Eytan / Wikimedia Commons