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.
No sooner than Israel had initiated its campaign to suppress Hamas’s rocket fire from Gaza, resulting in some 3400 rockets targeting southern Israeli towns during the 11-day conflict, than students and faculty at universities around the country began their noxious, though predictable, effort to once again slander the Jewish state, issuing statements of solidarity with the ever-aggrieved Palestinians and denouncing Israel for its alleged aggression, continued ethnic cleansing, oppression, and immorality for the inevitable deaths of Gazan civilians, including children.
The cognitive war against Israel has been waged on university campuses for more than a decade, during which time activist groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine have promoted the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel and have sought to galvanize anti-Israel support—especially at those times when Israel is forced by Palestinian aggression to suppress hostilities in defensive military maneuvers.
But the liberal worldview in which there are oppressors like Israel and oppressed like the Palestinians has seeped into public school systems now, as well, where woke elementary and high school teachers are suffused with concepts of the intersectionality of oppression, post-colonial views of the world, and the Left’s perennial notion that victims are guiltless and hegemonic powers (such as Israel and the United States) are founts of imperialism, militarism, and racism.
On May 19th, as one troubling example, the 6200-member United Educators of San Francisco teacher’s union passed a grotesque “Resolution in Solidarity with the Palestinian People” which, in addition to calling on the Biden administration to end all aid to Israel, denounced Israel’s alleged “forced displacement and home demolitions” of Palestinian Arabs in Jerusalem and its imposition of “a regime of legalized racial discrimination.” Like many other statements issued during this latest conflict, Israel was denounced as an aggressive, militaristic oppressor whose military capriciously murders Arabs, seemingly without provocation. “Since May 10 the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has began [sic] an intense campaign of bombing and mortar fire on the territory of Gaza,” the resolution reads, and “nearly 200 people, more than a quarter of them children have been killed. Over 1,300 have been wounded, and 40,000 Gazans have lost their homes.” Conveniently missing from this language, of course, is any mention of Hamas, the terrorist group of psychopaths who have been lobbing rockets and mortars at southern Israeli towns for over 15 years now, some 20,000 of them (and 3400 alone in this latest skirmish), with the express purpose of murdering Jews. The fact that each time Hamas indiscriminately fires one of these rockets into civilian neighborhoods constitutes a war crime has seemingly never occurred to these woke educators, who only condemn Israel’s efforts to defend its citizenry, as any sovereign nation would do, from being murdered by terroristic foes.
In the way that Israel’s critics chronically do, the union only singles out Israel for punishment and condemnation, not its enemies who seek the extirpation of the Jewish state. “As public school educators in the United States of America,” the resolution sententiously proclaims, “we have a special responsibility to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people because of the 3.8 billion dollars annually that the US government gives to Israel, thus directly using our tax dollars to fund apartheid and war crimes,” a statement that, of course, is a complete inversion of the truth. The U.S. gives billions of foreign aid and military assistance to Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan, and a host of other countries whose records on human and civil rights do not compare with that of Israel and whose use of U.S. aid is never given the same moral audit that the hate-Israel crowd is wont to do when the Jewish state is involved.
And lest there be any doubt about the Union’s mistaken attitude about Israel, and the lie it promulgates by claiming that Israel perpetrates racism and apartheid against Arabs, the resolution concludes by committing its membership to sign on with the anti-Semitic BDS campaign itself, stating “that UESF endorse the international campaign for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against apartheid in Israel,” thereby becoming the first K-12 teachers’ union in the United States to endorse the BDS movement.
The ideology that inspired this union vote is revealing, particularly if we look at the rhetoric of one of the resolution’s authors, the self-proclaimed Socialist activist, Alex Schmaus, a middle school instructional aide and UESF organizer. Writing on a “socialist project” website, Tempest, Schmaus described the union’s vote and revealed that, at least in his mind, Israel is an illegitimate state to begin with and that Palestinian terrorism, so-called “resistance,” is a justifiable reaction to occupation. “There was the explosion of demonstrations in occupied Palestine,” Schmaus wrote, “the uprisings within the parts of Palestine that Israel seized in 1948 [emphasis added], and massive demonstrations in solidarity around the world . . . The union activists wanted to take a lead from an inspiring expression of Palestinian resistance that was opening up new paths of struggle,” in other words, that Hamas’s terrorism did not constitute war crimes and violations of the Geneva Conventions which prohibit the targeting of civilians and non-military personnel, but were, according Schmaus and his fellow travelers, “. . . heroic resistance [that] was exposing the racist nature and daily violent practice of Israeli apartheid, forcing a change in consciousness around the world. Now was the time for full-throated expressions of solidarity.”
That teachers of elementary and high school students publicly defend terrorists, denounce a sovereign, democratic state defending itself, and celebrate the murder of Jews through “resistance” seems especially troubling, particularly when the union has been visibly silent about famines, civil war, gender apartheid, human rights offenses, and other suffering in many other countries they could have chosen as the object of their condemnation.
Not to be outdone by its union brethren further north, chapter chairs of the United Teachers Los Angeles, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the second largest teacher’s union in the country, also voted overwhelmingly in May in support of a statement, almost identical to the San Francisco version, that expressed its “solidarity with the Palestinian people and call for Israel to end bombardment of Gaza and stop displacement at Sheikh Jarrah . . , [called] on the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to stop aid to Israel [and endorsed] the international campaign for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against apartheid in Israel.”
The language of the UTLA resolution is characteristically unctuous and one-sided, expressing “solidarity with the Palestinian people and [a] call for Israel to end bombardment of Gaza and stop displacement at Sheikh Jarrah.” Sheikh Jarrah, of course, is the neighborhood where Arab squatters have been living in Jewish-owned property for years, some paying no rent at all, but instead of looking at this as a landlord/tenant property dispute to be decided in a court—as it would if it was happening anywhere else in the world except Jerusalem and if the owners were not Jewish and the tenants Arab—the union, and Israel critics elsewhere, have seen the imminent and lawful evictions as part of Israel’s ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians and emblematic of Israel’s oppressive behavior of towards its Arab neighbors. Contrary to the language of the resolution, however, Israel’s government is not involved in the property disputes at all, and only in the mind of Israel’s ideological foes are the evictions representative of any injustice. In fact, Jewish owners are the actual victims here, not the Arab residents who are illegally occupying the properties.
It is interesting how elementary school teachers, or English and anthropology professors, or queer studies majors, or student activists—many with no actual knowledge of the history of Israel and its neighbors—feel free to make uncompromising determinations about Israel’s acceptable behavior and give unwelcomed and unrequested advice concerning Israel’s diplomatic, military, legal, and political activity—frequently with no context or actual facts. The current legal dispute about the Sheikh Jarrah properties is the perfect example, especially since it is referred to as an example of Israel’s perfidy in many of the anti-Israel statements circulated since the current Gaza conflict.
Critics claim that the prospective evictions are tantamount to the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem by ethno-nationalist settlers, but this is both a misreading of the law and an intentional distortion of what is an entirely legal process on behalf of Jewish property owners. In a paper entitled “Understanding the Current Sheikh Jarrah (Jerusalem) Property Dispute,” for instance, Professor Avi Bell noted that “Contrary to the claims of the critics, permitting private Jewish landowners to exercise their rights in court does not constitute ‘illegal settlement activity.’ No reasonable interpretation of the various provision of the Geneva Conventions and other treaties cited with respect to the legal dispute on ‘settlements’ could possibly lead to the conclusion that international law requires stripping Jews of all private property rights in land in areas that critics of Israel call ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories.’ While critics of Israel like to pretend that international law forbids Jews to reside in any lands claimed as part of the ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories,’ that claim has no foundation in international law.”
But when Israel is involved, ideology is what matters, not facts, just as lying about facts serves as a way to justify Hamas’s aggression and terrorism against Jewish civilians. According to the union’s defective resolution, Israel’s “pattern and practice of dispossession and expansion of settlements has been found to be illegal under international law” and “In response to Palestinian demonstrations against these illegal practices and the forcible displacement of families in Sheikh Jarrah, Israeli police attacked demonstrations in many instances, injuring hundreds including a raid on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a place of worship.” There, of course, is no mention of thousands of Hamas rockets targeting Jewish neighborhoods, no mention of violent demonstrations and rioting on the Temple Mount where Arabs, on their supposed third-holiest site, hurled rocks at Jewish visitors to the site. There is no mention of the incendiary kites and balloons, the knife intifada, the ramming of Jewish pedestrians by Arab sociopaths, no mention of any Arab aggression, truculence, “Days of Rage,” and the unrelenting campaign to drive Jews into the sea and destroy the Jewish state. There is no context or historical background to any of the union’s accusations and condemnations, and its selective outrage over the actions of Israel—while ignoring a host of conflicts and human rights crises elsewhere around the world raises the obvious question of why the Jewish state, and always the Jewish state, is singled out for opprobrium and condemnation.
California teachers have also been embroiled in a contentious five-year process by which the state created its ethnic studies curriculum to serve as a way of indoctrinating students on aspects of critical race theory and how, allegedly, systems of oppression serve to maintain a white power structure over oppressed people of color. Jewish critics of the proposed curriculum, and there have been many of them (with some 100,000 public comments being submitted during the drafting of different versions of the curriculum) were particularly alarmed that the Jewish experience was ignored in the initial drafts and that rather than being presented as an oppressed minority themselves, Jews were said to enjoy white privilege and, therefore, part of the white hierarchy which has social, economic, and political control over people of color.
Judea Pearl, UCLA professor and the father of beheaded journalist Daniel Pearl, understood that the proposed curriculum, by conflating Jewishness with whiteness, transformed Jews from victims into victimizers. By extension, the Jewish state became an oppressive colonial occupier of people of color, and Pearl was “particularly alarmed by its attempt to depict inter-ethnic relationships as an irreconcilable struggle between racially-defined ‘oppressed and oppressors’ and by the way it associates ‘whiteness’ with ‘oppression’ and ‘colonialism.’” Moreover, lesson plans in the ethnic studies curriculum involve promoting the BDS movement as part of solidarity with oppressed people and the liberation of colonized lands and often promote the perception of Israel being an example of an oppressive regime and imperialist power.
As has happened with other academic organizations, unions, and student governments, a few radicals within the respective organizations often push for extreme actions, including statements and resolutions denouncing the Jewish state and calling for further sanctions and punishment of Israel. That public school teachers are so biased and one-sided against Israel, and that their attitudes are based on falsehoods, lies, contortions of history and fact, analysis without context, and, often, what appears to be rank anti-Semitism itself, should frighten us all.