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”.
As more evidence that maligning and seeking to weaken and destroy Israel is still common behavior on American college campuses, the student government of Pomona College successfully pushed through a resolution that would compel student clubs to participate in a boycott of targeted companies doing business with Israel. Claremont Colleges Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Claremont Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) sponsored the odious bill and the Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) passed the resolution aimed at “divesting all ASPC funds from companies complicit in the occupation of Palestine, and banning future use of funds towards such companies.”
The resolution, revealingly named “Banning the Use of ASPC Funding to Support the Occupation of Palestine,” was not unique in targeting the Jewish state for divestment and boycott; other campuses have pushed through resolutions that call on their respective university administrations to divest from holdings in companies that do business with Israel or which somehow are “complicit in the occupation of Palestine.” When those student efforts to push for divestment are passed, university administrators have regularly rejected the demands, claiming, rightly, that such boycotts and targeted divestment are inconsistent with university policies and moral behavior by focusing solely on Israel.
The Pomona divestment bill, however, took the novel and troubling step of focusing the divestment on student funds for the college’s various student organizations, thereby sidestepping the inconvenient step of convincing administrators that seeking to punish Israel, and Israel alone, is a sound or reasonable policy in the first place.
This bill put the divestment activities in the hands of the students themselves so that the ASPC “will change its internal spending habits . . . by stopping . . . spending on items that knowingly support the Israeli occupation of Palestine or contributes to any companies on the . . . United Nations list . . . [of] companies involved in the creation of illegal Israeli settlements ‘in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan.’”
It is one thing for student governments to vote on and introduce resolutions that concern matters directly related to their college experience—tuition rates, grading, teacher evaluations, policies on guest speakers, confronting on-campus hate crimes and vandalism, even academic freedom and free speech. But when student leaders attempt to deal with matters extraneous to their universities, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and then force only one view of that conflict on all students, and insist that that view is absolute and inviolable, there is a danger that they not only overstep the purpose and intent of student government, but they also enforce a rigid, one-sided policy that is certain to offend and ignore the rights of certain students—in this case, Jewish and other pro-Israel students.
In a press release it issued after the resolution was passed, SJP used the typical mendacious language that animates the anti-Israel crowd, bragging that “Claremont SJP, alongside Claremont Jewish Voice for Peace, introduced this resolution to stand in material and ideological solidarity with Palestinians struggling for their freedom from Israeli apartheid, occupation, and oppression.” The participation of the noxious group Jewish Voice for Peace helps provide cover for other anti-Israel groups like SJP by promoting its seeming Jewish identity, even though its opinions about Israel and the Arab Palestinians mirrors those of Israel’s other ideological foes, and the “peace” they purportedly seek is one in which Israel as a sovereign state ceases to exist, with Israel either dismantled or Jews living as second-class citizens in a new, bi-national state.
SJP and JVP may contend that they are standing in solidarity with the Palestinians who struggle “for their freedom from Israeli apartheid, occupation, and oppression,” but these charges against the Jewish state are habitual untruths and completely ignore the complicity the Palestinians have in creating the circumstances in which they currently live. The apartheid slander, for one, is a lie, even though, for example, it was the primary focus of the recently released and roundly-denounced Human Rights Watch report on Israel, in which this other Israel-hating organization perpetuated the apartheid myth as a way of framing the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as a matter of race.
The authors of the resolution also suggest that they seek “total divestment from the Israeli occupation of Palestine,” another contortion of fact and history. There is certainly no so-called “occupation of Palestine” currently in place, unless one assumes that the area that now comprises Israel proper is itself occupied, in which case it is clear that the enemies of Israel are not actually seeking a new Palestinian state “living side-by-side Israel in peace,” the phrase promiscuously thrown about, but a sovereign Muslim state that would extirpate Israel completely.
The SJP release also suggested that its resolution “is an important first step in reducing our complicity with a country that maintains an illegal military occupation and regularly commits crimes against humanity against the indigenous Palestinian population,” again propagating a series of untruths that form the basis of their ideology and activism. Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria, the area referred to as the West Bank, is the result of its victory in a defensive war in 1967, so legal experts have repeatedly affirmed that there is nothing illegal about a Jewish presence in territories to which the Jewish state has legal, historical, biblical, and other binding and valid claims.
And in their Manichean view that Israel is a brutal oppressor and the ever-suffering Palestinians are an innocent indigenous people, SJP conveniently ignores the reality of Arab aggression and the unrelenting attempts over decades by homicidal psychopaths to murder Jews with knives, cars, guns, rockets, and explosive suicide vests. Of course, in the BDS campaign, no mention is ever made of Arab terror and incitement against the Jewish state. No suggestions are made to the Palestinians that they recognize Israel and make efforts to build their state without further incitement and repeated rejection of peace offers.
Resolutions like the Pomona one, more relevantly, ignore the fact that by attempting to weaken and destroy firms doing business in Judea and Samaria—either owned by Jews or selling to them—boycotts often have the perverse unintended side-effect of hurting those Palestinians who work in those companies and who often enjoy pay scales and benefits not available to them in Arab-owned businesses.
So, as has been obvious to any sentient observer, the BDS movement is not actually concerned with the well-being of the Palestinians at all. Those who promote boycotts, as was the case when the Arab League instituted a punitive boycott against the nascent Jewish state in 1948, do so with the intent, not of changing Israel’s behavior, but to cripple and weaken Israel with the ultimate goal of destroying it.
That is precisely why the Pomona resolution is so troubling, and why the notion that every student group at the college must accept and support the boycott is so unreasonable. Pomona’s SJP and JVP have no right to appoint themselves the thought police, and they do the college a great disservice by setting themselves up as the arbiters of truth and compelling other student groups to adopt their views, particularly when, in fact, they are toxic extremists with a bigoted, libelous, and often historically and factually inaccurate view of the Middle East.
On April 30th, after facing considerable push-back for the ill-advised resolution, the ASPC conducted a Zoom meeting in which members debated the intent and effect of the resolution, focusing on the final clause of the bill which exposed the malignancy of the resolution. Not content to push this toxic resolution only on its own campus, the radical sponsors stated that “ASPC calls upon the other Claremont Colleges Student Government Associations to follow suit, with the end goal of an ultimate adoption of a Consortium-wide agreement to ban clubs from using student government allocations to invest in or purchase goods or services from companies that contribute to the settlement and occupation of Palestinian occupied territories by the UN-designated companies or the Israeli state.”
And, SJP and JVP instructed, compliance with the boycott would not be optional. “Clubs that fail to divest and/or refrain from such uses of funding,” the resolution demanded, “would face the loss of all Claremont Colleges Student Government Association funds.”
So, Jewish student groups, some of which may well support Israel and would feel discomfort in participating in a boycott against companies doing business with the Jewish state or in the disputed territories, would potentially jeopardize their group’s funding if they refused to become economic enemies of Israel.
This is clearly unreasonable and unjust, just as it would be if a similar resolution were passed by activist students which made it mandatory to denounce and attack the Black Lives Matter organization because of their virulent hatred of law enforcement, their Marxist ideology, their anti-Semitic rhetoric and beliefs, and the violence and civil unrest they caused in American cities after the death of George Floyd. Would black student groups feel comfortable if their funding became contingent upon rejecting the BLM movement? Would it be just if one group of students, those holding the view that BLM was a toxic, unproductive, and dangerous group, mandated for all other students at Pomona that they must withhold support for a group which, although it has detractors, has gained wide support as a central part of the movement for racial justice?
It is obvious that the Pomona resolution is one-sided and is unfairly and inaccurately biased against Israel. And the student groups who would be targeted by the resolution, and who would suffer as a result of their likely non-compliance, are Jewish groups. That reality was made clear by Janie Marcus, a member of the Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance, a pro-Israel student group, when she correctly observed that the resolution “marginalizes Jewish students who view Israel as the Jewish homeland and directly targets these Jewish students.”
The sententious activists fueling this ideological bullying may well feel that they have access to all the truth and facts, but even if this were true—which it demonstrably and regularly is not—it certainly does not empower them with the right to have the only voice and to then force their ideology on all other students with a mandatory boycott against Israel. No one individual or group has the moral authority or intellectual might to decide what may and may not be discussed, and especially young, sanctimonious students—whose expertise and knowledge about the Middle East, as noted, is frequently characterized by distortions, lies, lack of context, corrosive bias against Israel, and errors in history and fact.
University officials regularly proclaim that they have a “commitment to the principles of freedom of inquiry, freedom of speech and freedom of association.” But that empty exhortation has shown itself, repeatedly, to be, at best, disingenuous, and, at worst, a masking of the true intention of campus radicals, such as those pushing the Pomona resolution: enabling favored victim groups to utter vitriol and libel against Israel and Jews, with the pretense that they have somehow encouraged intellectual debate and productive political discussion. This is not rigorous debate and dialogue at all; it is Jew-hatred dressed up in academic clothes.
And making Jewish students conform to this bigotry by forcing them to disavow Israel is an unreasonable and unjust tactic in the cognitive war against Israel by the Jewish state’s ideological foes.