An Open Letter to Butler University’s Students for Justice in Palestine and the Group’s Fellow Travelers

Butler's time to look in the mirror.

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.

Your group, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), has a long history since its founding in 1993 of bringing vitriolic anti-Israel speakers to their respective campuses.

And your recent invitation to the Marxist, former Black Panther, Angela Davis (pictured above), a supporter of the destructive Boycott Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, to speak at Butler affirms your group’s radicalism and its history of creating a hostile climate on whatever campus you have a chapter. SJP members apparently wish to live in a world where only your predetermined virtues and worldview prevail, and feel quite strongly that, in the case of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, at least, the answers are black and white, there is a moral side and an immoral side, and that anyone who does not, or cannot, see things as clearly and unambiguously as you woke students do is a racist, an oppressor, or a supporter of an illegal, apartheid regime trampling the human rights of the blameless, hapless Palestinians.

Your former president at Butler even promoted conspiracy theories about a Zionist cabal working behind the scenes to have the Angela Davis speech canceled. “Days before Butler University’s shameless censorship of Angela Davis,” wrote Roua Daas, the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the Student Government Association at Butler University, “the Student Government Association was bombarded by pressure from Zionist students [emphasis added] who claimed to oppose Davis’ event because of her support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement — a grassroots demand for nonviolent economic pressure against Israel’s illegal military occupation of Palestine.”

In her letter in the Butler Collegian, Daas wrote that “This is not the first time this school year that these students [emphasis added] have attempted to silence free speech and prevent political events on campus,” continuing her denigration of Zionists on the Butler campus. “Many will recall failed attempts this past fall to use student senate resolutions to cancel student organization events and place limits on topics that could be discussed,” she added, referring to the debate on campus last fall over the adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. 

“This is also not the first time that Zionists have attempted to deplatform Angela Davis for her supportive stance on Palestine,” Daas added, and “institutions which silence the voices of Black radicals such as Davis are complicit in the systems of racism and oppression which hurt BIPOC people within and beyond Butler University.”

Apparently, it is irresistible for SJP to avoid inviting controversial speakers to speak against Israel, even murderers, as long as they are willing and able to defame Israel, attack Zionism, point to the alleged racism of the Jewish state, and find common ground of oppression between the Palestinians and people of color on campus and elsewhere.

Last fall, as one example, Professor Rabab Abdulhadi, director of SFSU’s Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies (AMED) program, the virulent, Israel-hating professor who, among other slurs, referred to Zionists as white nationalists during a 2019 UCLA lecture, was embroiled in a similar controversy for a virtual speaking appearance, to have been held on September 23rd, by Leila Khaled, a terrorist in the Popular Front for  the Liberation of Palestine, whose resume includes her role in the 1969 hijacking of an Israel-bound plane and her arrest the following year during a failed hijacking of an El Al flight. Like Angela Davis, Khaled is a lightning rod of controversy, and if it were not for the fact that each of these morally-compromised sociopaths despises Israel and uses every opportunity to publicly slander and foment hatred towards it, your group would never welcome them as invited guests to your campus.

In general, SJP has been unimpeded in spreading its calumnies against Israel, fending off any criticism of your invective as attacks on the rights of free expression and academic freedom. The problem for SJP, unfortunately, is that while you are perfectly content to propel a mendacious campaign of anti-Israel libels, and base your analysis of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict on falsehoods, distortions, and a false reading of history and fact, so certain are you of your moral authority that you will never countenance any views—even facts as opposed to opinions—which contradict your hateful political agenda.

The reason is not, as you would like to believe, that “white” Israelis are oppressing “colored,” perennially-victimized Palestinians and walling them out based on their race. In your Manichean world view that is a familiar, though defective, way to frame the issue.  

Your own obsession with the human rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people, and your oft-repeated comments that you seek justice for the Palestinians alone, indicates that you and your fellow activists have already decided which people in the Middle East are deserving and which are not. True justice would be justice for Israelis and Palestinians alike, each with sovereign nations living “side by side in peace,” but that is not your concern at all. Your evident contempt for Israel’s right to self-determination, or even its right to protect the lives of its citizens demonstrates quite clearly that the safety and human rights of Jews are irrelevant to your world view in which the only individuals deserving of justice are those who you and other “progressives” define as victims, including your favorite Third World victim of the moment, the Palestinians.

You also never tire of claiming to be the victim of the very people you continually malign—those who support Israel. You sponsor yearly Israeli Apartheid Weeks, build mock apartheid walls, invite vitriolic speakers to your campus, and promote divestment and boycott resolutions in your student governments on a regular basis, and yet you feel that you are the victims of oppressive Zionist forces intent on silencing your simple “criticism of Israel.” During the IHRA debate at Butler, for instance, you wrote that you had “seen countless attempts to silence Palestinians from speaking about their oppression . . ,  an attempt to suppress the free speech of Palestinians . . . [and an] ongoing defamation of Palestinian students and their allies through false accusations of anti-Semitism.”  

You are quick to critique the strategy and tactics of your ideological opponents who support the Jewish state but fail to notice that your behavior precisely mirrors that of the individuals who you denounce. “This strategy of personal attacks, defamation and the suppression of free speech is one that is being used by Zionist organizations on campuses across the country,” you wrote, failing to notice that your speech is not being suppressed at all, merely answered back by those with alternate, pro-Israel views. It would be very convenient for you to not have to defend your poisonous ideology and your relentless—and baseless—slanders against Israel, and if you want to engage in serious and productive debate about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, then you will have to come to the table equipped to use facts, reason, and history to support your arguments.

You also exhibit colossal narcissism by presupposing that every issue is about you, racism, and your ideology of oppression, and that efforts on the part of your ideological opponents—pro-Israel students, in this case—are not justifiable and reasonable responses to your relentless attacks on the Jewish state, that answering back to your calumnies with reasoned debate and argument are not so-called assaults on people of color (in which you conveniently include yourselves), but an expected response to your own activism.

Do you honestly think you can criticize the very existence of the Jewish state; condemn Zionism as a racist endeavor; question the very legitimacy of Israel; accuse it of being a colonial, racist oppressor of an indigenous people who are wholly innocent and who have been robbed of the culture and land; falsely accuse it of practicing apartheid; condemn every defensive action by the IDF in protecting Jewish citizens from terroristic attack as being crimes against humanity; allege that Jewish neighborhoods in Judea and Samaria, the biblical homeland of the Jews for which the area was even named, are illegal; that the residents of this area are “settlers,” not residents, who usurped Muslim land and now squat on territory that is not legally theirs and which remains a key obstacle to world peace; that militarily occupies Palestine and does so without any legal basis, further oppressing an indigenous, innocent people; that Israel destroys Palestinian houses, arrests its children, and periodically slaughters Arabs in unilateral genocides that have no justification and are brutally inflicted upon the Palestinian people—do you actually think you can assault pro-Israel students and faculty with this arsenal of lies and not elicit a vigorous response?

These and other calumnies are regularly heaped upon Israel and its supporters on campus, and they are not only vicious and cruel, but are all false claims, lies, distortions, and a misreading of history and fact.

You also had colossal temerity to reject adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, claiming that at Butler “the recent controversial SGA resolutions attempted to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.” It is very clear that since you and other Israel-haters continue to attack Zionism openly as a way of actually attacking Jews, any definition of anti-Semitic expression that includes the degradation and rejection of Zionism and the denial of Jewish self-determination as being modern-day examples of anti-Semitism is something you would immediately reject.

But bigots do not get to define the nature of the bigotry they inflict on their victims. Anti-Semites do not get to define anti-Semitism. Because the existence of Israel has given anti-Semites a convenient way to express hatred for Jews in a furtive, veiled way by hating the Jewish nation, contemporary examples of anti-Semitism must, and do, include examples of anti-Zionism as well as disproportionately severe and out-of-proportion focus on and hatred of Israel. Butler’s student government, as you know, voted on whether the IHRA definition should be adopted on campus, and SJP, of course, rejected such a plan, claiming that when supporters of the IHRA definition criticized your group, and others, for not adopting it, they did so, not in good faith, but only because they were trying “to weaponize a controversial and fallacious definition of anti-Semitism,” as well as “to condemn a nonviolent movement for freedom, justice and equality,” the way you describe the toxic BDS movement.

When you are honest, which is a rare occurrence, BDS supporters finally admit that their ultimate objective is the smashing of Zionism and the destruction of the Jewish state (the “Palestine will be free, from the River to the Sea” fantasy you frequently chant about in your demonstrations). You may well “seek freedom, justice and equality” for the long-aggrieved Palestinians, as you put it, but it is very evident to any sentient observer that your concern for justice and equity does not extend to Jews living in Israel, since if your BDS campaign were to be successful and Israel was extirpated in the name of Palestinian self-determination, those Jews who were not slaughtered during the destruction of their state would become second-class citizens in the twenty-third Arab state, and an independent Jewish democracy would evaporate in your toxic dream of autonomous Arab sovereignty for the Palestinians. 

You often frequently make the disingenuous, cynical claim that your organization actually cares about anti-Semitism, and that the IHRA definition deflects attention away from the true perpetrators of this hatred—white supremacists and other racists—and that a definition that accuses you of bigotry is counter-productive. “We know that all marginalized communities must work together in order to defeat white supremacy and bigotry,” you wrote in the Butler Collegian in an op-ed about the Angela Davis event.

“Falsely labeling those who are fighting for Palestinian liberation as anti-Semitic simultaneously harms Palestinians and stifles the fight against anti-Semitism itself,” you ridiculously claim. Why do you think that? Because you refuse to recognize that the main fomenter of anti-Semitic expression and behavior on campuses is not to be found coming from neo-Nazis, skinheads, or other fringe groups who you and others on the left have conjured up in your cauldron of white supremacy. It is coming from Middle East studies centers, leftist faculty, toxic student groups like SJP, Jewish Voice for Peace, IfNotNow, and others, and it is all centered on and focused on the issue of Israel and the Palestinians. The “new” anti-Semitism revolves around opposition to and ill-will towards the Jewish state. So, using the IHRA definition to identify instances of it does not, as you claimed, “redirects attention away from dismantling white supremacy and towards the vilification of people fighting for justice.” 

It would be very convenient if the hatred toward Zionism, Israel, and Jews were strictly emanating from your so-called white supremacists and all of your marginalized communities of color, all of your campus victim groups, could join forces and ferret out this hatred. You claimed that “The fight against anti-Semitism must be linked to the wider fight against oppression — including the fight against Palestinian oppression,” but it is the Palestinians and their supporters who are singularly responsible for the majority of hostility on campuses today, not some other, vaguely defined and most invisible group of right-wing nuts living in their mother’s basements.

In fact, as studies by the AMCHA Initiative, as one example, have shown, it is the presence of groups like SJP on campuses that is directly responsible for fomenting anti-Semitic expression and behavior on university campuses, not white supremacists. The AMCHA Initiative, a group that monitors more than 400 college campuses across the U.S. for anti-Semitic activity, revealed in its reports that “Schools with instances of student-produced anti-Zionist expression, including BDS promotion, are 7 times more likely to have incidents that targeted Jewish students for harm than schools with no evidence of students’ anti-Zionist expression and the more such anti-Zionist expression, the higher the likelihood of incidents involving anti-Jewish hostility,” meaning that BDS activism—by both your group and supportive faculty—spreads outward on a campus, tainting the overall environment for Jewish students who may or may not even be directly involved in the Israeli/Palestinian debate.

If your group and other supporters of the Palestinians truly are interested in addressing Jew-hatred on your campus, you might begin by looking in the mirror and seeing how your toxic activism is currently the main driver of the world’s oldest hatred.


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