What Being Pro-Palestinian Really Means
Campus activism for Palestinian self-determination has never been about statehood.
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.
Writing in 2009 about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the insightful Palestinian/Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh observed that, “What is happening on the U.S. campuses is not about supporting the Palestinians as much as it is about promoting hatred for the Jewish state. It is not really about ending the ‘occupation,’” he wrote, “as much as it is about ending the existence of Israel.”
And that is what those who observe the campus activism against Israel have never fully understood: that being pro-Palestinian, by definition, means being anti-Israel.
It does not involve urging the Palestinian leadership to come to terms with Israel about long unsettled negotiation points about borders, Jerusalem, the return of refugees, and other key issues. It has never involved advising Palestinians to abandon terror, or so-called “resistance,” as a tactic for advancing political ambitions.
Those helping to promote Palestinian self-determination have not been firm in suggesting that Palestinian leaders and other officials end incitement, stop the indoctrination of children in textbooks and lesson plans that demonize Israel and Jews and teach children to look at the Jewish state as an abomination, an illegal regime, a perverse example of the malignancy of Jews who steal land, commit genocide, and oppress an innocent indigenous people.
Supporters of the Palestinians have not advised Palestinian leaders to abandon their unrealistic, maximalist ambitions where the fictional Palestine that Israel’s foes always refer to will be reborn—from the River to the Sea—in place of Israel, with the Palestinians the majority rulers of a dhimmi minority of Jews.
The Palestinians have never been told by their supporters that it is morally repugnant and diplomatically lethal to engage in a “pay to slay” program through which terrorists and their families were financially rewarded with $183 million in 2017, for example, garnered from foreign aid heaped on the Palestinians, purportedly for humanitarian aid.
No one has written a constitution for the new Palestinian state, brought together Fatah and Hamas to form a recognized ruling party, and urged Palestinian leaders to sit at the negotiation table with Israel to facilitate the creation of their new state.
In fact, based on their actions over decades of debate and negotiation, it seems very clear that the two-state solution is something the Palestinians can neither conceive of nor even appear to want. And the notion of “two states living sides by side in peace,” as the oft-repeated refrain goes, is, and always has been, of complete irrelevance to the Arabs. The creation of a new Arab state is not the sought-after goal; what is the actual goal is the extirpation of the Jewish one.
In debating the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict, social justice activists, of course, demonstrate their hypocrisy by endlessly dwelling on the many evils of Israel without bothering to examine or measure the Palestinians’ own central role in contributing to the many pathologies endemic to their civil society and institutions. Like many Western elites do when choosing sides, social justice warriors infantilize the Palestinian victim and assume he has no agency to ameliorate his own conditions.
In reality, pro-Palestinian activists seem to care very little about the actual self-determination and state building of the hapless Palestinians. As is frequently the case when speaking about the Israeli/Arab conflict, the discussion often glosses over the real problems of Palestinian culture, politics, and society (including its cult of death, terrorism, and martyrdom), and targets all criticism on the perceived defects of Israel, Zionism, and Jewish power. This is a clear example of another underlying factor in the social justice effort, the soft bigotry of low Palestinian expectations.
Many academics in the humanities and social sciences, including activists as disparate as Black Lives Matter, Students for Justice in Palestine, and the National Association of Women’s Studies, increasingly find a linkage as they seek to affirm the rights of the victimized and name the villains responsible for this oppression—foremost among them, Israel.
The more that seemingly unrelated instances of oppression can be conflated, it is thought, the greater the ability to confront these oppressors and dilute the negative effect they have on their specific victims and on society at large. This trend has been called “intersectionality,” and it has meant that someone who is a gender studies professor, or queer theorist, or American studies expert can, with no actual knowledge or expertise about the Middle East, readily pontificate on the many social pathologies of which he or she accuses Israel, based on its perceived role as a racist, imperialist, colonial oppressor of an innocent indigenous population of Arab victims. For social justice warriors, to know one victim group is to know any victim group—with Israel being a tempting and habitual target of their opprobrium.
That has meant, as one vexatious example, that the notoriously anti-Israel Jewish Voice for Peace, working in concert with Students for Justice in Palestine and other campus radicals, have promoted the mendacious “Deadly Exchange” lie which accuses Israel of being complicit in promoting racist violence in the United States by training police officers on how to arrest and neutralize black suspects, using the techniques and procedures gleaned from their long oppression of Palestinians. So, the brutality, racism, and cruelty of Israel is so malignant and powerful that it negatively affects blacks in America and the intersectional circle of oppression is closed in this perverse narrative.
When they 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 they frequently chant about in their demonstrations). They may well “seek freedom, justice and equality” for the long-aggrieved Palestinians, but it is very evident to any sentient observer that their concern for justice and equity does not extend to Jews living in Israel, since if the 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 newest Arab state, and an independent Jewish democracy would evaporate in activists’ toxic dream of autonomous Arab sovereignty for the Palestinians.
Pro-Palestinian radicals are quick to critique the strategy and tactics of their ideological opponents who support the Jewish state but fail to notice that their behavior precisely mirrors that of the individuals who they 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,” Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Butler University whined about in a recent newspaper column, failing to notice that their speech, and that of their fellow travelers in the hate-Israel crowd, is not being suppressed at all, merely answered back by those with alternate, pro-Israel views. It would be very convenient for them, of course, to not have to defend their poisonous ideology and their relentless — and baseless — slanders against Israel, and if they want to engage in serious and productive debate about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, then they will have to come to the table equipped to use facts, reason, and history to support their arguments, something which they are rarely inclined to do.
Victim groups on campus, including the pro-Palestinians, claim that they join forces to fight for justice, equity, and liberation, that, as SJP disingenuously claimed, “The fight against anti-Semitism must be linked to the wider fight against oppression — including the fight against Palestinian oppression.” But it is the pro-Palestinians who are singularly responsible for the majority of hostility on campuses today, not some other, vaguely defined and mostly invisible group of white supremacists, fascists, or right-wing lunatics that haunt the liberal mind.
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 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.
Equally serious was the report’s findings that SJP’s presence resulted in “incidents of Israel-related anti-Semitic harassment increase[ing] 70%.” And, based on SJP’s obsession with calls to boycott only Israel and suppress any and all dialogue in support of Israel, Zionism, or Jews—SJP’s actions on campuses have the end effect that “attempts to exclude Jewish and pro-Israel students from campus activities more than doubled, with expression calling for the total boycott or exclusion of pro-Israel students from campus life nearly tripling.”
So when, with not a bit of self-awareness or embarrassment, pro-Palestinians accuse the administration of being a sinister cabal of Zionist reprobates intent on promulgating racist policies for the good of Israel and to the detriment of good people like themselves (people who deserve, among other benefits, education without cost); when they call for the elimination of the world’s single Jewish sovereignty and Middle East’s only functioning democracy; and when they ghoulishly and malignantly shriek, “Intifada, Intifada, long live Intifada” and “There is only one solution: Intifada revolution!,” an unambiguous call for the murder of Jews at the hands of psychopathic terrorists, they should stop being indignant when they are accused of being actually antisemitic, despite the fact that their rhetoric is draped in the language of so-called “social justice.”
Since its founding in 1993, SJP has had a long history of bringing vitriolic anti-Israel speakers to their respective campuses (now numbering some 200 with chapters), and for such collateral activities as sponsoring the pernicious Israeli Apartheid Weeks, building mock “apartheid walls,” and sending mock eviction notices to Jewish students in their dorms to demonize Israel and create empathy for the Palestinian Arab cause.
SJP has a record on campuses nationwide of a pattern of radicalism, misbehavior, toxic speech, and regular instances of overtly antisemitic behavior. AMCHA reports also “indicate a significant increase in actions which directly harm or threaten Jewish students, including physical and verbal assaults, destruction of property, harassment discrimination and suppression of speech, at schools with an SJP or similar anti-Zionist chapter.”
At the University of Toronto, Scarborough, anti-Israel students voted to forbid Kosher food on campus unless the suppliers disavowed support for Israel. CUNY law students just introduced a resolution condemning Birthright trips to Israel, as well as Stand With Us, Hillel, and other Jewish, pro-Israel groups as dangerous and destructive and wishes them purged from campus, along with any Zionist ideology or support for the Jewish state.
At McGill, based on their spurious charges that Israel is a colonial, apartheid, racist regime engaged in ethnic cleansing, land theft, and an ongoing genocide of an indigenous people, anti-Israel groups and individuals outrageously petitioned the administration that, in light of these accusations, any pro-Israel ideology or expression on campus should henceforth be considered to be hate speech, or as they defined it, “violent, hateful, and harmful speech.” And to ensure that scholars in Israel are cut off from cooperative research and study between universities, including McGill, these woke and most tolerant activists demanded that the University “cut its ties with . . . Israeli education institutions that seek to normalize the atrocities committed by the illegal state of Israel, specifically through their partnerships with Tel Aviv University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.”
And while Zionism, Jewish self-determination, is under attack on campuses across the country and in Canada, pro-Palestinian activists, nevertheless, claim that their hostility towards Zionism has nothing to do with anti-Semitism and their loathing of the world’s only Jewish state has nothing to do with Jew-hatred.
That these campus activists are willing, and ready, to sacrifice the Jewish state, and Jewish lives, in the name of social justice and a specious campaign of self-determination by Palestinian Arabs, shows how morally corrupt and deadly the conversation about human rights has become.
And that their dangerous and toxic activism is often genocidal in promoting the destruction of the Middle East’s only democracy, this odious campaign for social justice social should frighten us all.