On a November night in 2004, almost four hundred students at Columbia University sat crowded into the theater of the University's Lerner Hall to watch a troubling 25-minute film that was finally being released to the public, "Columbia Unbecoming," produced by Dr. Charles Jacobs and Avi Goldwasser. The film, which exposed instances of student intimidation at the hands of some professors in Columbia's department of Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Culture (MEALAC), was shocking, and revealed what many had already suspected about Columbia's program—and other Middle East studies programs elsewhere: that under the veneer of purported scholarship and high-minded academic goals, there had developed a hothouse of intellectual rot, an entire area of academic study guided by what Middle East scholar Martin Kramer has called "tenured incompetents."
In the twelve years since the release of the Columbia-focused film, of course, the situation on campuses across the country has worsened significantly concerning the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and not only as a result of distorted and pseudo-academic scholarship by anti-Israel, anti-Western faculty. Now, as part of the toxic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, student activism is driving the cognitive war against Israel, with the major portion of that activity orchestrated and imposed on campuses by the virulent student group, Students For Justice in Palestine (SJP).
Witnessing the increasing ferocity and incidence of anti-Israel, anti-Semitic radicalism on U.S. campuses, Jacobs and Goldwasser, from Americans For Peace and Tolerance, have now produced another film, "Hate Spaces: The Politics of Intolerance on Campus," in which they reveal not only the motives and dark mission of SJP, but also provide a shocking view of the tactical assaults on pro-Israel students and faculty, and an unrelenting enmity by campus radicals against Zionism, Israel, the so-called "Israel Lobby," Jewish control of the media, and American complicity in the occupation and oppression of the perennially-victimized Palestinians.
As "Hate Spaces" chronicles, SJP has a long history since its founding in 1993 of bringing vitriolic anti-Israel speakers to their respective campuses (now numbering over 200 with chapters), and for sponsoring the pernicious Israeli Apartheid Weeks, building "apartheid walls," and sending mock eviction notices to Jewish students in their dorms to help them demonize Israel and empathize with the Palestinian cause. And SJP members apparently wish to live in a world where only their 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 these enlightened students do is a racist, an oppressor, or a supporter of an illegal, apartheid regime trampling the human rights of the blameless, hapless Palestinians.
Of course, this vituperative activism has not gone unnoticed by pro-Israel groups and individuals on campus, even resulting in SJP chapters being suspended for their errant behavior, as happened in 2014 at Northeastern University, as one example, after "a series of violations, which included vandalizing university property, disrupting another group's event, failure to write a civility statement, and distributing flyers without permission."
In general, however, SJP has been unimpeded in spreading its calumnies against Israel, fending off any criticism of their invective as attacks on the rights of free expression and academic freedom. The problem for SJP, unfortunately, is that while they are perfectly content to propel a mendacious campaign of anti-Israel libels, and base their analysis of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict on falsehoods, distortions, and a false reading of history and fact, so certain are they of their moral authority that they will never countenance any views—even facts as opposed to opinions—which contradict their hateful political agenda.
Students for Justice in Palestine, use the victim mantle to shield their actions from self-examination, feeling that, as representatives of the dispossessed and perennially-oppressed Palestinians, they can adopt any tactic to campaign against Israel, Zionism, occupation, and purported Israeli apartheid. That has meant that at several campuses in the CUNY system this month, for example, SJP used the November, 2015 Million Student March, a nationwide student demonstration for free public college tuition, to also slander Israel and Jews. The protest, advertised on Facebook by "NYC Students for Justice in Palestine" and other affiliate groups, ascribed, using the tropes of classic anti-Semitism, the financial situation at CUNY to its "Zionist administration [that] invests in Israeli companies, companies that support the Israeli occupation, hosts birthright programs and study abroad programs in occupied Palestine, and reproduces settler-colonial ideology ... through Zionist content of education... [aiming] to produce the next generation of professional Zionists." At Hunter College and Baruch College, screams from SJP protestors included such slurs as "Zionists out of CUNY," "Pigs," charges of racism, allegations that CUNY supports the IDF, and a call for another Intifada.
As the "Hate Spaces" reveals, the purported intent of SJP is to achieve social justice for the victimized Palestinians and help them achieve statehood; but a look at a strategy memo from the Muslim Brotherhood reveals a far more sinister and pernicious tactical purpose for the creation of SJP, as well as the Muslim Student Association (MSA), another campus group with similar aims and tactics. During the 2007 trial by the Justice Department against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), which was accused of being a front used to channel funds to Hamas and other terrorist organizations, an interesting 1991 document by Brotherhood tactician Mohamed Akram, for the Shura Council of the Muslim Brotherhood, was offered as evidence. In it, the true intent of the Brotherhood was exposed as being a subtle, gradual process of subversion, and members were advised of an overarching strategic objective to their movement: they "must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and 'sabotaging' its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God's religion is made victorious over all other religions."
SJP communications are now frequently defined by the baleful whining of these ideological bullies intent on having only their views aired while suppressing the contradictory views of others. In fact, a leaked memorandum from the Binghamton University SJP chapter revealed that members would be required to never even engage in dialogue with pro-Israel groups on their campus, and they would be prohibited from "engaging in any form of official collaboration, cooperation, or event co-sponsorship with [pro-Israel] student organizations and groups, due to their unyielding support for the Apartheid State of Israel."
And because they cannot win an honest, open ideological debate about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict because they deal solely in untruths, false history, and misrepresentations (Israeli apartheid, as the central example), SJP has characteristically tried to insure that no pro-Israel voices are heard, either by disrupting or shutting down pro-Israel events and speakers or urging administrators to disinvite speakers they deem to be Islamophobic, too pro-Israel, or critical of their own tactics and activism. Accomplishing that, the memo continued, should include "Political theater to protest the event, engaging in non-violent disruption of the event, or any other tactic deemed appropriate by the attending members not including violence."
The film includes observations from a number of experts who follow the cognitive war against Israel and Jews, and who are on the front lines in writing and speaking about the toxic BDS campaign. These include the Brandeis Center's Kenneth Marcus; journalists Melanie Phillips, Bret Stephens, and Caroline Glick; BU's Richard Landes; Cornell's William Jacobson; Harvard's emeritus law professor Alan Dershowitz; ZOA's Susan Tuchman, and others, all of whom make it very clear that while universities have always claimed to be dedicated to encouraging vigorous debate and dialogue by letting SJP to mount annual hate-fests to demonize and vilify Israel and Jews, SJP has effectively hijacked most discussion of the Middle East on campus. In fact, however, these so-called pro-Palestinians 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, Jew-hatred, and yearning for martyrdom through the murder of Jews), and targets all criticism on the perceived defects of Israel, principal among them Zionism, imperialism, occupation, and settler colonialism.
Concern for the long-suffering Palestinians may be a commendable effort, but SJP's caustic activism and demonization of pro-Israel supporters as a tool for seeking social justice for that one group "represents a profound betrayal of the cardinal principle of intellectual endeavor," observed commentator Melanie Phillips, "which is freedom of speech and debate," something universities should never stop diligently defending.
Richard L. Cravatts, PhD, President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of the new book, Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.