The anti-Zionist – and sometimes also anti-Semitic – website Mondoweiss recently published a lengthy report by the site’s founder Philip Weiss about a meeting that took place at Vassar in early March. According to Weiss, the meeting had been scheduled by the school’s Committee on Inclusion and Excellence in order to discuss guidelines for activism after persistent protests by Vassar’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) against a trip to Israel planned by Vassar’s International Studies program.
Weiss began his report by quoting Jill Schneiderman, the professor who had apparently initiated the trip and who had mentioned the meeting in a post on her blog, where she wrote that she “was knocked off-center by a belligerent academic community dedicated to vilifying anyone who dares set foot in Israel.” Weiss confirmed that the meeting “was truly unsettling,” that “torrents of anger ripped through the gathering” and that “rage against Israel was the theme.” He contrasted this atmosphere favorably with the broad popular support for Israel in the US, asserting that it was very different at Vassar, where “the spirit of that young progressive space was that Israel is a blot on civilization, and boycott is right and necessary. If a student had gotten up and said, I love Israel, he or she would have been mocked and scorned into silence.”
But according to Weiss, Israel’s supporters should expect not just more of the same, but worse to come, because in his view, the “battles we’ve seen so far on campus are just preliminaries.” He predicted that “things are going to get much more belligerent” and asserted that “belligerence may be necessary to the resolution.”
At the end of his detailed report, Weiss offered something like a declaration of war:
“If the SJP students can be obnoxious, their manner is just what feminist Margaret Fuller saw in abolitionists during slavery: tedious, rabid, narrow, prone to exaggeration. And dedicated to a principle worth living and dying for.
Expect many more rage-filled meetings in years to come as the left is broken over this question. How long before students occupy administration buildings of liberal arts colleges that work with Israel? How long before students chain themselves to bulldozers at the Cornell-Technion project in New York city?”
According to Weiss, this militant conduct is also endorsed by BDS leader Omar Barghouti:
“That is what Omar Barghouti is saying to people in the middle now, Get out of the way. The intellectual labors are done, the activists are moving. The public square will increasingly belong to the warriors of both sides. And Vassar shows us clearly which side will win.”
This “war” rhetoric is also reflected in a new book by Ali Abunimah, another leading anti-Israel activist, who is currently touring the US to promote “The Battle for Justice in Palestine” which contains a chapter on “The War on Campus,” and his book tour includes numerous events on campuses.
To understand the growing militancy of anti-Israel activists it is useful to consider for a moment what it means when Weiss declares that the “intellectual labors are done.” In order to justify the targeting of Israel with campaigns calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS), anti-Israel activists have to exaggerate and magnify every failing of the Jewish state in ways that demonize Israel as an evil entity comparable to apartheid South Africa or even Nazi Germany. This demonization is also necessary in view of the fact that all leading BDS advocates insist that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state.
The inevitable result of this indoctrination by activists – and all too often also by professors who support the BDS agenda – is a radicalization of students. As professor Alan Johnson recently noted after an encounter with a group of BDS bullies at an Irish university:
“The real culprits are the anti-Israel intellectuals who are driving those students mad. They tell the students that Zionism is racism, while its creation, Israel, has ‘ethnically cleansed’ the Arabs, built an ‘apartheid state’ and is now carrying out a slow ‘genocide’ in Gaza. Stuff a young idealist’s head with that kind of rubbish and do not be surprised if the result is hatred and thuggery. […] The Nazi slogan was ‘the Jews are our misfortune.’ Today, too often, anti-Israel intellectuals are educating students to think that ‘Israel is our misfortune.’”
It is thus hardly surprising that SJP Vassar recently posted a tweet linking to a quote from an Al Jazeera article that influential commentator Jeffrey Goldbergdescribed as “one of the most anti-Jewish screeds in recent memory” when it was published in May 2013. To be sure, the article – entitled “The Last of the Semites” – was authored by Columbia University Professor Joseph Massad, but like some of his previous columns on Israel, it once again contained material that also appealed to the members of the neo-Nazi Internet forum Stormfront. It was also no coincidence that after Al Jazeera reacted to the outcry caused by Massad’s piece by removing it from its website, anyone who wanted to read “The Last of the Semites” could either find it on Stormfront or on Ali Abunimah’s blog at the Electronic Intifada. (Al Jazeera eventually re-published the piece together with a note from the editor stating that the media network had neither succumbed to any pressures when it pulled the piece nor when it decided to re-publish it.)
But as worrisome as the promotion of anti-Semitic tropes by anti-Israel activists is, it is hardly less worrisome that the BDS “war” on campus is ultimately also a war on rational discourse. The Massad quoteposted on the SJP Vassar tumblr page illustrates this perfectly: according to the cited passage, American efforts to memorialize the Holocaust are a reflection of an artificial and hypocritical empathy created by “Hollywood films about the holocaust … depict[ing] Jewish victims of Nazism as white Christian-looking, middle class, educated and talented people not unlike contemporary European and American Christians.”
When this is an “argument” that strikes students at a top liberal arts college as impressive and enlightening, it is little wonder that BDS advocates feel sure that they will win their “war” on campus.