The “Day of Resistance” Oct. 12, sponsored by National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), turned ugly on many campuses.
An Israeli student at Columbia University was assaulted, many campuses experienced open confrontations between SJP supporters and those of Israel, and more statements than I can count justified Hamas’s unspeakably bloody face-to-face crimes against civilians in Israel.
I was not surprised once I read the “toolkit” sent by National SJP to some 200 SJP campus chapters. It is a grotesque document, which starts by applauding Hamas’s attack against “the Zionist enemy” as “a historic win for the Palestinian resistance” while showing local chapters how to frame their message, which includes the false assertions that those Israelis murdered last week were “not civilians in the sense of international law,” and that their deaths were the responsibility not of Hamas, but of “the Zionist entity.”
The UF chapter of SJP held a “teach-in” rather than an open demonstration which, if nothing else, was peaceful. Out of some sense of duty, I attended. I’m guessing that I was the only Jew and the only supporter of Israel there. The event, I suppose, could have been worse. Still I saw, in person for the first time, that even in a calm setting, SJP’s dogmatism as recommended from its national center is singularly unhelpful for students trying to understand the conflict, and indeed even damaging.
Theirs is a simple assertion: Zionism is rapacious “settler-colonialism” by “foreign invaders” that aims to “erase indigenous peoples” through “genocide.” All land between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan, meaning Israel itself and the occupied West Bank, is “Occupied Palestine.” Israel as such is thus wholly illegitimate. “Resistance” of any type is justified. Arguments to the contrary are not admissible.
Well, here is mine anyway: Fundamentally, SJP denies any Jewish connection to the land, as such a connection would challenge the narrative of colonialism and legitimize Israel, as well as peace with the Jewish state.
SJP’s arguments also ignore many critical facts, such as the Jewish acceptance of the 1947 UN two-state partition plan as well as peace initiatives including the Camp David summit of 2000 — all rejected by Palestinian leaders who served their subjects poorly, from Haj-Amin al-Husseini (who collaborated with Nazi Germany before launching a war in 1947 that brought disaster for Palestinian Arabs) to Yasser Arafat, who destroyed the great promise that accompanied the opening of Gaza’s new airport in 1998. Rejectionism in the form of terror has not brought justice.
Which brings us to SJP’s stunning refusal to honestly discuss Hamas — from its repressive rule in Gaza to its ghastly bloodletting in Israel last week to its 1988 charter that justifies it all. Instead, SJP argues that the western press, which, it insists, always sides with Israel, “dehumanizes” all Palestinians as “savages,” so as to promote their “erasure.” Actually the opposite is true. The press rarely sides with Israel (read The New York Times or The Washington Post if you don’t believe me) and even Israel’s mainstream press makes clear distinctions between Hamas and the Gazans that Hamas has terrified since it took power in 2006.
Equally disturbing was the faculty member who opened the program by insisting students “educate” themselves by reading a select list of works. These included Ilan Pappé’s books on Israel as well as work by Norman Finkelstein. Both authors, the faculty member emphasized, are Jews.
This lent a convenient “even-some-Jews-hate-Israel” tone, useful for an organization that worries, with good reason, about charges of antisemitism. The problem is that real scholars of Jewish history take neither author seriously. Pappé was caught years ago falsifying evidence of a fake massacre and much else. Finkelstein argues that antisemitic tropes about undue Jewish “influence” are actually true, and he wrote last week that Hamas’s attack “warms every fiber of my soul.” Self-hating Jews again deployed as useful idiots.
None of this is to say that Israel has done everything right. Most American Jews, painted by SJP as Zionist enablers, actually hope against hope for a two-state solution one day, and they have been critical of Benjamin Netanyahu’s seeming lack of interest in such a thing over the past several years.
Meanwhile, formulaic post-colonialist dogma such as that utilized by SJP cannot perform the serious work of explaining the conflict’s complexity. I see no contradiction between the quest for Palestinian rights and the open condemnation of Hamas, whose actions last week were morally inexcusable, and which, as we have seen for years, will bring neither justice nor peace to anyone.
The sad part for our campus is that a dialogue between Jewish and Palestinian students ought to take place, if not now, then in the future. It is unhealthy for any university campus when two constituencies of students eye one another with suspicion. With its deliberate misrepresentations, National Students for Justice in Palestine purposely sabotages such dialogue.
Norman JW Goda is the UF Director of the Bud Shorstein Center for Jewish Studies and the UF Norman and Irma Braman Professor of Holocaust Studies.