Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) sells itself as a peaceful grassroots movement for justice and human rights. And though the group’s real agenda is anti-justice, anti-human rights, and anti-peace, it has managed to grow from only one campus chapter in 2000 to around 100 chapters today. Its various chapters are ostensibly independent, but most of its campaigns are nearly identical to each other. SJP chapters across the country hold “Israel Apartheid Week” events, introduce anti-Israel divestment resolutions in student governments, and engage in other tactics that demonize the Jewish state, all while falsely claiming to embody progressive values. SJP chapters are also broadly unified around Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), a global propaganda movement that calls for the elimination of Israel and the violation of Jewish rights to self-determination. And while some chapters are less extreme and others are careful to wrap their extremism in appealing rhetoric, SJP chapters have consistently and repeatedly descended into outright intimidation, slander, and bigotry against Israel and pro-Israel students.
The following is an overview of SJP’s toxic activities during the 2013-2014 academic year and the fall of 2014.
SJP chapters have engaged in many different types of intimidation over the last year:
- In February 2014 SJP violated the free speech rights of two Israelis at a pro-Israel event at Cal Poly Pomona. It brought professional anti-Israel activists and students from other schools to shout the speakers down, preventing them from making their presentations and robbing audience members of the opportunity to hear Israeli perspectives on the conflict.
- When SJP brought divestment campaigns to the University of Michigan and other campuses, numerous Jewish students and members of student governments were subjected to threats, hate speech, and other forms of intimidation.
- At UC Irvine and San Francisco State University (SFSU), SJP disrupted Israel Independence Day celebrations. Its members attempted to shout down pro-Israel student speakers at SFSU, physically pushed people away from informational booths, and assaulted three Jewish students at Irvine.
- UCLA’s SJP chapter employed an especially sophisticated intimidation tactic, filing judicial complaints against two student senators who had gone on sponsored educational trips to Israel.
- Temple SJP is currently being investigated because a student associated with the group hit a pro-Israel student in the face during Welcome Week.
- SJP at Loyola University of Chicago is currently being investigated for harassing Hillel students and blocking their Birthright Israel informational table.
In all of these instances, SJP demonstrated its total disregard for freedom of speech, its eagerness to silence pro-Israel voices, and its desire to prevent uninformed students from hearing or seeing Israel’s side of the story.
Slander and Misinformation
When SJP members shared their perspective, they made misleading and often slanderous claims about Israel and pro-Israel students:
- At campuses in California, SJP chapters set up mock “apartheid wall” displays with maps labeling all of Israel as “occupied territory.”
- Many SJP chapters, including those at the University of Michigan, Northwestern, Northeastern, NYU, and UNC, put mock eviction notices in student dorms, aimed at shocking campus communities and spreading misinformation about Israeli policies in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Many Jewish students reported feeling unsafe as a result, and SJP at Northeastern was suspended for violating school policy.
- At a UCLA SJP-sponsored event, BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti made statements denying Jewish peoplehood and accusing Israel of shooting Palestinian children for sport – a claim reminiscent of the anti-Semitic blood libels that led to violence against Jews in the Middle Ages.
- At the UCs, Cornell University, and elsewhere, SJP’s divestment campaigns featured countless slanderous accusations against Israel, including “genocide,” sterilization of Ethiopian women, and holding refugees in “concentration camps.” Pro-Israel students who opposed BDS and stood up for Jewish self-determination were dehumanized and compared to supporters of slavery and South African apartheid.
- The worst tactic may have occurred at UCLA, where a Jewish student government candidate was subjected to a prolonged smear campaign, on social media and elsewhere, centered around baseless accusations of Islamophobia.
- At campuses across the country, SJP’s messaging and menacing were synonymous with slander, misinformation and harassment.
As if intimidation and slander were not enough, some SJP activists engaged in overt bigotry against Israel and Jews:
- During the divestment campaign at UC Riverside, one of SJP’s key leaders posted extremely hateful statements on social media, including, “Judaism is not the problem. Filthy Zionists are.”
- At SFSU, the SJP-affiliated General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS) held signs on campus that read, “My heroes have always killed colonizers.” Shortly afterward, GUPS president Mohammad Hammad confirmed that the signs were referring to Israelis and even expressed support for genocide. He wrote that “Israelis ARE colonizers… And you know what else? My heroes HAVE always killed colonizers. I literally see nothing wrong with this and my only regret is that not all colonizers were killed.”
- Lastly, at the end of the academic year, the SJP chapter at Vassar posted Nazi propaganda on one of its official social media accounts. The president of the university condemned SJP for its “racist, hateful speech” and initiated an investigation, forcing SJP to issue a public apology.
It is important to understand that not all of the activists who get involved with SJP are malicious. Many are well-meaning students who have simply been misled by emotionally manipulative propaganda. But that does not change the toxic impact that SJP’s hateful campaigns have had on universities across the United States or diminish the fact that many SJP chapters are operating as hate groups. From intimidating Jewish and pro-Israel students to slandering Israel and posting bigoted content on social media, SJP is creating a hostile environment on campuses and undermining efforts to achieve civil discourse and mutual understanding regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The proper response to SJP will vary from case to case, but it is clear that more must be done to prevent anti-Israel hate from becoming mainstream. Jewish and pro-Israel students can use the worst incidents as opportunities to educate their peers about what distinguishes legitimate criticism from bigotry, academic debate from slander, and peaceful protest from intimidation.
The reality is that if we do not stand up for ourselves as a community, neither student nor administration leaders are likely to seriously address our concerns. Indeed, many universities have taken a relatively “hands off” approach to the issue, allowing SJP to keep pushing the boundaries of acceptable discourse. The only way this will change is if those who truly support peace, justice, and human rights in the Middle East work together to overcome SJP’s destructive agenda.
Roz Rothstein is the co-founder and CEO of StandWithUs, and Max Samarov is the senior researcher at StandWithUs.
Last edited on September 18, 2014