Covering the campus wars over Israel, the “paper of record” once again misses the point. In a New York Times piece devoted to how pro and anti-Israel activism affects campus free speech and students’ lives, writer John Leland avoids any reference to the myriad examples of ostracism recently faced by pro-Israel students.
An abridged list of this ostracism includes:
* SFSU professor initiating a “Zionists Are Not Welcome On This Campus” flier campaign.
* U. Illinois SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) leading “No Zionists, no KKK” chants
* Tufts’ disorientation guide describing the mainstream Jewish campus org Hillel as “supporting a white supremacist state,” while Vasser’s urges students to “slap a Zionist”. (Not the only time campus leaders have publicly relished such an assault.)
* USC student government VP Rose Ritch being forced to resign amid a torrent of harassment that she’s a “racist” for supporting Israel.
* Johns Hopkins teaching assistant cheekily tweets for help on her “ethical dilemma” at wanting to flunk students who are Zionist.
These recent examples are just scratching the surface, as attested to by numerous studies conducted by the ADL, AJC, and Amcha Initiative. The connection between anti-Israel activism and growing hatred directed at Jews on campus is clear. Yet not clear enough for some journalists.
In 2018, at the very campus centered in the Times piece, NYU’s SJP had 53 student groups pledge to boycott not only Israeli goods or initiatives, but campus Zionist student groups, including the mainstream Jewish campus organization Hillel.
Leland didn’t cite any of the aforementioned incidents. Instead he interviews Jewish students who seemingly face neither censorship nor ostracism, but what is subtly framed as hurt feelings.
* Columbia student Jonathan Karten filed a civil rights complaint in response to a student resolution urging divestment from Israel. An online resolution, mind you, not about people, but a political entity 6,000 miles away. Suck it up, man!
* NYU student Ofir Dayan, daughter of the former Israeli consul general, hosted a webinar about growing up in Israel. The webinar’s online flier was doctored to assail her “genocidal father”. Contextualizing this, Leland helpfully informs us her father is “an advocate for Israeli settlements in the West Bank,” which “the International Court of Justice has said violate the Fourth Geneva Convention.” Crying about photoshopped fliers amidst human rights violations and genocide.
* NYU student Javier Cohen complains about an NYU webinar hosting Leila Khaled, unrepentant hijacker and current member of the internationally sanctioned terrorist group PFLP (“Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine”). Poor Mr. Cohen, whining about a webinar he doesn’t even have to sit through. This webinar incident is used by Leland to anchor his free speech angle, which supposedly opens up “a new dimension: a commercial technology company under pressure from pro-Israel groups, was controlling content at a major American university.”
But controlling content is not the issue. On a daily basis, there are countless anti-Israel webinars, activist meetings and workshops on Zoom, where Israel gets slurred as an “apartheid state” and its Jewish supporters called “racist”. Nor is it rare for Zoom to host activists defending and calling for terrorism against Israelis, couched as “resistance”.
What led to Zoom’s cancellation of this and three other colleges’ webinars featuring Khaled was not the content, but the individual delivering it. As Leland himself explains, giving Khaled a platform “might expose Zoom to charges of supporting terrorism.” He even cites a Zoom spokeswoman as saying Khaled’s association with a terrorist group violated the company’s terms of service.
Yet Leland dishonestly leads readers to believe anti-Israel speech itself is subject to censorship. A ludicrous contention considering professors (including one interviewed by Leland) and academic departments are often the ones hosting anti-Israel events.
To drive home the censorship point, Leland interviews NYU student Khalid Abu Dawas, who expressed concern about being “blacklisted from jobs or from traveling to see relatives in Israeli-controlled territories” due to the website Canary Mission. The site republishes the words and actions of anti-Israel activists.
Abu Dawas “said Israeli officials removed him from a student trip to Jerusalem last year because of how Canary Mission described his campus activism.” Leland offers no hint as to Abu Dawas’ transgressions – real or perceived. No link is provided to his Canary Mission profile, which indeed reveals Abu Dawas’ goal in interrupting the very pro-Israel rave earlier cited by Leland. “Our point is to make being a Zionist uncomfortable on the NYU campus,” beamed Abu Dawas.
But making Zionists feel unsafe on campus isn’t the image Leland wants to project. It’s not about actions directed at Zionist students. Rather, it’s “just the idea of being a Palestinian organizer inherently is painted as anti-Semitic,” laments CUNY law student Nerdeen Kiswani.
Leland’s focus on Kiswani is the most telling. In a TikTok video that’s gone viral, Kiswani filmed her interaction on a subway train with a man wearing an Israel Defense Forces hoodie, to which she held up a lighter threatening to set it on fire. Unbeknownst to thousands of video viewers, the man was her friend and this was “performance art”.
This was far from Kiswani’s only inducement to violence against Israelis and Zionists, as her Canary Mission page attests, but to which Leland neglected to link. Leland instead lets readers use their imagination, describing Kiswani as a “prominent activist who has used strident rhetoric condemning Israel,” whatever that means.
Leland devotes much more space to the unsavory enemies out to take down a Palestinian organizer. Kiswani apparently received death threats. A campaign against her was launched by a “woman in Connecticut,” a link to whom Leland found relevant enough to include. A barrage of emails to CUNY demanding Kiswani be punished “seemed to have been prodded by a cellphone app partly financed by casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson.” Now that’s real journalism!
Leland doesn’t reference the anti-Israel version of Canary Mission. None exists, because there’s nothing to document. Israel activists don’t amplify calls that Palestine or Palestinians don’t exist, or that Palestinian self-determination is racist, or try to shut down pro-Palestinian events (those hosting convicted terrorists notwithstanding), or deplatform Palestinian students based on their identity or attachment to their homeland. In contrast, Zionist students’ guilt is to be found not in what they say or do, but in what they are. They are judged guilty before they get to campus.
Attempting to sound evenhanded, Leland lays out each side’s charges. “One side contends that some criticism of Israel has crossed into anti-Semitism; the other side says that charges of anti-Semitism are being used to silence legitimate criticism.”
But the pro-Israel side doesn’t merely contend “some criticism” goes too far. It contends that anti-Israel activism itself is about falsely accusing and demonizing Israel, and most painfully, ostracizing its Jewish supporters.
It is this ostracism that’s been so carefully shielded by supposedly non-partisan journalists. Such journalistic malpractice leads Leland to conclude, without a hint of irony, that virtual learning has made it harder than ever to not listen to one another, to refuse to “normalize” an opposing point of view.
The quotation marks around “normalize” are Leland’s. Perhaps he’s referencing the well-known term among anti-Israel activists known as “anti-normalization. This is the BDS movement’s prevailing strategy, about which it’s quite open. Anti-normalization is not just rejecting Israel or Israeli entities, or dialogue and collaboration with Jews or Jewish organizations that support Israel, but is an active attempt to uproot them all from the public space.
The only thing more criminal than this war is the effort to conceal it, especially by those whose job is to expose it. On this charge, Leland and the New York Times are guilty.