Since its founding in 1993, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has a long history of bringing vitriolic anti-Israel speakers to campuses, sponsoring Israeli Apartheid Weeks, building mock “apartheid walls,” and sending mock eviction notices to students in their dorms to help them “empathize with Palestinians.” SJP members 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, 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 is a racist, an oppressor, or a supporter of an illegal, apartheid regime trampling the human rights of the blameless, hapless Palestinians.
Because they have been relentless in promulgating activism that attacks the Jewish state and anyone who supports it, SJP often finds itself defending its rhetoric and tactics from understandable criticism it receives from pro-Israel individuals and groups—invariably with SJP claiming to be victimized by “Islamophobic” Zionists who, SJP contends, are trying to silence “criticism of Israel.” In yet another revealing example of its hypocrisy and obtuseness when assessing the consequences of its own behavior, the University of Chicago’s SJP chapter is currently whining about being victimized by ideological opponents who exposed the true nature of this toxic group.
What was SJP’s complaint this time? In a letter to the editor in the university’s newspaper, The Chicago Maroon, SJP expressed its displeasure with the fact that on May 23, “the David Horowitz Freedom Center plastered more than 5,000 leaflets on and around campus demonizing Palestinian and pro-Palestinian students.”
Employing its tired tactic of whining that any effort by SJP’s critics is motivated by a desire to shut down any support of Palestinian self-determination, the letter preposterously suggested that the leaflets were posted on campus solely “in order to muzzle and disparage pro-Palestinian activism.”
More absurdly, SJP claimed that the Horowitz Center’s “work aims to censor and misrepresent our academic production and to create an environment of surveillance and fear surrounding scholarship about Palestine.”
One could make many claims about its role on the 200 or so campuses where SJP has chapters, but few would ever suggest that the toxic radicalism of the group—and the resulting effect it has on their respective campuses—amounts to “scholarship” or “academic production.” Perhaps SJP believes that by bringing perennially anti-Semitic radicals like Rashid Khalidi to speak on the Chicago campus, one of the events included in the leaflet, they are promoting scholarship, but that is not the case.
When guest speakers accuse Israel of being the new incarnation of the Third Reich and when they malign and slander the Jewish state with accusations lacking any basis in fact or history, this is not, despite SJP’s contention, an example of “scholarship about Palestine”; rather, it is hatred disguised as debate about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
According to the Horowitz leaflet, when Khalidi spoke in December 2020, he “demonized Israel, accusing the Jewish state of ‘settler colonialism’ and ‘occupation,’ and claiming falsely that Israel attempts to terrify the Palestinians to achieve dominance rather than to ensure the nation’s safety: ‘I don’t think it’s security [for Israel that] fully describes accurately what is at stake here. What is at stake is actually dominance and hegemony when Israeli soldiers are kicking down doors and scaring children in the night.’”
What is most revealing in SJP’s letter to the editor is its inability to see how its complaint about the corrosive effect of the leaflet on the university’s community mirrors exactly the effect SJP has had for a decade or more on the campuses that have experienced the hostility and aggression of their pro-Palestinian activism. The leaflets, SJP suggested in its letter, “go so far as to incite hostility and hate against and within our community. They inhibit our capacity to work and study, to commune, to feel safe.”
It is not clear what SJP means when they refer to “our community,” but that community clearly does not include the University of Chicago’s Jewish students, who, like Jewish students and other supporters of Israel at other campuses around the country, have been ideologically assaulted by SJP in an unrelenting campaign of lies, slanders, and distortions of history and fact; boycott resolutions; and accusations against Israel of racism and apartheid as part of SJP’s campaign to malign and destroy the Jewish state. The group clearly could not care less whether Jewish students have a “capacity to work and study, to commune, to feel safe.”
In fact, as has been documented by the AMCHA Initiative and others who track anti-Semitism on campuses, BDS activity on a campus—and especially when orchestrated by SJP or other anti-Israel groups—frequently creates a hostile climate for Jewish students and often manifests itself as raw anti-Semitism. As one AMCHA report noted, “the consideration of anti-Israel divestment resolutions in student government or by the student body was strongly linked to a surge in anti-Semitic activity,” and campuses that have an SJP chapter have witnessed a higher incidence of anti-Semitic speech and expression as a direct result of its radicalism and activism.
In November 2021, for example, as the leaflet outlined, “SJP at U. Chicago published an art zine titled ‘Cheers to Intifada.’ The zine promoted terrorism against Israel and contained violent imagery including a graphic of two lit Molotov cocktails raised in a toast . . .The zine was also rife with anti-Semitism including an image of a pig wearing a policeman’s hat with a Jewish star on it. Poems in the publication promoted ancient blood libel tropes against Jews such as one describing a Jewish teenager who held Palestinians captive and had ‘animalistic lust yearning to rape bodies.’
SJP may consider this type of perverse, anti-Semitic, and genocidal propaganda to be “academic production” and “scholarship about Palestine,” but in a sane world, it represents a poisonous and hateful ideology in which fellow Jewish students are the enemies of good, are racists, support an apartheid state, and deserve to be victims of an intifada, which has as its objective the murder of Jews wherever they are in the name of Palestinian self-determination. On no university campus, and certainly not at an institution with the reputation and quality as the University of Chicago, would this type of banal radicalism pass for scholarship, let alone acceptable academic discourse.
As they have on other campuses, SJP Chicago has also worked aggressively to promote BDS resolutions and to push a statement of solidarity for the Palestinian cause through its student government. “In June 2021,” the leaflet noted, “SJP published a lengthy statement calling on the College Council to ‘vote “NO” on the resolution to retract [the University Student Government’s] statement of solidarity and support for Palestine.’ SJP’s statement promoted Jew hatred and demonized Israel, calling campus supporters of the Jewish state ‘student body apartheid apologists,’ and denying Israel’s self-determination by calling for the ‘abolition of a violent political state [of Israel].’”
In April, at the behest of SJP, The Chicago Maroon, retracted an op-ed written by two students, “We Must Condemn the SJP’s Online Anti-Semitism,” who questioned SJP’s tactics and ideology.
On January 26, as the op-ed by Melody Dias and Benjamin ZeBrack noted, SJP had posted on its Instagram page the shocking admonition, “DON’T TAKE SH*TTY ZIONIST CLASSES.” Students were asked to “Support the Palestinian movement for liberation by boycotting classes on Israel or those taught by Israeli fellows.” According to the SJP post, any students who enrolled in these classes would be “participating in a propaganda campaign that creates complicity in the continuation of Israel’s occupation of Palestine” and that, in its view, “Israeli-centered classes are designed to obscure Palestinian perspectives.”
Characteristic of their reaction to anyone who answers back to their corrosive activism, SJP was incensed that anyone had the gall to question their tactics and motives. Another post on the SJP Instagram account in response to the Dias-ZeBrack op-ed expressed the defective view often held by anti-Semites that “To frame this call as ‘anti-Jewish’ not only perpetuates the dangerous (and wholly false) conflation of Jewishness and Zionism, but also deliberately diverts attention from the ongoing ethnic cleansing that the israeli [sic] colony has been inflicting on Palestinian lands and peoples from its inception to the present.”
The widely adopted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism, as many know, stipulates that, in many instances, attacks on Zionism can be considered anti-Semitic, particularly when those attacks are attempts to deny Jewish self-determination or when Zionism is classified as a racist, oppressive endeavor, so despite SJP’s assertion that the claim is both dangerous and wholly false, experts in these matters—and not biased, anti-Semitic ideologues—have determined that there is support for Dias and LeBrack’s views.
Nevertheless, SJP demanded of the Maroon’s editors, “in response to these offenses,” the “Immediate deletion of the article,” a “public apology issued by the Maroon to SJP UChicago and to Palestinian students for the dissemination of misinformation and the disregard of journalistic integrity and factual reporting,” and, most ominously, “a public recommitment to ensuring that all columns and articles abide by expected standards of accuracy and truth, particularly those written by Zionist authors or on behalf of Zionist organizations.” [Emphasis added.] In other words, SJP requested a separate standard of exclusionary journalistic ethics and practice when Israel, Zionism, and Jews are involved.
Astoundingly, in response to SJP’s absurd demands, two feckless editors, Kelly Hui and Elizabeth Winkler, not only deleted the offending op-ed but published a craven, apologetic editorial of their own in which they dissected the op-ed for its perceived factual inaccuracies and justified their decision by claiming that it was the op-ed written by the pro-Israel supporters that could be the source of campus enmity, not the original action of SJP in calling for a boycott of courses about Israel.
“We condemn the pitting of Jewish and Palestinian students against one another,” they wrote, “and we deeply regret the extent to which the op-ed’s factual inaccuracies—which we should not have published—perpetuated such a harmful dynamic.” Of course, in addition to the editors’ outrageously inappropriate action in removing an opinion piece from The Chicago Maroon, written as a response to a campaign of demonization and delegitimization of Israel and Zionism by the chronically toxic activists of SJP, they compounded the offense by suggesting that sections of the op-ed contribute to “pitting of Jewish and Palestinian students against one another.” No, actually, it was SJP’s poisonous attacks on anything Zionist on campus and its initial call for “shitty” Zionist courses to be boycotted that pit pro-Israel students against pro-Palestinians, not op-eds that correct misinformation or defend Israel.
Only on university campuses where perceived victims can attack their alleged oppressors with any calumny, untruth, slander, and allegation they choose—without repercussions—could a group like Students for Justice in Palestine continue to operate with impunity, attacking Jewish students and other supporters of Israel and creating a hostile campus climate.
But SJP at Chicago clearly does not fully understand the notion of academic free speech: that the same opportunity they have to spout their hateful rhetoric and promote their toxic ideology is also enjoyed by the group’s ideological opponents.
When pro-Israel students, guest speakers, events, courses, or even leaflets distributed around campus seek to expose SJP’s true nature—with facts and examples as opposed to lies and narratives—SJP may be inconvenienced by having to finally defend its views in a robust and equitable marketplace of ideas, not its own echo chamber where its lies are never challenged and its toxic anti-Semitism is never named for what it is.