Challenging Israel's Crimes on Campus: A Breath of Fresh Air in a Stifling Academic Environment

Alan Goodman | July 22, 2014

For decades, criticism of Israel in U.S. society has been marginalized, subjected to threats, censored, and banned.

Many of the more prominent critics of Israel have been forced out of their positions in academia, including from Northwestern, Bard, and Columbia University.

As Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people becomes more and more questioned and condemned worldwide, as the U.S. continues to back these crimes, the legitimacy of a state based on ethnic cleansing has become more contested—particularly on U.S. campuses.

The response has been more and more intense repression.

During the past school year, there were important and inspiring actions—including by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. They were immediately censored, threatened, and attacked in the media.

Last spring, students at Barnard (a college affiliated with Columbia) got official permission to put up a banner that said, “Stand with Justice in Palestine.” The university administration took it down after complaints from pro-Israel forces, in part because—they said—the iconic map on the banner didn’t draw a line on the border between Israel and other parts of Palestine and thus supposedly constituted a call for killing all the Jews in Israel. (SJP activists responded in part that Israel doesn’t recognize any such borders, so where would they draw them on a map?!)

At Northeastern University in Boston, the administration banned the SJP chapter as punishment for creative actions, including faux “eviction notices” passed out to students by activists in SJP, exposing Israel’s policy of random, brutal, traumatic evictions of Palestinian people from their homes. (See “Students for Justice in Palestine at Northeastern Banned for Telling the Truth About Israel.”)

At UCLA, activists who asked candidates for student council to pledge not to accept overtly politically biased “tours” of Israel paid for and sponsored by groups that are overtly opposed to any criticisms of Israel’s crimes were attacked for being “anti-Semitic,” engaging in a “witch hunt,” and “bullying.” (See “Janet Napolitano Demands ‘Civility, Respect, and Inclusion’ for Defenders of Death, Destruction, and Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine.”)

In February 2014, in a very significant action, the members of the prestigious American Studies Association endorsed the association’s participation in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. State legislatures, including in Illinois, reacted with moves to outlaw such boycotts!

Throughout society in the last few days, figures in sports, science, and entertainment who have spoken out against Israel’s attacks on the Palestinian people or even simply expressed a desire for an end to violence have come under intense attack. (Unfortunately—in the face of vicious attacks on these postings via celebrity gossip networks that are essentially ruling class ideological propaganda—some of these tweets and postings have been taken down.)

But these attacks have failed to silence a growing tide of exposure, outrage, and protest worldwide, and in the U.S. World-renowned scientist Steven Hawking has refused to back off his pledge to boycott scientific conferences in Israel. When such prominent figures stick to their principles and do the right thing, they must be backed up, supported, and defended!

Despite all the repression (and in some cases, in part because of it), the question of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people, the origins and nature of Israel, the suppression of criticism of Israel by the academic establishment, and the ties between the academic establishment and the larger “establishment” that sits atop a world of oppression and plunder are being called out and opposed on campuses.

These courageous academics and students of all nationalities, ethnic groups, and religions (including significant numbers of Jewish academics and students) have challenged Israel’s crimes, and continued to protest, investigate, and expose what is behind those crimes, and the U.S. backing for them.

The BDS movement and academic and political exposure and protest against Israel overall are breathing life and fresh air into the stifling and toxic political atmosphere that has dominated U.S. campuses for too long! That can have a ripple effect in U.S. society at large. From the perspective of the need for fundamental change in the current world order, and preparing to go up against all that stands in the way of that fundamental change, and from the perspective of basic right and wrong, the campus struggle to expose and oppose Israel has to be welcomed, supported, and defended.

This article originally appeared on revcom.us on July 21, 2014.