The toxic language and ideology of activists who hijack
the Israeli/Palestinian debate
By: Richard L. Cravatts
As yet more evidence that a core group of activist McGill students is in the thrall of radical anti-Israelism, Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) voted to adopt a “Palestine Solidarity Policy” proposed by the student club Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR). The mendacious, one-sided policy statement asserted that “McGill University invests in, or engages in close collaboration with several corporations and institutions complicit in an entrenched system of settler-colonial apartheid against Palestinians” and that Israel maintains a “system of settler-colonial apartheid [which] is characterized by a brutal regime of land theft, checkpoints, house demolitions, environmental destruction, deportation, and extrajudicial killings at the hands of soldiers, police, and settlers.”
In light of these alleged conditions, the policy called for the SSMU to “campaign for McGill University’s complete boycott of all corporations and institutions complicit in settler-colonial apartheid against Palestinians,” as well as “complete divestment from all corporations complicit in settler-colonial apartheid against Palestinians,” committing McGill institutionally to a five-year campaign to elevate the Palestinian cause and demonize the Jewish state.
At McGill University, anti-Israel sentiment is already so endemic that the University’s student newspaper, the McGill Daily, refuses to run any content that is pro-Israel or defends Zionism or the Jewish state, and a 2021 editorial, seeming to speak on behalf of the whole student body, denounced Israel’s purported “colonialism, imperialism, and genocide in all forms,” condemned “McGill’s Zionist involvement, which is reflected in their continued investment in Israeli and international businesses located on occupied Palestinian land,” and claimed, in language similar to this latest policy statement, that the “Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is nothing short of apartheid.”
A small core of radical students, obsessively agitating against Israel, Zionism, and the many alleged predations of the Jewish state, have infected not only McGill’s press but also, apparently, its student government, pushing through the latest in a string of odious anti-Israel resolutions meant to slander, defame, and delegitimize Israel and its supporters on campus. It also calls for the McGill community to actively and resolutely participate in boycotts against and divestment from campus-related businesses allegedly involved in any way with Israel.
It is worth noting that the solidarity policy was voted in by a mere 11 percent of McGill’s student body (some 2900 votes out of 26,765 total students), hardly a mandate for any campaign. But more serious is that the campaign and call for boycotts are based on a series of widely proclaimed lies and distortions about Israel and its relationship with the Palestinian Arabs, assigning all blame for the conflict to Israel and absolving the Palestinians of any culpability for their failure to achieve statehood and the defects in their culture and society that have made them victims of their own dysfunction.
But blaming Israel for all the ills of Palestinian society is par for the course among the anti-Israel crowd, a sentiment that animates statements like this latest policy announcement. And typical of anti-Israel rhetoric, the statement is replete with references to alleged “settler-colonial apartheid,” a phrase repeated at least seven times in the short document, an empty refrain cast about as if it reflects fact and not a fiction that pro-Palestinians have concocted in their campaign of demonization against Israel.
Israel is not, and has never been, a colony of any country, as anyone with even a passing knowledge of history should know, even though, in the narrative of the enemies of Israel, Jews with no previous cultural or historical connection to the Levant showed up in historic Palestine after the Second World War and colonized a pre-existing country—Palestine—and stole that land from an innocent indigenous people, the so-called Palestinians.
The apartheid slander, of course, is also counter-factual and is lobbed toward Israel promiscuously, even though there obviously is no formal, state-imposed apartheid in any form in the Jewish state. The publication of two odious reports this year, one by Human Rights Watch and one by Amnesty International, both redefined apartheid to include characteristics by which it could, through a number of mental contortions, be applied to Israel, but those were the result of political definitions, not legal ones. And anti-Israel activists were quick to use the newly confirmed apartheid slur against Israel, just as the SSMU policy statement did at McGill.
One curious “action item” in the McGill statement suggested that “The SSMU shall campaign for McGill University’s public condemnation of Canary Mission and other surveillance or smear campaigns against Palestinian and pro-Palestine students.” Even last May, members of McGill Students in Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR McGill) began raving about a pernicious “blacklist [that] is terrorizing pro-Palestine students at McGill,” a list containing “the names and personal information of countless pro-Palestine students at McGill” with the goal “to surveil and document students suspected of pro-Palestine sympathies.”
Canary Mission is simply a database that has as its purpose to provide students, faculty, and others with information on the ideology, scholarship, speeches, and writing of radical anti-Israel professors and students. These are individuals (and groups) who have very public records of pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel activism and whose words and behavior have been cataloged so that extreme ideology among students and the politicization of scholarship among faculty can be exposed, and students can avoid courses taught by professors with a predetermined and evident bias against Israel.
In gathering and cataloging this data, however, Canary Mission has not furtively investigated the private lives of professors or campus radicals, nor did it hack into emails accounts, or take testimony from anonymous sources, or delve through association memberships, reading habits, or private writings without the individuals’ expectation that their expression would possibly be documented. Individuals who are on these databases were not spied upon by their fellow students nor were their courses videotaped furtively by students.
Like the data collected from public expressions of radical faculty and students with a pronounced and vocal antipathy toward the Jewish state, the list’s information can be useful as a tool for assessing the background and ideological stance of the enemies of Israel, and someone finds his or her name on such a list, not because they are an Arab, or black, or some other minority, but because they have publicly articulated views—on social media, videos, in classrooms, and elsewhere—that are slanderous, dangerous, threatening, genocidal, or revealing as anti-Semitic expression. If radicals are distressed by seeing themselves and their rhetoric cataloged in Canary Mission, then perhaps they should moderate their hatred instead of whining about having been exposed as bigots.
On the Tufts University campus in Massachusetts, students have been consistently harangued by anti-Israel activism similar to McGill’s experience, orchestrated by Tuft’s chapter of the virulent Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). In March, for example, the radical group announced its own version of a proposed boycott of Israeli-linked businesses, organizations, and sponsors when it published its “Justice Through BDS” campaign in the Tufts Observer.
In language grotesquely similar to the McGill exhortations, SJP suggested that Zionism is “a political ideology that advocates for the existence and maintenance of a Jewish state in historic Palestine,” a state modeled, they asserted without relevant facts, “after European settler colonialism, a form of colonialism that emphasizes control over land and relies on removal and dispossession of an Indigenous population to make way for settlers.”
How can that situation be made better for the long-beleaguered Palestinians? According to SJP, “the Palestinian people seek justice and liberation as they call for a boycott of israeli [sic] goods” and the group called “on students to show their support for Palestinian liberation through personal choices—namely, refusing to buy products or participate in groups that enable and normalize Zionist settler colonialism.”
This is astounding and corrosive bigotry toward Jewish communal life that goes well beyond mere “criticism of Israel,” the oft-repeated refrain that anti-Semites use to justify their virulent attacks on the Jewish state. SJP is not content with a vigorous debate about politics, land, or Arab self-determination. No, they intend to purge any vestiges of Zionism, attachment to Israel, Jewish self-determination, or even Jewish identity from campus as part of their single-minded campaign to elevate and sacralize the Palestinian cause.
“On Tufts’ campus,” the boycott should be comprehensive, touching anything having to do with Jewish identity, which “means not joining Tufts Friends of israel (FOI) . . , as well as not choosing to study abroad in israel or participate in Birthright, not taking the Visions of Peace course, and not participating in the Tisch Summer Fellowship with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).” [The word Israel here is even contemptuously misspelled without a capital I, as if the country itself is a fiction.]
How do they justify the moral condemnation they heap on everything Jewish that Tufts students might encounter? Because, they wrote in the contorted and exalted language of the woke, “we see Palestinian liberation as a crucial part of our collective liberation from racism, capitalism, colonialism, sexism, and all other interconnected systems of oppression which strip us all of our humanity and justify the exploitation of peoples and the land.” But since there are so many problems worldwide with so much suffering, SJP decides to focus only on one instance: the behavior solely of the Jewish state.
Activists at Tufts and McGill have demanded that, among the many and various calamitous examples of human strife and suffering occurring around the world, their respective student bodies should focus on and commit to denouncing only one: the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. And more than that, just as the Third Reich and Arab League before them, these bigoted students wish to target Jewish businesses and organizations and educational institutions and expel them from campus and, indeed, from the world community. They wish to single out only Zionism and Jewish self-determination as being singular evils in the world.
Not Syria, where an estimated 400,000 of its citizens have been slaughtered in a prolonged carnage of internecine warfare, including some 12,000 children and millions more dispossessed. Not China, where more than 1 million Uyghur Muslims are severely repressed and detained, with its women forced to undergo mass sterilization, and where this oppressed minority is forced into labor in “re-education” camps. Not Yemen, where famine has threatened over 24 million people and has already caused the deaths of 85,000 children.
No, these entire campuses have to commit to endlessly slandering, critiquing, and excluding Jewish supporters of Israel and any organizations or businesses that support it, to the exclusion of any other human rights challenge, until Palestine is “liberated” once and for all—in other words, what is now Israel is extirpated and another Arab state replaces it, signaling, in the puerile terms of its ideological foes, an end to the purported “colonial settler occupation of the Zionist regime.”
That, of course, is a perverse and immoral fantasy that will never take place, so activists’ carping about the many ills and predations of the Jewish state will continue unabated on campuses like McGill and Tufts, driven by radical bigots who mask their hatred of Jews in the convenient disguise of mere criticism of Israel.
Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of Jew Hatred Rising: The Perversities of the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.