Op-eds

SJP: Petitioning against Hillel is not anti-Semitic

By
Op-Ed Contributors
Monday, March 21, 2016

Two weeks ago, a coalition of students wrote to Janet Mock, petitioning her to reconsider the Brown/RISD Hillel sponsorship of her March 21 Moral Voices talk. We sought to show the political implications of Moral Voices’ series of lectures on violence against LGBTQ+ communities being complicated by their sponsorship by Brown/RISD Hillel. We wanted her to change sponsorship, but never planned to boycott, protest or disrupt Mock’s lecture, which was made clear to her staff. Ultimately, we are disappointed that Mock will not be coming to campus today. We cannot know the full extent of Mock’s reasoning in deciding not to come to Brown, but we respect the agency of her decision. Mock’s activism for queer and trans people of color is something we, as activists working towards racial and social justice, support and deeply value. We regret the disappointment queer and trans students of color in particular have experienced in the aftermath of the cancellation of her lecture, and we hope that this op-ed may serve to clear up and explain our intentions in first contacting Mock.

Brown/RISD Hillel, through its association with Hillel International, has a clear policy of supporting Israel and is strictly intolerant of criticism of Israel and Israel’s racist and colonial policies, including those that oppress LGBTQ+ Palestinians. Indeed, queerness does not lie in isolation from other forms of identity; rather, it explicitly interacts with other identities including race, gender, class and ability. How does Moral Voices justify the contradiction between its claims to LGBTQ+ justice and Hillel’s support for the ongoing colonization of Palestine? How can Hillel claim to speak against oppression and for intersectionality while supporting a state that sterilizes African Jewish refugees, collectively punishes entire communities with bombings and arrests en masse and imprisons them behind an apartheid wall: There is no pink door in the apartheid wall. Trans liberation, racial justice and intersectional feminism — the topics which Mock’s talk was to cover — cannot be discussed without considering the violence of the Israeli regime, which is supported by organizations like Hillel International.

Our petition has disingenuously been slandered as anti-Semitic. We at no point engaged in prejudice against Judaism. Equating a critique of Israel’s racist and colonial policies as an attack on Judaism or the Jewish community is incredibly detrimental to any sort of open and honest discussion about Israeli violence. The question the petition raised is not whether Jewish-centered spaces can be spaces of LGBTQ+ activism. The question we raise is specifically about Brown/RISD Hillel’s continued ties to Hillel International and its support of Israel. Through its Birthright trips, Israel Engagement Fellow, funding of bigots such as Natan Sharansky and representatives of the Israeli Defense Forces, Brown/RISD Hillel is a political space. Again, the problem here for us is not the fact that Brown/RISD Hillel serves as a Jewish community space, but the fact that it supports Israel and its colonial project. So long as Hillel continues to practice these policies, it cannot serve as a space for social justice work.

As an anti-racist organization, we staunchly oppose racism in all forms — including anti-Semitism — and find it incredibly disheartening that members of the Brown community continue to conflate anti-Zionist politics with anti-Semitism. The only organization that seeks to perpetuate a conflation of Zionism and Judaism is Hillel, as it continues to assume that Jewish identity is coterminous with Zionist ideology.

With regard to President Christina Paxson’s P’19 statement, we are disgusted with her attempt to implicate Mock’s cancellation with the anti-Semitic and homophobic graffiti. Due to her persistent refusal to support students’ efforts towards racial justice, in her four years here, we do not highly value Paxson’s moral stances. Further, though condemning these recent events in Marcy House, Paxson has time and time again refused to speak out against or explicitly condemn other forms of racism on this campus including racism directed against Palestinians, such as when Hillel brought in an IDF soldier in 2014 to defend war crimes and occupation. Further, on several occasions, including the 2014 event and this most recent event, Paxson asserted that Hillel had a right to bring speakers because of academic freedom. And yet, Hillel International’s standards on Israel are in direct violation of academic freedom. Paxson in turn wrote that “Hillel is an independent organization” thus shielding herself from the inevitable objection that she is doubly applying the standard of academic freedom. She contradicts herself yet again when she recognizes Hillel’s status as a private organization but at the same time writes: “Brown University’s Statement on Academic Freedom for Faculty and Students affirms that faculty members and students have the right to invite speakers of their choice to campus. This includes Moral Voices, the student group associated with Hillel.”

Further, Paxson’s position of power allows her to silence the discussion under the guise of promoting free speech. Paxson has discouraged our freedom of speech by stating that our petition is “counter to Brown’s norms and values.” Her declaration that the petition was targeting Moral Voices for its religious affiliation is an obvious statement of intimidation to silence students voicing dissent using methods available to them. Paxson falls in line with Zionist ideologues who utilize the anti-Semitism claim in order to suppress social justice organizing.

With our petition and a letter we sent to Mock, we invited her to join a growing anti-apartheid movement in solidarity with oppressed black and brown people suffering under Israeli apartheid policies. We believe that no one should have to choose between Palestinian or queer liberation. Hillel’s sponsorship forced that choice, and for that reason, we wrote the petition.

Students for Justice in Palestine can be reached at brownusjp@gmail.com.

Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

37 Comments

  1. Students for Justice for Palestine. Isn’t that an oxymoron?

    You SJP students and your Goebbel-like antics are transparent for those with eyes that see. For those who care about truth it is clear your real intentions are aligned with the terrorist group Hamas, and that your real interest is in the complete destruction of Israel.

    Won’t that be just great. Another dysfunctional, sadistic Islmaic state is just what the world needs now.

  2. “SJP claims to stand for human rights, specifically the rights of the Palestinian people; and consistently portrays itself as an advocate for a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and solidarity with the oppressed.

    But a closer look at the group’s rhetoric and actions tells a different story.

    Instead of promoting justice, SJP and/or its members spend almost all of their energy demonizing Israel, advocating for its eventual destruction, showing an unfortunate affinity for pro-terrorist figures, bullying and intimidating pro-Israel and Jewish students with vicious and sometimes anti-Semitic rhetoric, and even at times engaging in physical violence. While SJP may pay lip-service to peaceful aims, their rhetoric and actions make it hard to avoid the conclusion that a culture of hatred permeates nearly everything the group does—making the college experience increasingly uncomfortable, at times even dangerous, for Jewish or pro-Israel students. Perhaps equally disturbing is the limited response from university authorities that have an obligation to prevent such attacks and protect Jewish students.

    And the risk to Jewish and pro-Israel students appears to be growing. Indeed, unless college administrators take a more active role in preventing it, SJP has a good chance of achieving its goal of turning venomous hatred of Israel and bullying of Jews and non-Jewish supporters—with all the violence and fear that inevitably accompany it—into a legitimate and accepted tactic on North American campuses.

    SJP is an outgrowth of an organization called the General Union of Palestinian Students, originally founded in Egypt in the 1950s, and established at San Francisco State University in 1973. In 2001, after graduating from San Francisco State and moving across the bay, a UC Berkeley graduate student—now professor—by the name of Hatem Bazian launched his own chapter of GUPS, just as the second intifada and its campaign of suicidal terror were going full swing. He renamed the group, and refashioned it in his own image.

    According to Accuracy in Academia, a nonprofit research group, Bazian’s extremist rhetoric can be traced at least as far back as 1999, when, in a presentation at an academic conference, he favorably recited a famous anti-Semitic passage from the Quran: “The Day of Judgment will not happen until the trees and stones will say, ‘Oh Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him.’” (He later denied having done so.) In 2011, he helped organize the “Never Again For Anyone” speaking tour, during which the Holocaust was invoked and the Palestinians likened to the Jews persecuted by Nazi Germany. The link drawn between Israel and Nazi Germany is, of course, a staple of modern European anti-Semitism.

    SJP does not appear to have strayed very far from its founder’s ideology. On the campus of the University of South Florida, for example, the SJP kicked off the new year by scheduling an event entitled “The Hidden Genocide: The Story of Palestine” Headlining the event was “Motivational speaker,” and Hamas supporter Monzer Taleb, a fundraiser for the terrorist group who has come under investigation by the U.S. government. According to one account,

    Before the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) was closed by the U.S. government as a designated global terrorist fundraising entity just weeks after the 9/11 attacks, Monzer Taleb (aka Munzir Taleb, Monzer Talib, et al.) was part of the infamous Al-Sakhra band, which toured the U.S. raising money for the HLF and the terrorist group Hamas. Taleb was so active in his fundraising pursuits that he was personally named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the HLF terrorism finance trial, which concluded this past November with guilty verdicts on all 108 counts for the defendants.

    Having provided a platform for support of the U.S.-designated terrorist organization Hamas, and employing the shocking and objectively preposterous term “genocide” to describe Israel, the event’s description promptly shifted to the rhetoric of empathy and concern. “After a summer of atrocious massacres,” it said, “it is time we come together as a community to be part of the solution. The people of Gaza are without shelter, food, security, and freedom. They need to know their brothers and sisters in Tampa are here for them.”

    The group is especially consistent in its preference for the language of victimhood. Just a few weeks ago, for example, they held a September 5, 2014 vigil for Gaza on the campus of Binghamton University in upstate New York. SJP member Victoria Brown told the campus paper that the group’s motives were purely humanist. “We feel that we need to commemorate [the Palestinians’] lives, humanize their lives,” she said. “We’re not talking about the military, we’re not talking about the army, we’re talking about children—women and innocent civilians who were massacred.” Brown’s use of the inflammatory term “massacre” is a telling one. It is standard SJP tactic to coat its hate speech with humanitarian Stevia.

    Even when SJP turns away from the “historical struggle,” it retains its focus on the hatred of Israel and denial of Jewish history or legitimacy. Poet Remi Kanazi, for example, who frequently speaks at SJP-sponsored events, represents Palestinian culture through work that attacks Israel as a “racist, apartheid state” that is “built upon the graves of Palestinians.” In one Facebook post from 2012, Kanazi wrote,“Dear Zionists: You have never ‘defended yourselves.’ You came in, stole land that wasn’t yours & maintained a racist state through massacres and brute force.”

    SJP’s support for radical, distorted, and violent views extends into the realm of concrete policy as well. Despite its stated concern for justice and human rights, it opposes any kind of collaboration or coexistence with Israel or its supporters. The SJP National website, for example, proffers what it calls “Anti-Normalization” information with links to articles that oppose working with Israel-associated organizations.

    SJP is also opposes the idea of a two-state solution—the only path to a final peace solution that today seems remotely plausible—and is quite hostile to the peace process in general. Radical-Left Israeli academic Ilan Pappe, for example, who opposes a two-state solution, celebrated the group’s national conference on the organization’s website by deriding “the attempt to reduce Palestine geographically and demographically under the guise of a ‘peace process.’” Instead, he spoke approvingly of SJP as part of “a new popular and successful struggle to bring peace and reconciliation to the whole of Palestine.” In the lexicon of Palestinian nationalism, the “whole of Palestine” refers to all of what was British mandatory Palestine, thus implying the eradication of the State of Israel.

    SJP’s barely-concealed extremism in this regard is further underscored by its dedication to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to strangle Israel’s economy, sabotage its ability to defend itself, and destroy its standing in the international community. BDS is now the center of SJP activism, at times taking on the appearance of an obsession. As explained by the Tufts University SJP chapter’s motto, the core principles of the organization are “Peace through justice. Equality through resistance. Humanity through BDS…”

  3. “Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is an oxymoronic synonym for SSI: “Students for Slandering Israel.” A tacit collaborator with BDS, the international movement that reviles Israel and calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against the Jewish state, SJP was established at Berkeley (where else?) in 2001. Within a year its activities led to a university ban prohibiting on-campus protests.

    A decade later at Brandeis, SJP protesters interrupted a speech by Knesset member Avi Dichter to accuse him – and implicitly Israel – of torture and crimes against humanity. Earlier this year, the Northeastern University chapter of SJP was suspended for a year after its members were charged with “intimidation” of students.

    In preparation for its October annual conference SJP presented an agenda for its role “in the struggle for the liberation of Palestine.” Highlighting its focus on “the ongoing colonization and occupation of indigenous lands and peoples,” it promised to explore “how settler colonialism is racialized and gendered and disproportionately affects women and children. We will also look into the increased violence against Palestinian women and women refugees and migrants in Israel.”

    SJP assertively promised to provide “the necessary knowledge and tools to counter efforts by Zionist organizations to normalize and whitewash the Israeli occupation as a means of undermining student groups organizing on campus around Palestinian rights.” More generously, it pledged to “focus on continuing to combat all forms of Judeophobia/anti-Semitism and conflation of Zionism with Judaism.”

    The latest SJP chapter to make news, as far away as Israel where Ha’aretz broke the story, is located at Wellesley College, which has a history of anti-Semitism as old as the institution. Wellesley SJP identifies itself as “a group of students dedicated to raising awareness about the dire situation in Palestine.” Its favorite recent tactic has been posting signs on campus asking “What Does Zionism Mean To You?” Among the written responses: “genocide,” “apartheid,” and “murder.”

    The faculty leader of Wellesley SJP is Sima Shakhsari, an assistant professor of women’s and gender studies who has endorsed a boycott by anthropologists of Israeli academic institutions. Her clarity of thought may be gleaned from her statement on the College website describing her current research: “[My] book provides an analysis of Weblogistan as a site of cybergovernmentality where simultaneously national and neo-liberal gendered subjectivities are produced through online and offline heteronormative disciplining and normalizing techniques.”…”

  4. I will believe SJP is not motivated by anti-semitism when it ceases to do the following:

    1. Use Nazi propganda
    2. Preach Holocaust revisionism
    3. Advocate for the erasure of Israel
    4. Support a group that explicitly desires to eradicate Jews from the entire planet, not just Israel.

    Drop those behaviors and I’ll believe you care about justice for Palestinians rather than just hate Jews.

  5. Paxson: “I want to emphasize that there is absolutely no evidence that the cancellation of the Mock event is related to the homophobic and anti-Semitic graffiti that appeared in Marcy Hall last week.”

    SJP:
    “With regard to President Christina Paxson’s P’19 statement, we are disgusted with her attempt to implicate Mock’s cancellation with the anti-Semitic and homophobic graffiti.”

    • And what was omitted off Paxson’s statement:
      “However, taken together, these two events are deeply troubling. They come at a time when the nation and colleges across the country are grappling with concerns about injustice against individuals based on religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender expression. “

  6. David Golden says:

    While there is much to deconstruct and criticize in the SJP letter, let me focus on one example. Their letter includes the statement “…such as when Hillel brought in an IDF soldier in 2014 to defend war crimes and occupation.” This should be frightening to any of us who value freedom of expression and the exchange of ideas, even those with which we disagree. The statement relies on the assumption that nothing an Israeli soldier, or official of the Israeli government can say is remotely acceptable on a college campus. The statement assumes that there is no possible logical argument the Israeli soldier, IDF, or any other group can make that should even be heard. Hillel’s transgression here is to bring someone to campus who will offer opinions and analyses different from the SJP members; and they are so convinced a priori of their lack of merit that they should not even be heard. And that prospect is frightening and must be opposed at all times in all places.

    As a Jewish alumnus of Brown and college professor for over thirty years, I am following these events closely at Brown, on my campus, and at campuses all over America. I call on all who value academic freedom to speak out strongly against this and all other attempts to stifle expression, even of those ideas which make our blood boil.

    • You say you have quoted a “statement,” but you only quote half of one: you have excerpted the SJP’s comment about an IDF soldier in 2014 without explicating just what SJP had to say about that soldier’s presence on campus. You’ve made a straw man argument by insinuating that SJP claims a soldier ought not be allowed to speak at Brown. Yet, SJP’s letter does nothing of the sort. SJP’s letter only points out what, in the group’s eyes, is inconsistency on the part of Christina Paxson in condemning racism.

      SJP never said that an IDF soldier ought not be allowed here — only that CPax’s on-again off-again moralizing regarding racism — “off” when it comes to Palestinians — rankles, and that she is therefore not a respected determiner of moral conduct or racism.

      Similarly, you misconstrue SJP’s opinion regarding Hillel’s transgressions — the misdeed with which SJP charges Hillel is not, as you claim, “to bring someone to campus who will offer opinions and analyses different from the SJP members,” but is rather hypocrisy regarding which social justice movements Hillel supports. I think it is important that SJP never said Janet Mock ought not speak here at Brown, but only that the group disapproved of her speaking as supported by Hillel. To charge SJP with the obstruction of open discourse and free speech seems disingenuous; and charging all anti-Zionists with anti-Semitism seems just as dangerous.

      I am not a part of SJP, and in fact support the existence of a Jewish state. But I do not think your criticism of this letter is just.

  7. You are anti-Semites and fascists.

    The petition to disinvite Janet Mock was anti-Semitic in nature. My agency as a Jewish man was displaced. My agency as a gay man was displaced. You petitioned Janet Mock because her lecture was funded by an organization that sustains, embraces, and validates my Judaism. You disinvited Janet Mock because it supports a country that I believe has a right to exist. And that “support” is entirely qualified, steeped in open-eyed critique, a “support” that takes into account the apartheid, dispossessing policies of the Israeli state as well as what it will take to eradicate them.

    “Brown/RISD Hillel … is strictly intolerant of criticism of Israel and Israel’s racist and colonial policies, including those that oppress LGBTQ+ Palestinians.”

    FALSE. Brown/RISD Hillel has a clear policy of sponsoring speakers who criticize Israel’s occupation and of providing spaces for the entire spectrum of discussion of Israel’s policies. They brought in Avner Gvaryahu of Breaking the Silence just this past Thursday, who wasted no time in vilifying the occupying forces in the West Bank using his own experience as an IDF soldier as primary evidence. If you even knew anything about what it will take to bring about a two-state solution, you’d know that he stands on the forefront of changing Israeli minds to back the peace process.

    It is true that Brown/RISD Hillel is a “political space” – but identity is inherently political. Jews have intrinsic ties to the state of Israel as well as to the historical Diaspora of the Jewish people, and despite the racist policies and behaviors of the Israeli state, I believe in Israel’s right to exist. You may be repulsed and angered by the current systematic injustices inflicted by the government and economic structures in America, but you are constantly trying to improve those systems. Disinviting Janet Mock is akin to disinviting a Black Lives Matter activist — you’re only wounding a movement that is trying to improve the situation on the ground and give students the agency and ability to understand it and change it.

    Any Jewish space is now no longer considered a safe space for me to be gay. The fact is that Jews have a deep and organic connection to the state of Israel. It is a tragedy that Israel continually foils any future for a Palestinian state, and actively implements policies that dispossess the Palestinians of their land and livelihood, but it is also a tragedy that the Palestinian people are goading and nurturing the right-wing factions in Israel by committing terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians every day and democratically electing terrorist organizations to lead them.

    “We believe that no one should have to choose between Palestinian or queer liberation.”

    You have the chutzpah to compel me to choose between my identity as a Jew and as a queer man. You need to accept the mantle of Brown’s resident anti-Semitic organization.

    • FALSE:”FALSE. Brown/RISD Hillel has a clear policy of sponsoring speakers who criticize Israel’s occupation and of providing spaces for the entire spectrum of discussion of Israel’s policies. They brought in Avner Gvaryahu of Breaking the Silence just this past Thursday, ”

      JStreet brought them. The speech was never organized by the Hillel. You’ld first need to choose between truth and fiction.

      • Actually no, J Street is a Hillel affiliated organization just like Moral Voices – the group that was bringing Janet Mock – and the Avner Gvaryahu speech was specifically co-sponsored by Hillel, as well.

        • J Street may be allowed to host at the Hillel. That would be different from claiming the Hillel brought Avner to campus.

          • Willie Sam says:

            You can’t just dismiss facts that don’t fit your narrative. Clearly the event was co-sponsored by Brown Hillel, but don’t let that stop you from hating. Your next move could be that Hillel is engaging in #peacewashing to hide their genocidal agenda.

  8. ShadrachSmith says:

    Jihad is evil because it treats Islam as revealed truth, and treats kafir accordingly. We all watch Jihad do murder, rape, torture, & enslavement all over the world every day. I’m not OK with that.

    Jihad against jews is not a special case of OK murder and stuff. Murder and stuff is not OK. That’s exactly where Islam took a wrong turn, and I won’t submit to that.

    As always, I welcome any Muslim to discuss the treatment of kafir. The Pals are using murder as everyday politics…that is evil. Can we talk about that?

  9. You are the troll here. This is what’s so scary about tacitly accepting this full-on silencing of the Jewish community, or of any community that you disagree with: You’re so deeply embedded in your own ideological fog that you fail to even acknowledge material truths, like the fact that JStreet is a Hillel affiliate.

  10. Bryan Bridges says:

    Your claim about Israel sterilizing Jewish refugees of African descent has been shown to be a fabrication. It was retracted by HaAretz, the left-leaning paper that originally published them claim, but persists in anti-Jewish and anti-Israel blogs–which says a lot about where you get your information about Israel.

  11. Why is SJP afraid of coming out of the anti-Semitic closet? The worst that would happen is that you might get some nasty emails?

  12. 1st Amend. says:

    Why anyone would want to speak on a college campus is a mystery to me. the whole atmosphere exclusion is beyond childish. These days its impossible to know who you are going to offend. This quote is from Julie Bindel.
    “At a talk I did earlier this year on feminism, several students turned
    up to hear me, with one telling me a heartbreaking story about being
    cast out by her feminist group because she was a “terf” (trans
    exclusionary radical feminist) and a “swerf” (sex worker exclusionary
    radical feminist). Her crime had been to circulate an article I had
    written about the disgracefully low conviction rate for rape in the UK” …Julie Bindel.

  13. 1st Amend. says:

    Brown Students for Justice in Palestine (BSJP) is a group standing in
    solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for liberation. ln fighting for
    a more just and equal society, our group takes a firm stance against
    discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, gender identity, sexual
    orientation, social class, religion or ability…….. Unless you are Black, Trans, and speaking at a religious affiliated venue. We should all try to live up to our mission statement.

  14. Pat Nguyen says:

    To SJP:
    Let’s face it. You are only having your 15 minutes of fame due to the “intersectionality” of pusillanimous administrators and anti-Jewish sentiment. Please don’t deny that much of your support comes from the later, weather you intend it to be that way or not.

    The victims are of course the Palestinians who desire a prosperous, functioning state. Rather assist them with the necessary tasks of nation building, you and your ilk keep them in their wretched state by focussing on the demonization/elimination of Israel, romanticizing terrorism, and promoting unreasonable political goals for the Palestinians. It is your actions which perpetuate Palestinian victimhood. Soon the world will tire and move on to the next thing while another opportunity is lost. Shameful and pathetic.

  15. The SJP thinking that they have the moral high ground to critique any organization is truly laughable.

  16. Turkmenbashi says:

    and labeling SJP a hate group, and BDS a movement infested with virulent anti-Semitsm isn’t anti-Palestinian or Islamophobic.

  17. SJP is all about attacking Jews That is the reason for existing

  18. Well, it is. Going after Jews because they are jews definitely is.

  19. At first I felt bad for Mock, but she gave in to bigots that would not let her walk in Jordan

  20. Yeah, right. not Anti-Semitic. Let’s shut down some offensive pro-Palestinian or Muslim forums and see if the cries of “Islamophobia” don’t rain down from every direction of campus.

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