Tales of student torment: Zionist disinformation on US campuses

Zionist propaganda on US campuses
By Lawrence Davidson

Being “Jewish” on US campuses

For those readers who have been with me for a while, you might remember the mysterious fact that I am on the -mail list of the American Jewish Committee (AJC). The AJC is one of the principal Zionist advocacy organisations in the United States. There is some advantage to this odd situation because it serves to alert me to the often misleading positions the organisation takes.

Recently, I got an email (I was unable to establish a link to this message) from Seffi Kogen, the “AJC Global Director of Young Leadership”. He asked the question: “What is it like being Jewish on [a US] campus?” Based on what appears to be a small sample (“a group of Jewish students at a prestigious American university”), Kogen comes to the conclusion that all is not well. The students’ answers to this question were “disturbing”.

From this apparently small sample, Kogen feels ready to generalise the following “reality”:

— Jewish “students who are pro-Israel… have been treated with open contempt and even harassment”. Please note that “being Jewish on campus” has now morphed into Jewish “students who are pro-Israel”.

— “They have been tormented and intimidated.”

— “They have been bullied during anti-Israel boycott and divestment campaigns on campuses across the country.”

Well, that is a big leap on several accounts. Is this a random sample of Jewish students or a select group chosen because they are Zionists? How many are in the sample? Is there any reason to assume that this group is representative of “Jewish students on campus” nationwide? Also, you don’t have to be Jewish to be pro-Israel, and conversely it is the case that not all Jewish students are pro-Israel. Yet Kogen seems to be mixing up the different groups: Jewish students in general and Jewish student supporters of Israel. What he certainly seems to be doing is committing a logical fallacy known as “hasty generalisation” or “arguing from small numbers”.

Having asserted a logical fallacy as the basis of campus “reality”, Kogen tells us that all members of the AJC should financially support the organisation’s continuing effort to, among other things, “bring university presidents and student affairs officers to Israel to learn the truth about this country that means so much to all of us”. This in turn will supposedly motivate them to be hostile to students who support Palestinian rights and the boycott of Israel.

Just who is intimidating whom?

Later, we will take up some student-related truths that guests of the AJC in Israel are unlikely to learn, but right now let’s stay with Kogen’s stateside assertions.

What Kogen conveniently omits is that pro-Israel students, often aided by foreign students who are Israeli army veterans, are themselves acting in an intimidating, harassing and bullying ways. For instance, members of the Students for Justice in Palestinechapter at the University of California Irvine assert that they “were subjected to days of racial and sexual slurs in what they believe was an attempt to provoke a reaction”. 

Then there is the fact that pro-Israel college administrators, with or without all-expenses-paid trips to Israel, and often backed by officials of US state and federal governments, also harass and intimidate student and faculty supporters of Palestine. Palestine Legalan organisation of American lawyers who defend the First Amendment rights of those who support the Palestinian cause, reports the following:

In blatant disregard of the First Amendment, government actors have increasingly had a direct hand in censoring Palestine advocacy. This censorship originates at all levels of government… [and includes] administrators at public universities, and both Democratic and Republican state governors. These actions have also empowered anti-Palestinian groups.

The truth is that pro-Israel lobbies like the AJC are attempting to shut down the free speech rights of groups supporting Palestinian rights and the boycott of Israel. Their supporters on campus are active, aggressive, and in fact more un-American (their efforts are blatantly unconstitutional) than those who support the oppressed and discriminated against Palestinians. It is the latter, and not the former, who stand up for human and civil rights and international law.

As pro-Palestinian advocacy has increased both on and off American college campuses, there have, as noted above, been occasional confrontations. Some have turned “disrespectful”. However, apart from the anti-constitutional effort to outlaw the historically legitimate tactic of boycott, and the propaganda effort to cast those critical of Israel as “anti-Semites” – all of which the AJC supports – most of these confrontations seemed spontaneous. But that is not what Kogen would have us believe. He is suggesting that there is some sort of premeditated effort to “torment” and “harass” Jewish students who support Israel. Yet, you have to understand, he is, in part, paid to generate a picture of renewed hostility to Jews while suggesting that most Jews are Zionists like himself. That certainly seems to be a consequence of his job. 

Campus scene in Israel and the occupied territories

While we are on the topic of “what it is like to be a Jew on campus” in the US, I thought it would be appropriate to examine what it is like to be a Palestinian on campus in Israel and its occupied territories. Here are some examples which in fact typify the treatment of Palestinians:

— Birzeit University is the premier Palestinian institution of higher learning on the occupied West Bank. Students attending Birzeit are subject to arrest by Israel’s occupying army at any time, and “in the last months of 2019, the Israeli occupation has launched one of its most aggressive arrest campaigns against Palestinian students in recent years”. Statistics kept by the Palestinian prisoners’ rights organisation Addameer indicate that “some 250 Palestinian university students are currently imprisoned by Israel”. And what are these university students guilty of? The Israelis claim that they are members of “armed Hamas cells” on campus, but evidence that is not manufactured by the Israelis themselves is sparse. The real “crime” is that these students are standing up and protesting against their own oppression.

— The aim of these arrests is to break the morale of Palestinian students and make politics a subject to be avoided. “Speaking from his campus office, Sameeh Hammoudeh, [a Birzeit] university professor, said the present context has had a stifling impact on politics: there is fear, he said, ‘in the heart of the students’, inspired by a real threat of torture and abuse”.

— Moving from the occupied territories to Israel proper we find that “Palestinians in Israel are discriminated against systematically – and this is especially true in Israeli academia”. Israeli Arab high school students “attend [ethnically segregated] schools with poor budgets, and are taught content that does not prepare them for the PET, the Psychometric Entrance Test, an exam for securing places in universities”.

— Those Israeli Palestinians who do make it to an Israeli institution of higher learning face an environment of estrangement and tension. As a Palestinian student at Haifa University observed,

you can’t escape the feeling of alienation when you are an Arab student in the Israeli universities. On the one hand, you are in an academic environment, but on the other hand you are surrounded with guns. It has reached a point where it’s difficult to see the contradiction. It has become the norm – uniformed soldiers carrying automatic weapons are part of the academic landscape.

This is a part of Seffi Kogen’s “truth about this country that means so much to all of us”. Yet we can be sure that it is a truth not mentioned to the “university presidents and student affairs officers” he invites on the AJC junkets. 


It would seem that Seffi Kogen and the AJC are guilty of both hypocrisy and misdirection: hypocrisy because the Zionists, both here and in Israel, are much more active at harassing their opponents than are Palestinians and their supporters (who in the US, by the way, are often Jewish); and misdirection (i.e. Jewish pro-Israel students on US campuses are being “tormented”) because they now attribute to their opponents the unethical tactics they themselves practice.

Kogen and the AJC are also guilty of purposeful confusion of two different groups: Jews in general and Zionists. While these categories can overlap, they are not inclusive. An increasing number of Jews are opposed to Zionist ideology and the racism and oppression it has engendered. And, an increasing number of Zionists are not Jewish, but rather, among others, US Christian fundamentalists as well as non-Jewish immigrants coming to Israel (which in 2018 reached 54 per cent of the total).  

So, as is usual with hotly debated topics, one has to be careful to analyse the arguments and watch out for disinformation. Of course, the side that has lots of money, lots of well-organised cadres, and help from agents of the government has a significant advantage in pressing their message – be it accurate or not. But, when it comes to the Zionist state, this propaganda machine has not been able to keep up with Israeli villainy. According to the United Nations, the “nation that means so much to all” is so consistently in violation of human and civil rights that of all the resolutions citing such criminal behaviour issued by the UN, over 40 per cent name Israel as the offender. Such a wretched record speaks louder than Kogen’s words.

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