University Administrators Demonize Jews in the Name of Social Justice

At Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), “social justice and equity” mean denying Jewish indigeneity and self-determination and whitewashing violence against Jews. At least that’s the takeaway from a “visual timeline of occupied Palestinian land” BMCC’s “Social Justice and Equity Centers” (SJEC) are displaying on campus.

Much could and will be said about the bigotry exuding from the display. It denies Jewish indigeneity and nationhood, exposing the shallowness of the SJEC’s virtue-signaling references to “social justice.” Perhaps the clearest example: while the SJEC includes a land acknowledgement on its website, it labels Jews as “settler colonialists” in their own homeland and whitewashes the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), whose founding charter includes an entire article explicitly denying Jewish nationhood and indigeneity (Article 20: “Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood. Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own…”).

But beyond excluding Jews from its conception of “social justice,” the SJEC’s display illustrates another basic truth about much of the antisemitic activism in academia. It is devoid of any real academic quality, relying on emotionally charged language, historical revisionism, and outright lies in service of a narrative. The narrative in this case just also happens to be obscenely bigoted.

In some ways, the display’s combination of bigotry and poor academic quality is unintentionally humorous. While attempting to equate Zionism – the Jews’ national movement for self-determination in their indigenous homeland – with racism, the authors end up admitting that anti-Zionism is antisemitism, writing: “To be anti-Xenophobe is to be anti-Zionist & anti-semetic (sic).”

Other basic errors that seem to be more a result of ignorance than dishonesty are scattered throughout the panels. One bizarrely states, “The League of Nations issued a British mandate for Palestine, otherwise referred to as the Balfour Declaration of 1917.” Perhaps those who don’t understand those are two entirely separate documents issued years apart should not be trying to educate on the subject. Another panel claims that the “settlement population has been largely evacuated” (emphasis added) from Gaza, as if there are still some Israeli settlements there. Of course, a version of the obligatory and baseless “disappearing Palestine” map also makes an appearance.

But most of the errors are less forgivable, as the authors suppress the facts of history to create a narrative that depicts Jews as sinister and bloodthirsty. In its panel on Israel’s War of Independence (they call it the “Nakba”), rather than acknowledge that it began with Arab attacks on Jews that proceeded to a full-scale invasion by surrounding Arab armies the moment the State of Israel was declared, readers are told it was a Jewish “campaign of ethnic cleansing” and that Israel “uses the idea of self-defense to impose attacks on Palestinians,” as if it were Israel’s plan all along to be invaded (and lose 1% of its entire population – the equivalent of 3.3 million Americans) just so it could kill some Palestinian Arabs. 

Meanwhile, the conspiratorial reference to Israel using self-defense as an excuse is the closest the display comes to acknowledging Arab violence against Jews. It makes no mention  of the anti-Jewish massacres and violence in the 1920s and 30s, only of a “national strike to protest against mass Jewish migration” (so much for being “anti-xenophobe”). The war of destruction waged on the Jewish state by its neighbors in 1967 is described only as “The Second Nakba,” and the 1973 Yom Kippur War isn’t mentioned at all. Arab terrorism never appears on the timeline. Hamas is infamous not for the thousands of terror attacks it has carried out against Israeli civilians, but “for its rejection of Israel,” as if it’s just some radical student group opposed to the existence of nation-states. The Gaza border riots were “peaceful gatherings” initiated by a Palestinian poet during which Israel mercilessly killed “protesters,” notwithstanding that even Hamas has admitted its role in organizing and exploiting the riots and that many of those killed were its operatives.

The display’s description of the Second Intifada, though, takes the cake. It combines outright lies and antisemitism in a way that would make Nazi collaborator and Palestinian leader Hajj Amin al-Husseini proud. The panel claims:

Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon invaded the al-Aqsa Compound on September 28, 2000, to impose Israeli rule. He was accompanied by more than 1,000 heavily armed Israeli soldiers. This marked the start of the 2nd Intifada as Palestinians rose up to defend Jerusalem from the settler army….The 2nd Intifada portrayed years of failed negotiations and was a turning point in Israeli/Palestinian politics.

Where to even begin? The denial of Jewish history by erasing the fact that Sharon was visiting the Temple Mount, the holiest Jewish site, as was well within his right under the “status quo?” The careful omission that the intifada was launched shortly after Yasser Arafat rejected an offer of statehood and the abundant evidence that the intifada was not a spontaneous outburst, but deliberately planned and instigated by Palestinian leadership to force Israel into more concessions? The invention of some entity called the “settler army,” as if all Israelis are foreign settlers? The preposterous and obscene suggestion that sending suicide bombers to blow up kids in pizza parlors and families celebrating Passover was to “defend Jerusalem?” The fact that the panel gives credence to the century-old “al-Aqsa is in danger” myth that has led to repeated anti-Jewish massacres?

One could go on and point out the numerous other lies, omissions, and misleading descriptions, but the reason behind these errors and falsifications is clear. For the SJEC to admit the facts would mean having to analyze and contend with them, and to adjust their understanding of the conflict accordingly. Instead, the SJEC relies on emotionally charged language and revisionism to reinforce its conspiratorial and antisemitic narrative of “colonial” Jews killing only because they want to, while their “indigenous” Arab neighbors drift without fault or agency.

While the ideological capture of some academic departments is well known, the BMCC display is a particularly egregious example of the coopting of university administrative entities in service of anti-Israel and antisemitic ideologies. In this case, funds meant to “address student basic needs,” “improve student learning,” and “improve and reduce equity gaps” are instead being coopted into creating demonizing and fictitious narratives of devious Jews and their bloodthirsty nation-state. Rather than “supporting, empowering, and celebrating” a historically marginalized group, BMCC’s SJEC is instead adding fuel to the fire of antisemitism in its own neighborhood.

If BMCC and the SJEC are truly committed to supporting historically marginalized groups then they must “disavow this incendiary and defamatory rhetoric against Jewish students the SJEC propagated on campus,” in the words of CAMERA on Campus, and work to correct the record.

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