The cry “Palestine is a feminist issue” echoes on campuses across the country. Numerous Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) affiliates as well as other anti-Israel groups have held joint events with social justice groups, even going so far as to ally themselves with certain high-profile feminists. Rasmea Odeh, a convicted terrorist, is being championed by college social justice groups.
As university students who value social justice and support the State of Israel, the connection between anti-Israel vitriol and progressive social activism is confusing and disheartening. Israel, the only free and open democracy in the Middle East–the biggest supporter of LGBTQ, women’s, and minority rights in the region–is the subject of vicious attacks by groups that should by all measures support Israel’s commitment to human rights and social justice. Groups across the campus world proudly advertise their connections to SJP. To say we’re puzzled is an understatement.
For a quick background on SJP, let’s examine their activities on campus. Israel Apartheid Week (IAW), organized on many campuses nationwide, is a hateful, sometimes violent event that shocks many with it’s targeting of Jewish students, regardless of their political opinions. For instance, SJP at Brooklyn College proudly displayed an image of Leila Khaled, a convicted and imprisoned plane hijacker, on their “apartheid wall.” Brandeis University’s SJP brought Ali Abunimah, who calls for terrorist attacks against Israelis and Jews, to speak at its IAW. This year, the student senate at UC Davis passed a Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) resolution against Israel, proposed by SJP. Shortly after the resolution passed, Azka Fayyaz, a member of the student senate, took to Facebook posting, “Hamas & Sharia law have taken over UC Davis… Israel will fall Insha’Allah.”
Audre Lorde, a pioneer of modern feminism, said of coalition forming, “It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths.” Intersectional coalitions within the sphere of social activism have reshaped the way that social issues are approached and, in many cases, for the best. However, the formation of alliances between movements whose goals are diametrically opposed can have devastating effects. Unfortunately, SJP and other anti-Israel groups successfully fool the campus community at large by framing their hateful agenda as a progressive social justice cause.
SJP and other anti-Israel groups continuously twist facts about Israel’s positive attributes to make it appear as if Israel is a horrible oppressive place. For instance, Israel is proud of the equal rights that its LGBTQ community enjoys. In fact, it is by far the most free state in the Middle East for LGBTQ individuals. Unfortunately, rather than highlighting the abuses Palestinian-Arab sexual and gender minorities endure under Hamas and the PLO, SJP and other anti-Israel groups bash Israel for its successful promotion of equality for the LGBTQ community.
This line of argumentation is used by Israel detractors to claim Israel is against social justice. Anti-Israel activists such as Sarah Schulman, a vocal defender of SJP’s bigotry and a regular speaker at SJP events, claim that Israel boasts its positive treatment of sexual and gender minorities in order to detract attention from its treatment of Palestinian-Arabs. This narrative is common in anti-Israel rhetoric and events nationwide. Schulman’s argument, however, falls flat; how can you criticize a country because it doesn’t mistreat its minorities? This assertion holds Israel to an unfair double standard, as it criticizes Israel for its fair treatment of the LGBTQ community and ignores Palestinian-Arab abuse of their LGBTQ minority. Legitimate criticism of Israeli policy is always welcome and encouraged as a means of civil discourse. However, deliberately finding fault in Israel’s virtues and condemning even Israel’s positive qualities as injustices is unacceptable hate speech. If SJP really cared about justice for the LGBTQ community, it would condemn Hamas’ policy of mercilessly murdering homosexuals.
SJP uses LGBTQ rights, along with other social justice causes, as a lightning rod to gain support from groups on campuses nationwide. SJP is desperately trying to gain allies in the social justice movement in order to establish itself on the side of the moral, and frame Israel in relation to racists and bigots. As a result, many social advocacy groups actively partner with a group that shares none of their values.
Unfortunately, misinformed students often fall into SJP’s “social justice” trap. SJP and other anti-Israel organizations spread lies about the Zionist movement to demonize Israel and manipulate others into supporting their efforts to combat “bigotry.” Directly violating the U.S. State Department’s definition of antisemitism, these hate groups purposefully and falsely paint Zionism as racism. In reality, the ideals of the Zionist movement champion equality for all and align very closely with those of the social justice movement. Zionism is the Jewish civil rights movement–voicing Jews’ right to self determination and a sovereign state in their indigenous land of Israel. Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a prominent feminist, asserted that “…the Law of Return to Israel is justified, if not by Jewish and religious ethnic claims, then by the intransigence of worldwide anti-Semitism.” Feminists show support for lesbian separatism and programs empowering racial minorities due to the many obstacles they have had to overcome. Likewise, feminists should strive to understand and stand up for the Jewish people’s right to a safe space through the establishment of a Jewish state in their historic homeland. Instead, many feminists ally themselves with detractors of Israel when they ought to show solidarity with pro-Israel advocates who share their values and dedication to equality and human rights.
Intersectional coalition-building is an effective and powerful tool used by modern feminists and advocates of social justice to amplify their message and maximize support for their causes. But this tool should be used carefully; the introduction of a bad apple into the coalition besmirches the name of all groups affiliated with it and is counterproductive to the goals of all other groups involved. Anti-Israel hate groups are not legitimate members of the social justice movement, and their theft of legitimacy from their peers is a setback to social justice that must be confronted.