On many college campuses today, anti-Zionist organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) incorrectly portray Israel as a racist, white supremacist country. The success of these groups can be attributed to their use of intersectional ideas (the “interconnected” nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, and alleged overlapping systems of discrimination) to create false equivalencies between Palestinians, the freedom of oppressed minorities, and other progressive causes.
Utilizing this tactic, Zionism is portrayed as the perpetrator of the suffering of others. But these “activists” have it backwards: it is support for Zionism — the belief of Jewish self-determination in their ancestral homeland — that is actually intersectional.
It is necessary to explore how anti-Israel movements have utilized intersectional politics to win arguments on college campus.
In Spring 2018, the president of the Governance Council of Minority & Marginalized Students (GCOMMS) at NYU expressed a false equivalence between graffitied swastikas and Zionism, urging students to stand in solidarity against all oppressive movements, including Zionism.
In reality, this grotesque comparison is a form of antisemitism — because swastikas directly promote hate and discrimination against Jews, while Zionism promotes freedom and liberation for Jews.
The following semester, the NYU Student Government passed a resolution urging NYU to divest from all companies associated with Israel, citing a belief in “human rights for all.” In addition, 53 student clubs pledged to boycott all Zionist clubs on campus — their fellow students — in a campaign spearheaded by Students for Justice in Palestine.
Most recently, the 2019 graduation keynote speaker praised pro-BDS groups on campus, and their work in fighting for all oppressed people, exclaiming: “I am so proud of NYU’s chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine and of Jewish Voice for Peace, and of GSOC [the Graduate Student Organizing Committee] for supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions [BDS] movement against the apartheid state government in Israel.”
Too often, support for the Palestinian cause is incorrectly connected to support for other causes, such as climate justice, civil rights, and LGBTQ+ equality.
This Palestinian “intersectional” narrative is 100% false, yet it is normalized by SJP to an extent that makes it difficult for pro-Israel students to counter. SJP might appear to embody their intersectional principles by speaking up for other oppressed groups, but they are merely using these groups as political pawns to further their anti-Israel agenda.
They claim that they are fighting for the same cause as the activists of Black Lives Matter, but the situation for Palestinians is completely unrelated to racism experienced by black Americans. One way SJP and others do this is by promoting a false notion that Israel trains US police departments on how to target black populations.
In reality, SJP is manipulating legitimate struggles of other minorities in order to incite stronger hatred for Israel and isolate Jewish students.
Contrary to SJP’s agenda, Zionism has a genuine connection to other liberation movements. It is critical to remember that Zionism is the only movement which brought an African population, the Ethiopian Jewish community, out of Africa for the purpose of freedom.
“SJP might appear to embody their intersectional principles by speaking up for other oppressed groups, but they are merely using these groups as political pawns to further their anti-Israel agenda.”
Israel provided a home for hundreds of thousands of Jews expelled from Arab countries. And Israel is a safe haven for Christians, Druze, and Baha’i populations — religious groups that have full civil rights like any other Israeli citizen. And Israeli Arabs have completely equal rights as well. Zionism also has a connection to intersectional movements across the globe. For instance, the Israeli NGO Innovation Africa brings Israeli solar and water technologies to remote African villages. This amazing non-profit is rooted in many Zionist principles, one being the freedom and liberation of indigenous populations worldwide. Zionism has contributed so much to the world, despite attempts to show otherwise by groups such as SJP, which have falsely painted Israel as a racist country.
The pro-Israel community pledges support for intersectional movements such as gay rights, women’s rights, and civil rights. Perhaps some are not as vocal on these issues — causes they believe in and want to defend — because the anti-Israel narrative has created an oppressive and hostile environment towards Zionism. This makes it difficult for Zionists to actively participate in these movements.
For example, Zionists were unwelcome at the DC Dyke March, when the leaders of the movement explicitly stated that the Star of David was too “nationalistic” of a symbol. The Star of David is both an Israeli symbol and Jewish symbol, not only the former, and banning it sends a clear message that Jewish and pro-Israel voices are not welcome in this so-called progressive space. Thankfully, other Dyke Marches disagreed — and allowed the symbol.
Pro-Israel supporters on college campuses should not be discouraged; rather, they should continue to fight the spread of propaganda by anti-Israel groups. They should also support other causes they believe in, despite any pushback from hateful forces. Zionists can and do fight not only for Jewish rights in the land of Israel, but also for other oppressed communities, because Zionism represents something larger — a movement supporting liberation, indigenous rights, and equality for all.
Originally published in The Algemeiner.
Contributed by 2019-2020 New York University CAMERA Fellow Ben Newhouse.