On February 17, students from more than 200 college campuses gathered at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) for the 12th annual National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) conference.
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is a radical student organization that has chapters on university campuses across the US, the UK, Canada, and New Zealand. SJP maintains a heavily biased approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict, with its members frequently calling for the dissolution of the State of Israel, hosting vigils for terrorists, and spreading misinformation. Worse yet, SJP also targets Jewish students on campus.
While Israel can be criticized to the same degree as any other country, SJP’s rhetoric routinely crosses the line, promoting a narrative that attempts to mainstream anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment under the guise of social justice and advocacy for human rights.
In 2018, when UCLA also hosted the national SJP conference, the conference website asserted that “Zionism is a human ideology and a set of laws that have been challenged and can be destroyed.” The website also falsely accused the State of Israel of “ethnic cleansing, destruction, mass expulsion, apartheid, and death.”
National SJP’s open bigotry and their appeal to these antisemitic tropes is reprehensible.
This year, the conference claimed to “allow participants to return to their respective campuses with the tools, connections, and motivation to build new campaigns or fortify work already underway.”
The recent “work” and “campaigns” by SJP chapters around the country are unsurprisingly antisemitic.
In January 2022, the SJP chapter at the University of Chicago called for a boycott of all courses related to Israel or taught by Israeli academics, a campaign they continue to promote to this day.
On September 7, 2022, the SJP chapter at the University of Wisconsin-Madison opened the first day of classes with graffiti targeting various Jewish organizations. Afterward, SJP stated that it was “strictly a comment on Zionism,” although SJP’s graffiti named five Jewish organizations on campus: Hillel, Chabad, and TAMID, and claimed that the organizations have “blood on their hands”.
Between September 2022 and January 2023, SJP chapters at Ohio State University, Georgetown, and UMass Amherst also lionized terrorists from numerous terror cells including the Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Lions’ Den. These terrorist organizations call for Israel’s destruction, and their members have attempted, and in some cases, succeeded in murdering Jewish people.
In addition to glorifying terrorism, SJP misrepresents Zionism, demonizing the term in order to promote anti-Jewish bigotry.
Last year at the UC Berkeley School of Law, nine anti-Zionist groups adopted a bylaw promoted by Law Students for Justice in Palestine to ban Zionist speakers from club activities. At SUNY New Paltz, Jewish survivors of sexual assault were excluded from survivor circles because of their connection to Israel.
To ban speakers from club activities and to exclude a survivor of sexual assault on the basis of their Zionist-Jewish identity is antisemitic.
In truth, Zionism is the movement for the self-determination of the Jewish people, nothing more, nothing less; it is a belief that is inextricably linked to Jewish identity for most Jews.
A 2016 study titled “Hotspots of Antisemitism and Anti-Israel Hostility on US Campuses” by researchers at Brandeis University documented the prevalence of this issue on campuses across the United States. Additionally, it revealed that “many of the schools in the University of California system are ‘hotspots’ where the majority of Jewish students perceive a hostile environment.” The report further noted that much of the harassment against Jewish students on UC campuses corresponds to anti-Zionist activity on campus.
This past month alone, antisemitic propaganda has been prevalent on UC campuses. At UC Davis, SJP demonstrated against Israel by writing various phrases in chalk in the center of campus. Such vandalism included “glory to the martyrs,” praising Palestinian terrorists who have been neutralized after killing innocent Jewish civilians, like in the recent terror attack that left eight Jewish synagogue-goers shot dead on the holiest day of the week. Other remarks included “Zionism is a death cult,” and “from the river to the sea,” a chant that refers to expelling Jews from all of Israel.
Last month at UC Santa Barbara (UCSB), a chalkboard in a classroom for an Israeli politics course was vandalized to read “from the river to the sea.” As noted above, this phrase is synonymous with calls for the elimination of the State of Israel. The chalkboard also included the phrase “F*** ISRAEL” in large letters, as well as other antisemitic claims about the Jewish people, according to reporting by the Santa Barbara Independent.
In December 2022, hateful flyers promoting antisemitic tropes were distributed across Isla Vista, the neighborhood surrounding UCSB. The flyers promoted the notion of “Jewish white supremacy,” and “COVID agendas.”
Last fall, SJP at UCLA campaigned against a proposal for the West Hollywood city council to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. This definition rightly classifies double standards and classic antisemitic canards against Jews and Israel as antisemitism. SJP at UCLA likely rallied against the IHRA definition because they do not want to be held accountable for their antisemitism.
SJP chapters on campuses across the US also orchestrate a hate-filled week, titled “Apartheid Week,” in which they trumpet antisemitic misinformation, call to boycott the only Jewish state, and often make Jewish students feel unwelcome and unsafe.
During last year’s “Apartheid Week” at UCLA, SJP members shouted “long live the intifada” at Jewish students, and hosted an “anti-colonial art night” in which one student drew an antisemitic piece that iterated age-old antisemitic tropes that Jews control Hollywood and commit blood libel. This year’s upcoming “Apartheid Week” falls on the holiest nights of Passover.
While UCLA must honor the right to free speech, it should think twice before legitimizing and providing a platform to Students for Justice in Palestine, which runs a campaign of bigotry against the Jewish people and promotes propaganda slandering the State of Israel.
By hosting the national SJP Conference and not holding SJP accountable, UCLA is sending a message to its Jewish students: We will not recognize or take action to address the problem of antisemitism.
Chancellor Gene Block and the UC Regents must do better to denounce and distance themselves from those promoting Jew hatred.
Kylie Heering is a CAMERA on Campus Fellow, who is dedicated to educating about Israel and denouncing antisemitism.
This article was originally published in the Algemeiner.