Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) constitute the most influential university branch of the anti-Israel movement. Despite their banal sloganeering and ludicrous propaganda, SJP keeps anti-Zionism in vogue with every cycle of impressionable college students eager to fight social injustice. Every so often, however, the fixture of campus activism breaks with their pinkwashing or Nakba hysterics for something ostensibly different, something seemingly plausible like Land Day.
On March 30, 1976, the Israeli government intended to confiscate 20,000 dunams of land in the Northern Galilee primarily for national security use, 6,000 of which were privately owned by Arab citizens. Protests ensued throughout Arab municipalities despite warnings from Israeli authorities and some Arab leaders, quickly turning violent.
Israeli political scientist Yitzhak Reiter describes in his book National Minority, Regional Majority Arab demonstrators “blocking roads with rocks, burning tires, throwing stones and burning oil cans at security forces, and burning cars – all new forms of protest for Israeli Arabs.” Six Arabs were killed, and dozens of people were wounded – including Israeli soldiers and policemen – in the Land Day riots, an “earthquake” prompting the Israeli government to “reevaluate the situation and aim to initiate policies to integrate the Arab minority in order to prevent its alienation from the state.”
Nearly a half-century later, Israel has made tremendous strides in integrating Arabs into the greater society, so much so that a Jewish People Policy Institute report in 2020 showed “a dramatic rise in the share of Arab Israelis who define their primary identity as ‘Israeli.’” It’s not uncommon to see Arabs politicians, judges, and high-ranking military officers in an Israeli society where Arabs enjoy full citizenship rights. Though they only account for 20% of the population, Arabs disproportionately own 50% of the private land in the Jewish state.
Of course, to the layman, it’s tempting to portray Land Day as a microcosm of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – Palestinians have been doing so since the riots initially took place and continue to this day. That was the message Brooklyn College SJP students were sending at the Land Day march in New York City, calling to #DefundRacism. The same goes for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s SJP, which held a Land Day panel on “Understanding Occupation Through Palestinians’ Eyes.” But really, the riots simply reflect the tension between a government and its minority citizenry.
What then is the significance of SJP promoting Land Day? It appears anti-Zionists are making a strategic shift, putting Israel’s treatment of its Arab minority – not Palestinian adversary – under their faulty microscope.
A poet, journalist, and activist, Mohammed El-Kurd is something of a renaissance antisemite. He is an appropriate poster child for this rebranding effort because he is from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
Just a month following the publication of his cliche-littered ode to Land Day in The Nation, Georgetown Law, and its SJP chapter invited El-Kurd (who, among other maniacal tirades, has depicted Israelis as monsters harvesting and feasting on Palestinian organs in his poetry) for a talk billed as “Law as a Tool of Dispossession: The Case of Sheikh Jarrah.”
“In the case of my neighborhood,” El-Kurd explained, “what you have is a law that permits Israeli settlers to reclaim their so-called property which they lost before 1948, whereas anybody who is not Jewish cannot reclaim their property they lost during the 1948 Nakba.”
CAMERA associate director Alex Safian points out that Arabs who fled their property during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War are, in fact, eligible to file for compensation from Israel’s Custodian of Absentee Property, but they were pressured not to make claims, lest that legitimize Israel’s existence and sovereignty.”
Since then, “at least 14,692 claims have been filed, claims have been settled with respect to more than 200,000 dunums of land, and more than 10,000,000 NIS (New Israeli Shekels) has been paid in compensation” all without the 500,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries receiving so much as a penny of compensation.
Remember, El-Kurd, and his SJP groupies are in the business of character assassination. It does not matter that Land Day was a violent riot. It does not matter that Israeli Arabs own more private land than Israeli Jews. Every fact affirming Israel’s existence and benevolence will always be twisted and used as a stick to beat Jews and Zionists.