In mid-July, the University of Houston Student Government Association voted yes to a resolution backed by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which called for “protection & support for pro-Palestine students and activism.”
While the resolution appears agreeable at first glance, it is yet another blow against Jewish students on campus. The resolution states that “the University of Houston Student Government Association unequivocally rejects the debasement of Palestinian activism through the false conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism”.
Those that voted in favor of the resolution either did not fully understand its implications or are terribly ignorant to the repercussions toward their Jewish peers.
It is vital to clarify how and why anti-Zionism is unquestionably antisemitism. Before doing so however, a disclaimer must be made very clear: Free speech is a fundamental value in our society, and pro-Palestinian students must be given a voice to share their opinions. However, this activism should never come at the expense of others nor be manipulated to advance an antisemitic agenda that leaves Jews (or any other population) feeling marginalized. It is also important to note the insidiousness of the resolution, which purposefully masks its hate-filled agenda with a progressive, inclusive title.
Anti-Zionism is the denial of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination and to establish a homeland in their ancestral homeland in the Land of Israel. By adhering to anti-Zionism, SJP and its supporters deny the Jewish people this right. Members of SJP are not shy about this. For example, in 2018, former UH SJP member Mohammad Abdel-Aziz tweeted “A legitimate Israeli state does not and will never exist. Any supporter of Palestinians would not deviate from this statement.”
This denial of Jewish rights violates the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, which was adopted by the US State Department, which states that denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination is an act of antisemitism, as well as Article I of the UN Charter, which states that a country must develop friendly relations among “nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of people.” If Jews are denied this right, as SJP members have advocated for, they are excluding just one single nation from the right to sovereignty – a blatant act of antisemitism.
Ignorantly arguing that anti-Zionism is not antisemitism is an irresponsibly dangerous claim to carry. It encourages the continuous rise of attacks on Jewish people, Jewish communities and Jewish day schools, as it provides a disguise for antisemites to operate under. Anti-Zionism showed its hand in the recent Israel-Gaza uprising when antisemitic harassment and violence increased by 600% in the UK and people wearing Palestinian flags went to kosher restaurants in the US to shout “F*** you” to Jews enjoying dinner with their loved ones.
Moreover, UH SJP has no shame in glorifying leaders of terrorist organizations like Ghassan Kanafani, a leading member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. This organization partook in multiple civilian airplane hijackings, shootings and bombings, leaving countless civilians dead. Regardless of these atrocities, UH SJP chose to publicly praise him on Twitter: “On the 46th anniversary of his assassination, we recognize Ghassan Kanafani, a Palestinian revolutionary who spent his lifetime fighting for Palestinian liberation. May he rest in eternal glory.” Although it is written in its recently passed resolution that UH’s Student Government Association is “an association [that] stands in solidarity with marginalized populations and aims to advocate against acts of injustice” it has clearly left the Jewish people out of the fine print.
On top of this all, SJP members at UH often play a well-known game in world of antisemitism – holding the Jewish people accountable as a collective for the actions of the State of Israel. The IHRA definition of antisemitism clearly states that manifestations of antisemitism include “the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.” For example, former UH SJP member, Zeina Elissa tweeted: “I literally will never be able to sympathize with yahood [Jews]. Like no matter how bad what happened to them was, what they did was SO much worse.” An organization that expresses hatred toward an entire nation for no legitimate reason should not be tolerated on campus nor be supported by the Student Government Association
Criticism of Israel is encouraged. Opinions and arguments from all spectrums are welcomed and will hopefully contribute to fixing the state’s flaws and areas of improvement in the near future. In fact, the IHRA definition of antisemitism explicitly states that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”
Before critiquing, check yourself. Do not demonize the state and make unfounded comparisons like equating Israelis to Nazis. Do not impose a double standard on it. Do not delegitimize Israel’s existence and right to self-determination. UH SJP, in order to “reaffirm your commitment to justice, open expression and academic freedom” you must do so without putting your Jewish peers in harm’s way.
Sandra Marcushamer is pursuing a B.A. in Government, Strategy, and Diplomacy at the IDC Herzliya, where she is a fellow in the prestigious Argov Leadership Program. She is also a CAMERA on Campus fellow and the co-president of Israel Young Pugwash.
A slightly different version of this article was featured in The Jerusalem Post.