The fragile ceasefire between Hamas and Israel in the recent Gaza incursion may have brought a tentative peace to that region, but on campuses in California -- the veritable ground zero of anti-Israel sentiment in the academy -- the debate over the 60-year conflict has gained a new, and more insidious, momentum as student demonstrations, protests, and denunciations of racist Zionism, a "brutal occupation," and "genocide" of Arabs were heard on campuses worldwide.
The virulence of anti-Israelism and antisemitism at The University of California, Irvine campus, for instance, has been so flagrant and endemic in recent years that it actually prompted an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, the findings of which were issued in a damning 2007 report. But San Francisco State University is not far behind in the ignoble way it has enabled its Muslim students' organizations to create a veritable reign of terror on campus against Jewish and pro-Israel students, while simultaneously attempting to silence voices of opposition, a situation made evident this January when SFSU's College Republicans were once again pushed into the limelight for their outspoken challenges to the school's ubiquitous Palestinianism.
Playing off the recent indignity suffered by former president Bush when an insolent reporter hurled a shoe at the President's head during a press conference, the College Republicans had set up a booth to let students who so wished to sign an anti-Hamas, anti-terror petition and throw a shoe at a Hamas flag. Deeply "offended" by the Republicans for daring to condemn terrorists, rather than the Israeli state in defending its civilians from genocidal attack, members of SFSU's General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS) and socialist club overturned the table, seized the Hamas flag, and were physically aggressive enough in their assault of the Republican students to result in two of their members, Muhammad Abdullah and Jeremy Stern, being put under arrest.
The outcome of this event, one would think, would be fairly straightforward, since the pro-Hamas protestors clearly violated SFSU's own rules for student behavior, which clearly prohibit "conduct that threatens or endangers the health or safety of any person within or related to the university community, including physical abuse, threats, intimidation, [or] harassment," all of which the Republican group experienced.
But in the morally-inverted world of academia, the Republican group, for the third time, find themselves the target of punishment and censure, not their attackers, and the "offended parties -- the GUPS and the socialist club -- have made some breathtakingly audacious demands to the SFSU administration: the College Republicans must be punished or sanctioned for throwing shoes at the Hamas flag; pending charges should be dropped against the two protestors who assaulted the College Republicans and seized the Hamas flag; and, most ominously for defenders of free expression on campus, a forum should be created to "educate" students about what forms of speech the "offended" students deem acceptable or unacceptable, including what the Left regularly tries to proscribe as "hate speech."
The idea that one group of college students believe they can and should decide what acceptable speech is at any given moment is a particularly chilling concept, particularly when those same students have defined their political beliefs with an unwavering support for the jihadist aggression of groups that threaten not only Israel, but the West, as well.
Two years ago, the College Republicans held a similar anti-terrorism rally at which SFSU students were invited to stomp on the flags of Hamas and Hezbollah, and with similar punitive results: the complaining students accused the Republican group members of "acts of incivility" and "intimidation," suggesting that they created a "hostile environment" by publicly walking over the terrorist flags, which, unbeknownst to the Republican students, happen bear the name of Allah in Arabic script.
While college demonstrators here and abroad regularly burn, deface, and desecrate the flags of Israel and the United States, something that the courts have repeatedly upheld as Constitutionally-protected speech, only on a campus controlled by Left-leaning faculty and radicalized students could the protest against the flags of genocidal terrorist thugs be considered, as it was here, an attempt to "incite violence," "hateful religious intolerance" and an act by those who "pre-meditated the stomping of the flags knowing it would offend some people and possibly incite violence." Thanks to the intervention of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a group that defends campus free speech, the Republican club was exonerated, but only after they had been dragged through proceedings by University officials who had to be reminded by FIRE that "speech does not constitute incitement if a speaker's words result in violence because people despise what the speaker said and wish to silence him or her."
Were only the College Republicans acting out in a provocative way on an otherwise peaceful SFSU campus, they might well be rebuked for being crude and demonstrating impolite and impolitic behavior. But not only has the campus gained notoriety for the outrageousness of some of its morally-defective protests, but the same "offended" parties who sought punishments for the College Republicans, the General Union of Palestinian Students, have continually been at the center of a succession of riots, protests, and anti-Israel, anti-American hate-fests and counter-protests at which radical speakers regularly, and with unbridled invective, denounce and demonize Jews, Zionists, Israel, Republicans, and America.
Most notorious, for example, was the Muslim student-sponsored, pro-Palestinian April 2002 demonstration that included odious flyers and posters depicting a dead Palestinian baby on a soup-can label imprinted with the words "Palestinian Children Meat, slaughtered according to Jewish rites under American license," echoing the centuries-old blood libel of European antisemitism that accused Jews of murdering Gentile children and using their blood to bake matzos -- a slander that has, not surprisingly, currently gained credence in the Arab world. Even if the perpetrators of this cruel protest consider this type of expression merely "academic free speech" and legitimate debate about Zionism, and also disingenuously claim that that there is no underlying Jew-hatred here, only debate about Israeli policies, and even if they are to be believed, might not such flyers possibly offend Jewish students on campus? Could accusing an ethnic group of infanticide possibly be construed as "intimidation" or fostering "incivility" on campus?
Not content to mount their own vile protests against Zionism, Jews, and Israel, the pro-Palestinian student groups took it upon themselves the following month to disrupt a vigil for Holocaust Remembrance Day where some 30 Jewish students who were reciting the Mourners' Kaddish -- the Jewish prayer for the dead -- were shouted down by protesters who countered with grisly prayers in memory of Palestinian suicide bombers. The pro-Palestinian counter-demonstrators, armed with whistles and bull horns, physically assaulted the Jewish students, spat on them, and screamed such charming epithets as "Too bad Hitler didn't finish the job," "Get out or we will kill you," "F**k the Jews," "Die racist pigs," and "Go back to Russia, Jews." The violence escalated to the extent that San Francisco police officers finally had to usher the Jewish students to safety off campus. "This is not civic discourse, this is not free speech," lamented Laurie Zoloth, SFSU's Director of the Program in Jewish Studies at the time of the incident, "this is the Weimar Republic with brown shirts it cannot control."
Is this merely academic debate about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, or is something more insidious finding expression in the minds of these hate-filled students blinded by their obsession with the plight of the Left's favorite third-world victims, the Palestinians? Claims by pusillanimous college administrators that hate-filled protests against Jews and Israel are merely conversations about politics are more than disingenuous; while universities see no difficulty is making moral judgments about "hate speech" when it is aimed at groups who have achieved status as victims in a world bereft of social justice -- blacks, gays, Palestinians, illegal aliens, among them -- that same moral recognition is oddly absent when vitriolic charges of racism, imperialism, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, occupation, and genocide are carelessly lodged at Israel and its supporters in the U.S. and the West. Victim status also insulates members of those groups from criticism; only the acts and behavior of the "other," the oppressors, are subject to critique, a convenient way for SFSU's jihad-supporting student groups to justify their ideological onslaught against the Zionism and Jews.
How has this corruption of what should be legitimate academic debate come about? Irwin Cotler, a Canadian MP and former minister of justice and attorney-general, believes that this pernicious ideology has manifested itself so "that Israel is delegitimized, if not demonized, by the ascription to it of the two most scurrilous indictments of 20th-century racism -- Nazism and apartheid -- the embodiment of all evil. These very labels of Zionism and Israel as ‘racist, apartheid and Nazi' supply the criminal indictment. No further debate is required."
Given this false sense of moral superiority by the libelous framing of Israel as the singularly most evil nation on earth, its campus enemies at SFSU and elsewhere feel free to speak against it in the most destructive and hurtful way possible. At the same time, pro-Israel, anti-terrorism voices are marginalized, disregarded, shouted down, or, as in the case of the College Republicans most recently, denounced as hate speech, unworthy of being part of an ongoing, vigorous debate, and deserving only of being punished and silenced by those who want only one side of the debate to be heard in what should be a vigorous, thoughtful debate in the ‘marketplace of ideas.'
Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., director of Boston University's Program in Publishing at the Center for Professional Education, is currently writing a book about higher education, Genocidal Liberalism: The University's Jihad Against Israel.