Mock Evictions and Moral Blindness

You cannot get a good education if your instructor is telling you only half the story. The following was found in an English composition classroom at a university where I teach.

Hundreds of "eviction" notices were slid under Rutgers dorm and apartment doors the night of October 6. The notices [had] a municipal code number in the top-right corner, including a case and warrant number. The single sheet of paper warn[ed] students their suite [was] to be demolished within three days. The third paragraph reveal[ed] that it [was] not a real eviction but instead explain[ed] that this "unrealistically harsh" notice is similar to what 160,000 Palestinians have faced since 1967. The group that distributed them, Rutgers' chapter of the Students for Justice in Palestine, said the fake notices were meant to call attention to Israel's displacement of thousands in the Occupied Territories.


Plan and write an essay arguing your position on the following question: Should the student group mentioned in this essay be punished for their actions? Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from the excerpt above, from other reading you have done, from your experience, and from your observations.

Let us begin. The Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is well known for their anti-Israel demonstrations and political theater. Begun in October 2000 the SJP has faked re-enactments of IDF soldiers beating up pregnant Palestinian women and agitates to prevent pro-Israel speakers from visiting their campuses. SJP likens Israel to apartheid South Africa and is active in the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement. In 2008 at Berkeley, "security checkpoints" were established at Sather Gate on the University of California campus. On May 1, 2009, SJP students hung Palestinian flags at a Zionist Freedom Alliance concert "in violation of the Associated Students of the University of California policy that says that groups must have consent before they hang flags."

So in an English composition class dedicated to argumentative analysis, a campus war against Israel morphs into a discussion about freedom of speech. But the selective omissions, opinions disguised as facts, trivialization of important parts of the story, and distorted context make this prompt potentially troubling.

Has the instructor who created this prompt given background information about the "global epidemic of illegal building and demolitions in many countries of the world" as explained in this 2003 article by Justus Reid Weiner? Or will the teacher instead "evoke a... romantic picture of the underdog hero fighting an inherently evil tyrant on behalf of the helpless and oppressed?"

Does the professor have any experience with international law with regard to illegal building? Have the students been informed that "though there is an incessant denunciation of rather infrequent demolitions by the Jerusalem Municipality, there "[is] nearly a complete lack of publicity when other governments demolish illegal structures."

In an effort to create a credible argument, will the instructor's charges consider that "nobody would excuse or tolerate people building illegally in Central Park, whatever their attachment to Manhattan [?]" And, finally, even the "Palestinian Authority has demolished houses constructed illegally." In fact, Palestinian Authority leader Sari Nusseibeh has stated that "gangs that build illegally on land that does not belong to them should be thrown into jail" and "nobody in their [sic] right mind is in favor of illegal building."

The reasons for demolishing illegal buildings are based on a lack of infrastructure and services essential for the health and well being of people, e.g., piped water, sewers, storm drainage, all weather roads, public transit, electricity, and health care facilities. Thus, housing "in squatter settlements is illegal in two senses. First, the land is occupied illegally without regard for zoning and subdivision regulations" and secondly, "many businesses profit from the development of illegal communities." Thus, ''land theft to gain illicit profits is but one by-product of illegal building."

How many people are aware that the United States, Lebanon, China, Thailand, India, Nigeria, Egypt, and Brazil engage in the demolition of illegal housing structures? Even under the rule of the Palestinian Authority, demolitions occurred in Gaza because a house was "constructed illegally on Palestinian state property!"

In a 2005 article titled "The NGOs, Demolition of Illegal Building in Jerusalem, and International Law," author Weiner asserts that NGO's (non-governmental organizations) have "inflicted lasting damage on Israel's reputation." In fact, the "general public, not having studied law, lacks the tools to filter out the plethora of bogus international law accusations that NGOs have contrived to find the municipality and the state of Israel wanting." Moreover, no ethnic cleansing of Palestinians is occurring. In 1967 1.1 million Palestinian Arabs lived in the West Bank and Gaza. As of 2002, 3.5 million lived in these locations.

Consequently, it appears that "NGO reports on illegal construction in East Jerusalem are frequently characterized by factual inaccuracies, the misuse of legal authority, critical omissions, groundless insinuations of official misconduct, untruths, and unfair and unsubstantiated 'evidence,' while using... human rights jargon to mislead the general public."

Is the professor who created the writing prompt aware of the sponsoring groups that Andrea Levin of CAMERA exposes in the "truth demolition" anti-Israel road show? Has the instructor explained that the Students for Justice in Palestine tactic "is the latest in a series of efforts by anti-Israel students to indiscriminately demonize Israel?" Will the college students learn, for example, that few subjects have been falsified so thoroughly as the concept of Israeli occupation of land?

In fact, "...Israel engages in home demolitions for legitimate security measures, because these homes were built illegally without proper permits or because they are not in accordance with zoning laws." Moreover, "the evictions and demolitions take place following a years-long process and a variety of legal approvals, not with 'three days' warning."

Do the students know that "Arabs are building at an unprecedented rate, faster indeed than the Jews in the case of Jerusalem" or that demolitions by Israel also occurred in the western (mostly Jewish) half of the city?

Has the instructor distributed this information sheet from Stand With Us to enable the students to see the evidence for themselves? Do they know that "[i]n the past Israel followed the British practice of demolishing the homes of terrorists who murdered innocent civilians, with the goal of deterring future attacks but... officially ceased this policy in 2005?" Is the professor aware of the fact that "[i]n 2013 Israel announced a plan to build over 1,000 homes for Palestinians in the West Bank, invest in infrastructure there, and retroactively legalize some illegal Palestinian buildings" and that "Israel has taken the increasing population of Palestinians in East Jerusalem into account and set aside enough land to accommodate their housing needs through the year 2030?"

Sadly, "anti-Semitism on U.S. college campuses is growing at an alarming rate." In 2010, when the Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Muslim Student Association, established a mock security checkpoint, a Jewish student was assaulted. Intimidation, heckling, and a hostile environment for Jewish students is gaining currency at universities across the United States. While promoting their own hate speech and insisting that it is protected under the First Amendment, these groups continually disrupt the speech of pro-Israel speakers.

Ultimately, the upshot of the "mock eviction" distribution incident was that the "Rutgers Bias Prevention Education Committee said the eviction notices did not constitute a violation of the student life policy prohibiting harassment but they did violate the housing and residence life posting policy" which states that "students need to have all posters stamped with approval by Student Life." Thus, freedom of speech trumped moral blindness yet again. Essentially, the Students for Justice in Palestine won the day.

Will the students in this English composition class be exposed to the idea that "the role of the university is not merely to avoid interfering with free speech?" Will a discussion ensue about the need of a university "to make clear where [a] university stands on the message of the speaker?" Abraham Foxman of the ADL, when speaking of the Brooklyn College controversy involving boycotts and sanctions against Israel, stated that the outrage about the event "is not about freedom of speech. It is not about government telling Brooklyn College what is acceptable speech. It is about a college leaving at best an ambiguous understanding about the legitimacy of hate."

Eileen can be reached at

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