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30 Students for Justice in Palestine at Brown University Jared Samilow Jared Samilow sketches the anti-Israel climate at Brown University, another recent hotspot. Particularly troubling was a 2016 incident involving the campus visit of a well-known transgender activist. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) campaigned for her to renounce the cosponsorship of a Hillel group, complaining that that made her complicit in Israeli “pinkwashing.” Although the event had nothing to do with Israel and the Hillel group was devoted to social justice, SJP still found the group too tainted to be permitted to sponsor anything. The activist’s capitulation only helped foster an atmosphere in which anything connected to Israel is seen as toxic. This puts great pressure on Jewish students to disaffiliate from Israel. The problem, Samilow argues, is that academic rigor has been replaced on campus by identity politics. He then locates anti-Israelism in the context of broader leftist movements, concluding that for anti-Israel activists, facts don’t matter—all that matters is resisting oppression and marginalization. At the end of January 2016, Natan Sharansky and Michael Douglas came to Brown University to speak about their Jewish heritage at a Hillel event called Jewish Journeys. Sharansky’s stint as a political prisoner in the Soviet Union is legendary, as is Douglas’s movie career, so the event was quite high-profile. The president of Hillel International was there, as were many figures in the New England Jewish community. A few days before the event, it was brought to our attention—we being pro-Israel Jewish students at Brown—that Students for Justice in Palestine was planning a protest. SJP had launched a Facebook campaign urging Brown students to “protest [the] egregious display of Settler Colonial apologism,” apparently understanding a conversation about Jewish heritage as being indistinguishable from endorsement of the Zionist project. Although only about twenty-five students had indicated that they’d join the protest, we knew that the possibility for disruption was something to keep in mind. At around 7:00 PM on Thursday, January 28, attendees began to file into the packed Salomon Center at Brown. As expected, we were greeted by SJP’s Students for Justice in Palestine at Brown University | 385 welcoming party. Protesters carried signs hurling all the classic, almost ritualistic slurs. Apartheid. Ethnic cleansing. Occupation. Murder. Charitably, one assumes it was only the Israeli government they were charging with these crimes, not all Jews or Israelis, even though (again) the event was about Jewishness. The event began at 7:30 PM, and despite the protest, it seemed like we were in for an uneventful evening. SJP was free to protest outside, but the event staff and campus police prohibited them from entering the auditorium where Sharansky and Douglas were speaking. But about one-third of the way through the lecture, chants of “Free Palestine” broke into the room. Rather than returning home once the event began, SJP’s recruits had snaked around the building and were shouting from outside an emergency exit door. The hysterical yells persisted for about a minute, then died down. Sharansky and Douglas finished their bits without further disruption. SJP had had its fun, but at least in this instance, it did not wield a heckler’s veto. They made their mark—but for perspective, they’d mustered a whopping turnout of twenty-five anti-Israel fanatics out of a campus population of more than six thousand. Still, it was enough to have an influence. Sharansky altered his talk to address Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) and anti-Israel activity, ultimately concluding that while they don’t hurt the Israeli economy, they do exact a significant social and personal cost among Diaspora Jews. He said that he worries that the ugly political storm that follows Israel around discourages younger Jews from learning about and feeling proud of the world’s only Jewish country. They may have had only a minor influence that night, but who can say what kind of subtle influence they are having on the Jewish students who hear them? In fact, I’d suggested something similar in Israel’s newspaper Haaretz back in November 2015: “So what do anti-Israel protestors on campus hope to accomplish ? To exact a cost for expressing or associating with pro-Israel views. It’s classic realpolitik and the million-dollar prize is control. The presence of bitter controversy around even the most innocent of presentations cloaks the Jewish state in a tenor of untouchability...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780253034083
MARC Record
OCLC
1019844795
Pages
456
Launched on MUSE
2018-05-05
Language
English
Open Access
No
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