While support for Israel remains strong among most Americans and their representatives in Congress, American college campuses have become a hotbed of anti-Zionist propaganda that can sometime blur the line between inflammatory political arguments and outright Jew-hatred. The latest example of just how close to that line Israel’s foes go comes from Florida Atlantic University, where Students for Justice in Palestine posted mock eviction notices on the doors of more than 200 dorm rooms at the school.
The leaflet seeks to inculcate the idea that Israel is a brutal oppressor that deliberately murdered an American supporter of the Palestinians. These charges are a malicious distortion of the facts and are part of a hateful campaign whose purpose is to delegitimize Israel. Israel’s critics have a right to express their opinions, but by pasting these fake evictions on the doors of a dorm with what one supposes is a considerable Jewish population, the action raises questions about whether the intent was to intimidate Jews as well as demonizing the Jewish state.
Compounding the problem is the fact that the notices were actually approved by the school’s housing department, one of whose employees accompanied the anti-Israel activists as they put up their work. Subsequently, FAU disavowed this move but as with past incidents at other universities, it looks as if the school has not considered whether they have facilitated a hate crime against Jews.
The problem here is not just that the leaflet was false and defamatory. In public forums, such ideas can be put forward, debated and debunked. It is that the tactics employed by the Israel-haters are intended to silence and intimidate opponents. The student group that put up the leaflets may claim they are seeking to help others to understand the Palestinians, but in practice what they are doing is serving notice on Jewish students that they are the ones who could be thrown out. While Israel’s government is no more entitled to impunity from criticism than any other, the idea that efforts whose aim is opposition to the existence of the Jewish state by demonizing its inhabitants ought to set off alarms at institutions that are covered by Title VI of the U.S. Civil Rights law that ban discriminatory behavior and actions. But as COMMENTARY noted in an article about anti-Semitic incidents at the University of California at Irvine, both educational institutions and the federal government have been reluctant to take a stand against this sort of behavior.
In its efforts to monitor the growth of international anti-Semitism, the U.S. State Department has prominently reported on the connection between anti-Israel incitement and hatred of Jews. As the Zionist Organization of America, a group that has been at the forefront of the fight to defend Jewish students against this sort of intimidation, noted in a release protesting the FAU incident, the State Department report said efforts to demonize Israel and Israelis “as barbaric, unprincipled, selfish, inhumane, etc. is anti-Semitic and has the effect of causing audiences to associate those bad attributes with Jews in general.” So while free debate about the Middle East is not to be interfered with, universities should be as careful about actions that target Jews as they would about those that sought to single out African-Americans or Hispanics through the use of double standards and innuendo. In the case of FAU, for the school to literally put its stamp of approval on the leaflets and allow them to be pasted onto the doors of students is an act of brazen intimidation. The university cannot undo its mistake with mere retroactive statements. FAU and other campuses where the bullying of Jewish and Zionist students has become commonplace need to understand that acquiescing to the creation of a hostile environment for Jews is not only immoral; it is a potential violation of federal law.