At CUNY, Students Blame Israel for Tuition Hikes

On November 9, the 77th anniversary of the Nazi “Kristallnacht” pogrom, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) announced on its Facebook page that it was participating in the Million Student March on the 12th to protest tuition increases at the City University of New York (CUNY). This is an important issue that should be debated on its merits.

However, SJP is not interested in the merits. For SJP, the problem is “the Zionists.”

SJP’s post, signed by SJP chapters throughout the CUNY system, declares that the “The [CUNY] Zionist administration invests in Israeli companies, companies that support the Israeli occupation, hosts birthright programs and study abroad programs in occupied Palestine, and reproduces settler-colonial ideology throughout CUNY through Zionist content of education. While CUNY aims to produce the next generation of professional Zionists, SJP aims to change the university to fight for all peoples [sic] liberation.”

The Million Student March itself does not take this line and clearly does not have anything to do with the SJP demand to purge “Zionists” from CUNY. Their tuition protest is a serious issue, worthy of public debate. The hijacking of their march by extremists cannot be in their interest, and the organizers should condemn and distance themselves from SJP hate-speech.

With over 150 chapters nationwide, SJP is the organization most directly responsible for creating a hostile environment for Jews on college campuses across the United States, as revealed in The Tower last year. It organizes numerous pro-BDS (boycotts, divestment, sanctions) events and campaigns, including the annual “Israel Apartheid Week.” SJP also conducts “guerilla activism” that increases tensions on campuses.

SJP is supported by a network of off-campus organizations. They include a who’s who of anti-Israel voices on the radical Left: Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the International Socialist Organization, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), American Muslims for Palestine, the WESPAC Foundation, Palestine Legal, and the National Lawyers Guild.

This network provides significant resources to SJP, from funding to legal support to training to co-sponsorship of on-campus events. There are also media and activism guidebooks, such as one produced by American Muslims for Palestine. AMP has also produced “campus activism resources” including fact-sheets, anti-normalization material, and PowerPoint presentations that parrot the Hamas narrative of the 2014 Israeli-Hamas conflict in Gaza. Hamas is recognized as a terror group by the U.S., EU, and other countries.

For its part, AFSC recommends that students wanting to “support peace in Israel/Palestine” can start an SJP chapter and organize a divestment campaign. ASFC and JVP have jointly contributed to the training of BDS activists through their “BDS Summer Institute,” billed as a “five day intensive program focused on building skills for divestment campaigns… co-led by student participants and BDS movement leaders.”

JVP, which has an “Academic Advisory Council Coordinator” on staff, has co-sponsored—with SJP—anti-Israel events on various campuses, such as a BDS panel at Vassar College last April and a “Nakba” workshop at the University of Chicago last May. Last semester, JVP and SJP co-sponsored a pledge calling on all candidates in UCLA’s student government elections to refrain from participating in paid trips to Israel. Once again, Israel was singled out for boycott and demonization.

How these and similar groups would explain away SJP’s faulting of CUNY’s supposed “Zionist administration” for tuition hikes should be an interesting exercise in Orwellian doublespeak.

Meanwhile, those who truly care about higher education must make sure that such calls are relegated to their deserved location on campus: the dumpster.

Yitzhak Santis is Chief Programs Officer at the Jerusalem-based research institute NGO Monitor.

[Photo: Su & Soe / Wikimedia]