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Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The Campus Antisemitism Crisis Is a Distraction

“As anti-Zionist Jews at UChicago, we reject the harmful conflation between antisemitism and pro-Palestine activism,” declares UChicago Jews for a Free Palestine.
Art+installation+on+the+quad+honors+Palestinians+killed+in+Gaza.
UChicago Jews for a Free Palestine
Art installation on the quad honors Palestinians killed in Gaza.

This article is contributed to The Maroon by UChicago Jews for a Free Palestine. To read and sign onto our position statement, use this link: tinyurl.com/UCHIJEWS4PALESTINE.

We are witnessing the rise of a new McCarthyism. Congress and pro-Israel institutions are targeting the movement for Palestinian liberation by pushing a false, dangerous conflation between antisemitism and pro-Palestine activism. These institutions seek to repress, criminalize, and distort Palestinian calls for life and freedom. This repression comes as over 25,000 Palestinians have been murdered by Israel in Gaza since October 7, with many more people trapped under the rubble of bombed buildings. Up to 85% of the 2.3 million people in Gaza are displaced from their homes. Nowhere in Gaza is safe.

As anti-Zionist Jews at UChicago, we reject the harmful conflation between antisemitism and pro-Palestine activism. This conflation is deployed to distract from Israel’s ongoing genocide of Palestinians. This is a longstanding strategy: There is an entire industry built to defame and criminalize pro-Palestine advocacy as antisemitic, attempting to distract from Israeli apartheid. We wish to counter the dangerous misinformation pushed by institutions that claim to act in our name.

The Campus Crisis and University-Wide Repression

Since October 7, we have witnessed a wave of repression targeting all levels, from the government to universities to corporations. University campuses, however, have been the focus of this new McCarthyism.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) threatened a wide-scale ban on Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters. Rutgers was the first public university to suspend its SJP chapter under the guise of protecting student safety, without providing any evidence of actions necessitating this sanction. After reinstating the chapter in January, Rutgers placed its SJP on probation until December 2024. The University of Michigan, in coordination with the police and prosecutor, has conducted what the ACLU of Michigan refers to as an “escalating pattern of suppression,” including an aggressive police response to protestors and the arrest of over 40 students.

Private universities have been similarly repressive: Columbia’s SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) chapters have been suspended; Brandeis University banned its SJP; at UChicago, 26 student protestors, and 2 faculty observers were arrested during a sit-in.

The House of Representatives, after a hearing with university presidents, categorized a wide swath of pro-Palestine and even merely pro-peace activism as antisemitic in a resolution equating anti-Zionism with antisemitism. The resolution’s examples of “antisemitism” include calls for freedom and equality “from the river to the sea,” marches for a ceasefire, and protests for the end of occupation. For instance, the resolution lists as “antisemitic” the protest outside of the DNC led predominantly by Jewish groups (Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow), during which police violently attacked peaceful protestors.

The hearing went viral, featuring university presidents responding to the question of whether calls for genocide against Jews would violate universities’ codes of conduct. But the hearing was a distraction from the fundamental reality on campuses: Pro-Palestine activists are not calling for genocide against Jews. The allegations of supposedly widespread antisemitism in pro-Palestine advocacy are founded on a moral panic that seeks to create chaos and confusion in the interest of unifying support for Israel within the political mainstream and repressing pro-Palestine speech, especially from Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, and other students of color.

Slogans and Chants: ‘From the River to the Sea’ is not Antisemitic

The centerpiece of the congressional hearing was commonly used slogans and chants. From calls for global intifada and a free Palestine from the river to the sea to mainstream demands for self-determination and a ceasefire, our government and pro-Israel organizations have labeled these pro-Palestine slogans as antisemitic or genocidal. The attempts to distort and discredit these calls for liberation are in bad faith and ignore history.

Institutional panic over calls for a free Palestine “from the river to the sea” serves as a clear example of these attempts at distortion. This call emerged in opposition to the formation of a Jewish ethnostate through the dispossession, displacement, and mass murder of Palestinians and persists as Israel’s colonization continues. Gaining prominence in the 1960s, the calls for a free Palestine “from the river to the sea” represent the demand for a secular democratic state of Palestine across all of the historic land, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Palestinians and those in solidarity have used the call as “a rejoinder to the fragmentation of Palestinian land and people by Israeli occupation and discrimination” and as a call for self-determination, for the end of Israel’s colonial apartheid regime, and for a free Palestinian state with equality and dignity for all.

To translate “from the river to the sea” into a call for Jewish death is to assume that Jewish survival and Palestinian freedom are fundamentally at odds. Those who argue this amplify racist tropes that label Palestinians as terrorists and “irrational savages hell-bent on killing Jews.” It is fundamentally racist to assume that Palestinians are incapable of coexistence. To illustrate what a leap in logic this characterization requires, we’d urge you to consider how you would react were you to translate these calls to another context. Would you consider it reasonable to equate calls to end South African apartheid with a call for genocide against white South Africans? Would you consider a call to free Northern Ireland or “eliminate” British sovereignty therein to equate calling for the expulsion of Irish Protestants?

The American Jewish Committee (AJC)’s definition of “from the river to the sea” exemplifies this flawed logic. The AJC begins by stating that the slogan is “a rallying cry for terrorist groups and their sympathizers,” casting everyone who uses this phrase as “terrorist sympathizers” who are incapable of civil political discussion. Furthermore, the organization claims that the slogan calls for “erasing the state of Israel and its people” and attributes it primarily to militant organizations like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Hamas. Not only is this definition historically inaccurate, it relies on the racist trope that “all Palestinians are terrorists” and purposefully elides the fact that dismantling the apartheid Israeli state does not equate to erasing its people. The AJC’s definition implicitly claims the Israeli state is synonymous with Jewish life in Palestine and across the world, a conflation that we know to be false.

What these accusations concerning the slogan reveal is that supporters of Israel’s ongoing ethnic cleansing project cannot envision co-existence without domination. The common Israeli version of “from the river to the sea” is a call for Jewish-only sovereignty from the river to the sea—maintained by ethnic cleansing and occupation. Netanyahu’s Likud party claims a Jewish ethnostate in all of historic Palestine as a biblical right, and Likud’s original party platform from 1977 stated that “between the Sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty.” Israel currently rules all the area from river to the sea, a rule that we and many others have called apartheid.

Believing that pro-Palestine chants are genocidal is an inversion of the current genocidal reality. Our words, calling for life, for equality, and liberation, are not genocidal. The “thinning out” of Gaza’s population is genocidal; the flooding of Gaza’s aquifers with seawater is genocidal; the obliteration of schools, hospitals, entire apartment blocks, and bakeries is genocidal; the burning of humanitarian aid trucks is genocidal; the demolition of universities and the assassination of its professors and poets is genocidal.

Not only is describing slogans like “from the river to the sea” as antisemitic historically inaccurate but these allegations are frequently leveled in bad faith. Many of the same people pushing the charge to conflate anti-Zionism and antisemitism have deep ties with white supremacist ideologies and nationalism: House member Elise Stefanik (R), who gained national attention for interrogating university presidents over allegations of antisemitism on campus, also circulated the “Great Replacement” white supremacist conspiracy theory. Hillel partnered with a far-right Christian legal organization to target pro-Palestine advocacy. The pro-Israel D.C. rally prominently featured John Hagee, who runs one of the most prominent Christian Zionist organizations and said that “God sent Adolf Hitler to help Jews reach the promised land.” Zionism and antisemitism have a long history together. Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism, wrote that “the anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies.” Arthur Balfour—whose “Balfour Declaration” declared British support and sponsorship of the Zionist project—was a committed antisemite.

The pro-Israel organizations and Zionists like Elise Stefanik attacking pro-Palestine organizing are not motivated by concern for Jewish safety. Rather they are part of a broader effort: There is an entire industry centered around criminalizing people of color to protect Zionism from criticism and punish all who disagree.

There is an Entire Industry Targeting Pro-Palestine Advocacy

A constellation of organizations suppress criticism of Israel at every level. From the individual policing of grassroots student activists to national smear campaigns targeted at members of Congress, allegations of antisemitism are deployed to deter activists and impede movements for Palestinian liberation. Canary Mission, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and Hillel police and doxx pro-Palestine activists, directly threatening their job opportunities and life paths. Organizations including AIPAC and StopAntisemitism limit the scope of national debate by setting any criticism of Israel as outside the bounds of political discourse. These organizations range from fringe far-right political groups to mainstream Jewish political institutions.

Canary Mission, a website anonymously launched in 2015 with the explicit goal of limiting the job opportunities of principled activists, makes it their mission to defame and attack all who criticize Israel or who criticize U.S. policy in the Middle East in any fashion, particularly students. The website now has thousands of dossiers of students, professionals, and organizations, labeling them as “antisemites.” Profiles include out-of-context and false quotes, dehumanizing and invasive descriptions and photos, and the personal information of thousands of primarily Muslim and/or students of color. Across the country, many have spoken out about how this organization has deeply affected their lives.

Organizations like the ADL and Hillel International are ramping up the criminalization and policing of protests on college campuses. For instance, the ADL is calling for universities to investigate pro-Palestine student groups for “material support of terrorism.” The ADL claims to fight antisemitism and to support civil rights for all, but it has a long history of supporting racist policing and surveillance: reporting movement organizations to the House Committee on Un-American Activities; surveilling Black Power and Civil Rights activists and Arab organizations; policing the rhetoric of Black organizers and attempting to discredit Black Lives Matter. A 1993 “spying scandal” revealed that “[t]he ADL spied on, infiltrated, and acquired illegal police files on thousands of leftist, anti-Apartheid and Arab organizations.” Today, the ADL is the largest non-governmental trainer of police in the U.S., with its Advanced Training School in Extremist and Terrorist Threats. Moreover, the ADL—alongside the Jewish Institute on National Security of America, Jewish Federations, and Birthright Israel—initiates exchanges between U.S. police and Israeli military and police, sharing strategies for surveillance, racial profiling, militarization, and the suppression of protests.

When it comes to pro-Palestine advocacy, the ADL blacklists as “hate groups” organizations that criticize Israel, support Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), or are anti-Zionist, including Jewish organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace. The ADL’s supposed record of antisemitic activity centers almost entirely on pro-Palestine advocacy and logs pro-Palestine rallies in their database as “antisemitic” incidents. While the ADL defames Jewish anti-Zionist organizations, it honors far-right figures so long as they are pro-Israel—even if they are antisemitic. For example, ADL’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt recently tweeted thanking Elon Musk—who just days before retweeted the antisemitic “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory—for his “leadership in fighting hate.” This was in response to Musk tweeting that “decolonization” and “from the river to the sea” “necessarily imply genocide.”

While often perceived solely as a hub for Jewish social and religious life on campuses, Hillel, like the ADL, perpetuates the criminalization and suppression of pro-Palestine advocacy. Currently, Hillel is pushing for increased security and police presence on all campuses, including by lobbying the Department of Homeland Security. Increased policing further endangers students of color in particular, and threatens all students, Jewish students included. Hillel has an explicitly pro-Israel and anti-Palestine agenda, through its Birthright program, its “vision for Israel,” and its Standards of Partnership. Hillel’s Standards of Partnership prohibit hosting, partnering with, or housing any speakers who support BDS, anyone who “demonize[s]” or “delegitimize[s]” Israel, and anyone who “den[ies] the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders.” Judaism On Our Own Terms (a network of Jewish students and groups formerly called Open Hillel) has criticized Hillel International for “normaliz[ing] Zionism as a natural and supposedly inherent part of Jewish life and safety.” As Open Hillel, the group attempted to remove the Standards of Partnership from individual Hillel campus organizations, but Hillel responded by forcing the “Open Hillels” to remove Hillel affiliation.

At the national level, organizations like StopAntisemitism and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) restrict national debate and attack any public figure that criticizes Israel. Famously, AIPAC donates millions of dollars towards ensuring any candidate for public office that threatens bipartisan support for Israel is defeated. Reports say AIPAC will spend at least $100 million to unseat “squad” members who quickly came out in support of a ceasefire. StopAntisemitism, a social media organization founded in 2018, villainizes public figures who support Palestine as antisemites and hosts annual competitions for “Antisemite of the year.” In this year’s competition, the organization has listed advocates for Palestinian freedom (like Rashida Tlaib and Roger Waters) next to white nationalist leader Christopher Pohlhaus and Holocaust denier and Congressman Paul Gosar. Like Canary Mission and the David Horowitz Freedom Center—which has previously targeted students on this campus—StopAntisemitism is also a doxxing operation targeting students and professionals. Other organizations like StandWithUs, AMCHA Initiative, and the Lawfare Project similarly repress dissent on campuses by levying accusations of antisemitism against students, professionals, lectures, or conferences that express criticism of Israel. The Lawfare Project in particular has used lawsuits to try to silence Palestine advocacy, including targeting pro-Palestine faculty and activists in smear campaigns. Meanwhile, the Lawfare Project’s director has claimed that “there’s no such thing as a Palestinian person.”

This Industry Uses Accusations of Antisemitism to Distract from Genocide

The current panic about alleged antisemitism on campuses is inseparable from the industry dedicated to suppressing any criticism of Israel. The House Resolution declaring that anti-Zionism is antisemitism cites the ADL. In a recent Maroon article by a UCUP student organizer, The Maroon inserted a parenthetical Editors Note citing the ADL’s false definition of “from the river to the sea.” The doxxing trucks like those at Columbia University—which display the names and faces of pro-Palestine students—are versions of the same vicious tactics previously employed by websites like Canary Mission.

The focus on college campuses and accusations of antisemitism conjured by bad faith actors deflect attention from Palestinian voices speaking from within a genocidal war. This inevitable (and intentional) effect was illustrated clearly when the New York Times pushed coverage of the devastation in Gaza further down its home page to make space for extensive reporting on the inner workings of elite university boardrooms, which were engulfed in a pressure campaign from donors to respond to the perceived threat of antisemitism from the Palestine solidarity movement.

All of this—the performance of concern over antisemitism in higher education by politicians who are equally happy to defund universities and rub elbows with white nationalists, and the dishonest insistence that justice for Palestinians is a threat to Jews—functions as a strategy to distract us from the incomprehensible suffering in Gaza, which is currently being broadcast over the internet for all the world to see. Don’t look over there, our so-called leaders say. Don’t look at the parents mourning their dead children or the children calling out for their dead parents. Don’t look at what happens to a human body when it meets the explosive force of a bomb. Those who wish to see the continuation of this massacre engage us in disingenuous arguments over the meaning of the words we say. If we tell them that our calls for Palestinian freedom from the river to the sea are calls for freedom from oppression and violence for all people in historic Palestine, they will insist that we must be lying—that we can’t possibly believe in a future for Palestinians and Jews in Palestine that isn’t built on domination.

In the face of a real, ongoing genocide, our leaders would rather manufacture panic than address the fact that their money continues to enable the devastation Israel has wrought on the Palestinian people. They’d rather criminalize student activists than admit that the bombs falling on Gaza were made in America.

Our leaders would rather chase the phantoms of violence they project onto our words than see the Palestinian blood on their hands.

UChicago Jews for a Free Palestine comprises of Jewish students, alumni, faculty, and staff of the University of Chicago who stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation.

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  • M

    Matt / Feb 4, 2024 at 7:40 pm

    Imagine if ANY OTHER MINORITY GROUP had an article written about how discrimination and racism towards them does not exist on campus 0r “is a distraction”. This is in despite of the fact that 70% of Jewish college students in the US have reportedly experienced or witnessed antisemitic acts. UChicago Jews For Palestine (AKA the Uncle Toms of the Jewish community) doesn’t represent Jews on campus and is in fact made up of mostly non-Jews and token non identifiably Jewish people who only self identify as such in order to criticize Israel’s right to exist. You guys should be ashamed of yourselves.

    Reply
    • J

      Jacob Myrene / Feb 11, 2024 at 11:04 pm

      (You know you’ve lost when you’ve resorted to whataboutism.)

      Reply
  • J

    Joe / Jan 28, 2024 at 2:20 pm

    There are all of 10 current students on the petition. Clearly the UChicago Jewish community does not agree with the sentiments of this anonymous writer and this motley crowd (hardly a crowd) is a fringe group that can’t even bring itself to call out terrorism when it sees it.

    Reply
  • R

    rich / Jan 28, 2024 at 7:11 am

    From the River to the Sea, made the Middle east Islamist and terrorist free

    Reply
  • M

    Matthew G. Andersson, '96, Booth MBA / Jan 26, 2024 at 6:57 pm

    It may be interesting to note upon visiting Israel, that the vast majority of its citizens concur with the authors. This is a consistent civilian pattern in nearly all countries that are captured by a small minority of networked special interests at a state level (including the US). In Israel, this is largely represented by Netanyahu, in his unprecedented 6th engineered term, and by a Knesset as disabled, or technically corrupted, as the US Congress or UK Parliament, concerning balanced weight, representation, consent, duty and legal authorization. It is otherwise “all about bucks; the rest is just conversation.” That is, Israel special interests, including US networked elements (some on certain university Trustee Boards, representing investments in the Israel defense, technology, biotech, energy, and intelligence industries) seek geographic expansion purely for economic reasons, including warm-water access and control through Gaza (as does Russia through Crimea). It is interesting to note that Israel refuses to ratify the NNPT, is an effective military state by mandatory conscription, and is entirely reinforced as a US and UK military satrapy with effective rights and privileges of a joint autonomous zone (but without constitutional controls, in or from, either of the 3 countries). It is unfortunate that the larger US GWOT is not generally referenced, which is central to understanding Israel’s staged-based escalations of expansion since 2000. In the university environment, little if any reference is made to US casualties from the GWOT—nearly 10,000 since 2001—or the unprecedented, unauthorized US Treasury actions to support the US-IL GWOT program: over $8 Trillion, and growing. Otherwise, this issue gains campus attention because it is centered in personal identity: there are little if any contentions on college campuses involving for example, nanoparticulate polymerization, lipid phase behavior, molecular retrosynthesis, Weyl semimetals, accounting expense rules, the Fourth Amendment, or the deconstruction of Hegelian anti-realism, but if the topic is ethno-religious, then many cognitive difficulties arise, as the authors here smartly perceive (unlike perhaps, among partisan academy members who may appear to indulge a curious form of academic freedom as ideological arsonists, acting as speech firefighters). The authors coherently point to “Zionism” as a possible modern proxy for US war hawk ideology, but more, a possible perversion of an original advocacy for an Israel state, into a Pan-Israel empire. This may include the ideology of nuclear first-strike doctrine, among other weapons including biosynthetic. Students may wish to consult Political Science Professor John Mearsheimer’s realpolitik works, which may be relevant to this larger issue.

    Reply
  • J

    Jacob Myrene / Jan 26, 2024 at 11:12 am

    Thank you for your bravery in posting this! 🙂 I expect the resident DINOSAURS of The Maroon’s comment section—part-time Israeli SHILLS—will seethe in the comments about how you’re indoctrinated or whatnot. They will also resort to hypocrisy to legitimize their arguments; “B-b-but YOU DON’T WANT FREEDUMB of speech!” as Coyne sputtered out in his joke of an article. You know, the typical incoherence and hypocrisy exhibited by DINOSAURS of UChicago’s past. (Bought out but too poor to donate. Heh. Makes you think.) Bet you they throw anti-DEI rhetoric into their garbled ramblings as they froth dog whistles at the mouth (“YOU’RE ANTI-WHITE! YOU’RE ANTISEMITIC!”). Mmm.

    To the dinosaurs here after reading Coyne’s propaganda piece: I expect the same enthusiasm for the views expressed in this article. You free speech cheerleaders need to prove your worth. Go on! Show us that you stand for UNIVERSAL free speech and not just the pro-Israeli PROPAGANDA you identify with. Get to it! Say it with me now…1, 2, 3, 4…

    Reply