DOCUMENTARY EXPOSES CAMPUS ANTI-SEMITISM IN AMERICA
A new documentary, “Hate Spaces,” exposes the epidemic of campus intolerance favouring Muslims and anti-Israel activists over Jews and Israel supporters when it comes to free speech, academic freedom and protection from abuse. The film is being released theatrically by Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT), a Boston-based non-profit dedicated to raising public awareness about the increasingly hostile campus environment. “Hate Spaces” premiered late last year in New York and will be screened at select locations around the country. The film will also be available on DVD this year and eventually on YouTube. The film’s title refers to the concept of “safe spaces” that has been used to silence unpopular speech on universities around the United States.
Executive Producer Avi Goldwasser, who wrote and directed “Hate Spaces,” first noticed the extent of the campus problem in 2004, when he produced “Columbia Unbecoming” which documented the intimidation by Columbia University professors of Jewish students who supported Israel. “Jewish students were abused by faculty members, and the administration ignored it,” Goldwasser told the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT). “The abusing professor got tenure.” Indeed, anti-Israel lies, incitement and hate speech are often tolerated under the banners of academic freedom and free speech. Last September, for example, the University of California, Berkeley reinstated a student-led course that presented a demonizing, one-sided history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict after public outcry claimed that free speech and academic freedom were jeopardized by the course’s suspension.
In contrast, pro-Israel speech is attacked by Israel critics who demand the right to have “safe spaces” free from “hate speech.” “Any support of Israel is hate speech!” one protestor in the film proclaims. Groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) leverage their politically favoured status to exercise rights that they try to deny their political opponents. At North-eastern University, SJP violated school policies over a two-year period, including “vandalism of university property, disrupting the events of other student organizations, not getting the appropriate permits when required, distributing unauthorized materials inside residence halls and sliding them under the doors of private rooms,” according to North-eastern spokeswoman Renata Nyul.
“We have zero tolerance for anti-Semitism, zero tolerance for racism or any kind of hatred,” North-eastern University President Joseph Aoun said in the film, defending his school’s decision to suspend SJP. But SJP successfully reframed the school’s response as suppression of free speech and rallied public and media pressure until their suspension was lifted. Thus, in an SJP-dominated campus, speech that violates school policies and harasses Jews and Israel supporters is protected as “free speech” rather than punished as “hate speech.” By contrast, critics of Islam have been silenced with accusations of “hate speech” and “Islamophobia.” In 2014, Brandeis University cancelled a speaking invitation and honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a campaigner for women’s rights and a fierce critic of Islam, after she was branded an “Islamophobe” by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Around the same time, CAIR used similar accusations to stop the screening of a documentary on honour killings. Meanwhile, Jewish students and organizations are targeted with impunity, as feckless college administrators hesitate to take remedial action (as happened at Connecticut College). One of the reasons for their reluctance, the film suggests, is fear of jeopardizing funding, collectively, over $1 billion over the last six years, from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Through brazen lies, like claiming that Israel “commits genocide” and “apartheid”, SJP and MSA have created campus environments hostile to Jews and pro-Israel students while suppressing support for Israel as “hate speech.” The film shows how such campus hostility can reach as far as student council meetings, events that should be focused on campus affairs and otherwise far-removed from Middle East politics.
“Hate Spaces” was a story that had to be told, Goldwasser said, because “most people do not realize how the hostility is being institutionalized, made fashionable by a combination of forces including radical faculty, radical student organizations and an enabling university administration. While many anti-Jewish incidents and the BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel] campaign are reported by the media, few are willing to connect the dots and report on the underlying ideology and extremist organizations that are inciting the hostility.” The film features UCLA sophomore Rachel Beyda, who applied for a leadership position on the Undergraduate Students Association Council. She was challenged by an SJP-backed campaign that claimed her Jewish background would make her biased when deciding sensitive campus issues.
For about 40 minutes, students questioned whether her Jewish identity would make her a less fair-minded leader, even though three other students deciding her fate had been similarly active in their respective communities (Iranian students’ group, the MSA and the Sikh students’ group). The film also highlights the extent of SJP’s infiltration into academia. The organization, which has ties to Muslim-Brotherhood-linked groups, has chapters on more than 600 campuses. “Hate Spaces” underscores how there is “sensitivity training” on many campuses for just about every group, but not when it comes to groups relating to Jews or Israel. The film includes footage of SJP founder Hatem Bazian calling for an intifada in America during a 2004 San Francisco rally.
In addition to heading the University of California, Berkeley’s Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, Bazian is AMP’s founder and national chair. AMP provides funding, printed materials, and staff to SJP chapters. “Hate Spaces” includes footage from an AMP event with several disturbing quotes. “When I look at the people who fight with the Israeli Occupation Forces,” says AMP’s Munjed Ahmad, in one example, “I don’t think we understand how many American Jews who were involved in the assault of Gaza the past summer were American. Of those people massacring those 500 children and those civilians, there were American Jews.” Taher Herzallah asks: “What if as Muslims, we wanted to establish an Islamic State? Is that wrong? What if, as Muslims, we wanted to use violent means to resist occupation? Is that wrong?”
“Hate Spaces” attempts to explain how campuses became so hostile to Israel. By manipulating identity politics, SJP created an anti-Israel alliance of hard-left groups. They exploit the academically trendy concept of “intersectionality”, the idea that all injustices are interconnected, to demonize Israel and make common cause with activists from totally unrelated movements, like the campaign to address police violence. SJP also attracts well-meaning students concerned about equality and social justice by portraying Palestinians as blameless victims of wholly unjustified Israeli attacks. “What drew me to SJP was my motivation to support equal human rights,” one student says in the film. “I joined them because I felt that the Palestinian people were being oppressed.”
Another student explains how “SJP deliberately works with anti-Zionist Jewish organizations because working with those organizations helps to immunize them against charges of bigotry and anti-Semitism. It gives SJP cover.” “Hate Spaces” points out that student demographics have also helped SJP, because tens of thousands of students from Muslim countries that are traditionally hostile to Israel have arrived on U.S. college campuses in recent years. As noted by a former-SJP activist interviewed in the documentary, “There’s definitely a lot of ethnic solidarity between Muslims and Palestinians because a majority of the Palestinians are Muslims, so it’s almost like a brotherhood.” Goldwasser describes the intended audience for “Hate Spaces” as “decent Americans, especially, those in leadership positions.”
He believes that “once they are educated about this outrage on campus, there is a chance that changes will be made. All we ask is that Jewish students be treated equally, receive the same protection as any other minority on campus.” The film notes that professors and administrators have only exacerbated the campus movement promoting BDS, through their indifference or open complicity with the movement’s campus leaders and tactics: “Many university officials are uncomfortable dealing with hatred that comes from a non-Western minority, preferring to selectively invoke the concepts of academic freedom and free speech instead of fulfilling their responsibility to Jewish students.”
HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE DAY MARKED WITH A CALL TO ACTION
While the world remembered Holocaust Remembrance Day, many Holocaust survivors are living their final years in terrible poverty. A recently released Facebook video shows the story of one such survivor, Olga, who was hunted by Nazis during World War II. Olga now lives alone in the Ukrainian countryside, freezing and starving, with very little to eat. Her circumstances are not unique. To date, 400,000 Holocaust survivors are still alive today, but at least one in three survivors in the United States, and one-third of survivors in Israel, live below the poverty line. Furthermore, about 200,000 Holocaust survivors in the former Soviet Union (FSU) don’t have enough food, medicine, or heat in the winter, but a new global campaign is seeking to improve survivors’ quality of life.
The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship) has launched a campaign calling Jews and Christians to take action. They are asking people to not only remember the Holocaust’s victims, but also help provide survivors with basic necessities. “We must move quickly from memory to action to provide a measure of dignity to these Holocaust victims who are living their last days in crippling poverty,” said the Fellowship’s founder and president, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. “We must remember the past. But we also must act now.” The Fellowship will launch a $15 million fundraising campaign to support the poorest of survivors in Israel and the FSU over the next five years. Business leader and philanthropist Haim Saban announced he is also donating $1 million to the effort.
“It is a privilege for me to help these poor, elderly survivors,” said Saban. “I urge others to join us. We must remember, but we must also act now.” Although the ministry is already supporting survivors around the world, there are a number of people who are not getting these resources. “We must do whatever we can, while we still can, to bring compassion to those who endured one of the most horrific periods in our history,” Eckstein said. “Sadly we are not. Instead of giving tens of millions of dollars for Shoah museums, testimonial libraries and the like, we ought to also focus on helping provide for these desperately poor Jews in the few years they are still alive.”
THE ANTI-ISRAEL BDS MOVEMENT IS COMING TO AN END SAYS UN AMBASSADOR
Hundreds of pro-Israel activists recently gathered at the United Nations to strategize how to defeat the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement in court. The forum, hosted by the Israeli Mission to the UN, sent a clear message: the anti-Israel BDS movement will answer for its intimidating tactics and lies in court. Addressing the BDS movement, Israeli UN Ambassador Danny Danon said, “To the bullies who harass students on campus, to those who use the language of civil rights to mask their hate, to the activists who are conducting this illegal and unjust campaign of hate: your time is over; your movement based on lies and intimidation is coming to an end. We will use every tool and every legal measure to stop the hate.”
Danon also said fighting the anti-Israel movement should be at the top of the United Nations’ “to-do” list. However, many are sceptical because of the organization’s past treatment of the Jewish state. Earlier, the UN passed 10 resolutions against Israel in a single day. Pro-Israel activists say that won’t stop them from putting an end to the BDS movement in court. “We will focus on ‘lawfare,’ the use of legal procedures, to fight bias and discrimination and to stand up to boycotts. We are here to learn from the experts to think of new ways to collaborate so we can tell BDS activists: See you in court!” Danon said. He was also quick to remind everyone that the battle against anti-Israel BDS intimidations is on two fronts: in court and in the arena of public opinion. “You win in the courtroom but lose in the court of public opinion,” Danon added. “BDS must be fought in the court of public opinion. It is not enough to fight BDS in the court of law.”