Tour de force documenting Students for Justice in Palestine, anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism on campus.
“Hate Spaces: The Politics of Intolerance on Campus”, a new 70 minute documentary recently released by the organization Americans for Peace and Tolerance, chronicles the rampant anti-Israel and anti-Jewish activism prevalent on many of America’s institutions of higher learning.
Last week, I had the opportunity to watch the film in its entirely. In this follow-up post, I review the documentary’s central themes and take-home messages.
A 10 minute clip prepared by executive producer, director and writer Avi Goldwasser for our use in this post is included below. Also included below is a statement from him exclusive for Legal Insurrection.
Details on how to book a screening for a reasonable fee are linked here.
Note: all images in this post are screenshots from “Hate Spaces”. They are included here courtesy of Mr. Goldwasser.
A. Overview of “Hate Spaces”
There’s considerable variation in this harassment and intimidation. At many schools the hostility level remains negligible.
According to the studies, where it’s most likely to be pervasive is on campuses where there’s a strong BDS presence in the form of active anti-Zionist student groups like SJP and anti-Zionist faculty supporting it.
The central purpose of “Hate Spaces” is to expose what’s happening on these campuses where SJP is active.
The documentary takes viewers across the country with vignettes from both large public universities and smaller private liberal arts colleges.
Clearly, the California universities emerge as a problem set of schools.
But the film shows that on no college campus where SJP operates are Jews and Zionists really immune from the hate.
Central Goals of “Hate Spaces”
The film aims to document how Jewish students are coping with the relentless assaults on their identities.
Non-Jewish students who sympathize with Israel and the plight of their Zionist classmates are also given ample face time.
Newspaper and media headlines of hateful anti-Israel and antisemitic propaganda, intimidation, and the double standards at play are included, along with footage of these campus goings-on:
- Jewish students being screamed at by their peers to “leave this space!”
- Zionist students being intimidated for expressing opposing viewpoints by anti-Israel professors who denigrate their attachments to Israel
- Jewish kids being bombarded by offensive anti-Israel propaganda on their social media accounts and in their dorm rooms
- Guest lecturers spewing vile libels about Israel and Jews
- Visiting faculty who might offer a different perspective being heckled and shouted down.
Basically, the movie requires you to watch more than an hour’s-worth of footage of Jewish and pro-Israel kids being accosted by revolting, loathsome speech.
It’s hard to wrap your head around the amount of sheer crackpottery documented in this film.
Here are a couple of examples:
- An imam hosted by the University of California at Irvine’s Muslim Student Association takes over the campus quad to rail about powerful Jews buying politicians’ votes and then ominously threatens that “their days are numbered.”
- A student at the University of California, Los Angeles, standing in front of a poster elucidating the hallmarks of civil discourse, unabashedly explains to his fellow student government delegates that Israel dispenses vaccines to Ethiopian women in order to sterilize them and kills people in the Sinai so as to harvest their organs.
But beyond the lies and vile language, “Hate Spaces” shows Jewish students subjected to physical assaults, property damage, and invasions of their private space—like their bedrooms in the dorms.
So the hate isn’t just confined to words.
Jews on some of America’s campuses are increasingly fearful for their physical safety.
“Hate Spaces”: Cast of Characters
The documentary highlights that it’s not university leaders who are typically coming to the aid and defense of the students.
In fact, at some schools administrators also appear to be intimidated by the hatred spewed by SJP and their faculty enablers (a particularly egregious example included in the film involves a case of SJP activism at Northeastern University and the administration’s response to it—see here and here).
So Jewish students wind up getting most of the support they need from each other, and from some gutsy non-Jewish students who are refusing to be silent bystanders.
“Hate Spaces” is chock-full of helpful commentary offered by an array of distinguished journalists, Jewish organizational leaders, and leading scholars (including Cornell University clinical law professor and LI founder, William Jacobson). They’re featured throughout the film, offering cogent analyses of the problem and its sources.
But it’s the students who steal the show.
Their remarks in the film are touching.
Particularly moving are the scenes featuring Rezwan Haq, a practicing Muslim who is now a senior at the University of Central Florida.
Haq should know.
He was once a leader in SJP where he was responsible for spearheading anti-Israel events on his Florida campus.
B. Diagnosing the Problem for Jewish and pro-Israel Students on Campus
In dozens of posts (for a partial listing see here), we’ve highlighted how the anti-Israel BDS movement has introduced a nasty level of prejudice toward Jewish and Zionist college students.
As we’ve noted, the intimidation, marginalization, silencing, and even physical harassment of these students have been tactics embraced by students affiliated with organizations like SJP.
Faculty—even if they don’t agree with the BDS demonization of Israel or its impoverished narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—are often too fearful of, and intimidated by, their anti-Israel colleagues to speak up.
With few exceptions, feckless administrators have also been reluctant to intervene. On many campuses, they’ve turned a blind eye to the radical student activism and blatant antisemitic bigotry that’s permeating their campuses.
The result: a toxic campus climate where ideological indoctrination masquerades in lieu of rigorous, evidence-based teaching and scholarship, and where Jewish and Zionist student voices both inside and outside of the classroom are routinely shut down.
“Hate Spaces” illustrates how:
anti-Semitism is being made fashionable at many universities through the on-going academic de-legitimization of Israel, the normalization of hatred in the name of social justice, the growth of Muslim students on campus, and massive donations of Arab oil money to universities.”
Three key problems are identified in the film:
Organized Hatred: A Well-Financed Student Organization Has Links to Radical Islamists
“Hate Spaces” documents kids behaving badly—and getting away with it.
In some of the footage, the students who are raging against their Jewish and Zionist peers aren’t from minority groups. There’s a fair number of aggressive and menacing looking white guys involved in the SJP activism featured in the film:
But “Hate Spaces” suggests that a big part of the problem stems from the large number of foreign students from the Arab and Muslim world who have matriculated over the last several decades into American schools.
They come in search of better educational opportunities and a better life.
But they arrive on campus with a frightening degree of hate—ingrained and solidified anti-Jewish and anti-Israel beliefs.
It makes them prime targets for radicalization by groups like SJP.
SJP is often depicted as just one of many solidarity groups that have proliferated on campus in recent years.
But the reality is that SJP is only one step removed from the Muslim Brotherhood:
In an especially helpful segment of the film, “Hate Spaces” explains how SJP is integrally tied to the Muslim Student Association (MSA). An “incubator for Islamic radicalism”, over a dozen terrorists have come from its leadership ranks. They’re now either dead or in prison serving multiple life sentences.
Also of relevance is the organization American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), a group connected to SJP too.
A number of key AMP leaders once helped to finance Hamas, working through now defunct organizations that were shut down by the U.S. government. But these same individuals now fundraise for, and speak on behalf of, AMP.
Today, AMP is the primary group providing funding and programming materials for SJP. It’s also now branching out beyond the campus scene.
According to “Hate Spaces”, AMP is currently busy working on a curriculum for high school social studies.
Anti-Western “Schools of Ideology”: Perspectives that Pervert the Search for Objective Knowledge
“Hate Spaces” explains how BDS made inroads on college campuses on account of larger changes within academia, especially the increasingly hegemonic status of a post-colonialist paradigm.
It adopts an unyielding binary of the oppressed vs. the oppressor.
It’s this paradigm that reinforces the pathological view that supporting Israel is tantamount to supporting oppression and that Israelis are racist, white colonialists responsible for the suffering of people of color.
As Professor Jacobson notes in the film, it’s why so many on the left today believe that “to be anti-Israel is to be truly progressive.”
It’s also why BDS obsesses on Israel but couldn’t care less about the harm that Palestinians and other peoples in the Middle East face from their own despotic governments, or the illiberal cultural norms that are today pervasive in the Arab/Muslim world.
Basically, BDS capitalizes on a profoundly anti-Western world view that now dominates certain disciplines of the humanities and the soft social sciences.
In the documentary, Boston University’s Richard Landes puts it well: for many campus intellectuals who are “playing out a sort of colonial guilt thing”, the Jewish state is used as a sacrificial lamb for a West that’s sinned against the world.
So, anti-Israel animus—delinked from the objective reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, from its history, and from current facts—gets cloaked in the trappings of social justice and human rights.
Well-meaning and idealistic young people join up with BDS on this basis, seduced by the false promise that they can actually make a positive impact on the lives of oppressed peoples.
But as “Hate Spaces” makes clear, all they’re really doing is getting a chance to feel good about themselves—to signal their own virtue without ever really bettering the lives of Palestinians, or any of the other victimized and demoralized peoples who live in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Passive University Administrators Tolerate Double Standards and Are Reluctant to Intervene
On today’s American campuses the only group that can be attacked at will are Jews.
Renowned legal expert Alan Dershowitz remarks in the film:
You can say anything about Israel and the Jewish state and never get told off for it.”
The double standards portrayed in “Hate Spaces” are breathtaking:
- Campus leaders who are quick to reprimand professors and condemn students for (often mildly) offensive and disparaging language directed against various minority groups have literally nothing to say when it comes to the most heinous, false, and outrageous slanders of Israel and Jewish identity
- Mandatory sensitivity training to stamp out bigotries directed at just about any identifiable aggrieved group on campus even as there’s a complete lack of ‘cultural awareness’ programming about Jews or Judaism
- Anti-Israel students and faculty, who insist that their own rights to free expression be respected, work hard to suppress ideas and censor speakers that they themselves find disagreeable, fending off any criticism of their “mendacious campaign of anti-Israel libels” with wild accusations of ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘McCarthysism’.
To their credit, none of the students interviewed in “Hate Spaces” demand that their tormentors be punished for their rotten speech, or that SJP be banished from campus.
They’re not looking for any special privileges or rights.
Nor are they asking to be shielded from the factually ludicrous and hateful accusations about Israel and the Jewish people that BDS faculty and student activists relentlessly shove in their faces.
All they want is for administrators to enforce the rules and stop being “pathologically afraid of confrontation.”
Basically, Jewish and pro-Israel students want the same speech protections that anti-Israel individuals and groups now receive.
But whether administrators will level the playing field is an open question.
“Hate Spaces” suggests that administrators on many campuses may be reluctant to speak out against SJP out of a concern that it could offend Arab-Muslim donors who have contributed handsomely to university endowments in recent decades.
But it may also be the case that many administrators are simply uncomfortable dealing with hostility that emanates from non-Western minority groups.
C. Video Clip from “Hate Spaces” Exclusive for Legal Insurrection
In a clip prepared exclusive for Legal Insurrection, American Jewish and Zionist students are bullied, threatened, and silenced by their virulently anti-Israel and antisemitic peers and classmates. Administrators stand idly by—their indifference actually encouraging the hateful atmosphere.
The clip also includes commentary from many of the experts featured in the film.
D. Solutions for Ending the Hate
“Hate Spaces” is a tour de force in terms of documenting how BDS campaigning has become the source of various incidents of anti-Jewish bias on campus.
Its central focus is on identifying the sources of the problem, not providing solutions for tackling it.
Still, the film does offer some suggestions, like advising that legal remedies be pursued.
Not everyone working against campus BDS supports litigating the problem (see here, for example). But ensuring that victimized students are properly protected by existing federal anti-discrimination laws is a no-brainer.
Criticisms that this would stifle debate and violate the First Amendment are overblown. The reality is that toughening up these extant federal protections doesn’t in any way chill campus free expression or diminish anyone’s academic freedom.
It’s not a quick fix. But it would help.
E. Statement from the Executive Producer Exclusive for Legal Insurrection
The new documentary “Hate Spaces: The Politics of Intolerance on Campus” illustrates how BDS hostility toward Israel and Zionism is playing out on America’s university and college campuses.
It chronicles the personal experiences of Jewish and pro-Israel students who are increasingly at risk from a rampant and unchecked antisemitism problem.
I contacted Avi Goldwasser, the documentary’s executive producer, to find out more about what he thought could be done to support these students—and rectify the appalling situation.
Here’s Goldwasser’s reply:
There is a need to confront and deconstruct the Leftist PC hegemony on college campuses. This hegemony corrupts the mission of the university, demonizes and marginalizes certain groups, promotes conformity and encourages coercion. As long as this hegemony persists, free speech will be suppressed, and hostility toward Jewish students and others will continue.
Support of Jewish students on campus cannot be limited to a handful of activist organizations; it must become ‘the civil rights issue of our time’ for the Jewish leaders, rabbis and the community.
As was done to other minority groups, federal intervention will be required to rectify the bigoted situation on campus. Jewish students must receive the same protection afforded other minority groups. The Jewish community must demand equal treatment for Jewish students on campus.
University officials must be held accountable for failing to protect Jewish students.”
On many of America’s universities and colleges today, Jewish and Zionist students are being ostracized, intimidated, and even physically assaulted based on their identification with the Jewish state.
On some campuses the harassing conduct of the anti-Israel movement and SJP is so severe and persistent that it’s starting to interfere with the ability of Jewish and Zionist students to benefit from the services, activities, and opportunities offered at their schools.
Basically, they’re being told that they must disavow a huge chunk of their identity before they can participate in campus life—especially when it comes to progressive social justice activities like anti-rape demonstrations, Black Lives Matters events, and LGBT advocacy.
In fact, this uptick in ostracism of Jewish students from progressive groups and causes (see here, here, and here) is a clear indication that BDS aims to silence not only Israeli voices but anyone associated with Judaism or Zionism.
The most important take-home message of the new documentary “Hate Spaces” is this: an appalling anti-Jewish animus has been allowed to fester and grow on American campuses on account of a muddled understanding of what contemporary antisemitism is, and how it manifests itself today in the vilification and demonization of the state of Israel.
This ‘new antisemitism’ hides behind a modern language of social justice and human rights, but the reality is that it’s really nothing new. BDS is just a contemporary form of the oldest of prejudices:
Bottom line: “Hate Spaces” focuses on the vile and hurtful expressions of antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment on America’s campuses, and how they’re increasingly crossing the line from protected speech to unlawful discriminatory conduct.
But “Hate Spaces” isn’t just a description of the key concerns of Jewish and pro-Israel college students—it’s also a call to action.
Essentially it’s an appeal to members of the campus community, including its leadership, and also to parents, alumni (and the Jewish community as a whole) to co-organize in support of intellectual diversity on campus and to mount an effective resistance to the anti-Israel movement’s debasement of the academy.
The movie leaves viewers with this sobering reminder: not that long ago many decent and good people said and did too little while ruthlessly bigoted student gangs commandeered intellectual spaces for an anti-Jewish hatefest.
It didn’t end well.
Miriam F. Elman is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Robert D. McClure Professor of Teaching Excellence at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 60 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Follow her on Twitter @MiriamElman