Last semester’s victory at risk as ant-Israel activists outmaneuver and intimidate pro-Israel campus defenders.
Last year, UCLA’s Jewish community and its allies mustered campus support to defeat a BDS resolution and to retain an anti-BDS plurality in student government.
I have chronicled the maneuvering of the anti-Israel groups at UCLA since then:
- UCLA testing ground for next generation of anti-Israel campus tactics
- SJP-backed UCLA Student President-elect took sponsored trip to Israel, yet won by 31 votes slamming such trips
- Making It Costly To Be Pro-Israel On Campus
- UCLA Judicial Board rejects attempt to disqualify pro-Israel students
But this summer and fall, a series of resignations, defections, and a special election cost the party allied with the Jewish community its student government plurality.
Next Tuesday, in a meeting closed to the press and alumni, BDS is likely to pass in the face of muted opposition.
As SJP and their allies fought on, the pro-Israel community, as we feared and warned, were unable to keep up.
The students were exhausted and weakened by the brutal attacks of last election designed to increase the cost of running. Qualified candidates willing to face slander, threats, internet hoaxes, court cases, and email hacking were hard to find, and the non-radical party ran no candidates in the fall special election.
Meanwhile, without a friendly council and in the face of constant attacks by the identity politics establishment and their many motivated allies, the students have been advised not to confront SJP or engage the media, fearing that would only result in an even higher profile loss and even more vitriol. And after a concerted effort by radicals to stigmatize involvement by outside groups, their response – understandably – is forced to emphasize its student-only nature and turn back alumni help.
The persistence and resilience of the SJP and its allies is unsurprising. The pro-Israel community is largely political or tied to the fairly safe identities of American Jews. But for identity groups rooted in counterhierarchical/critical theory/anti-privelege ideology, their very lives, livelihoods, safety, and freedom are at stake.
These groups are motivated by perceptions – of varying degrees of validity – of oppression they see as committed by Israel or endemic in American life, and via concepts such as intersectionality and solidarity, each one can apply to all. Palestinians tell stories about their relatives killed, wounded, imprisoned, or kicked off their land in the conflict; other groups fear that they or their undocumented immigrant relatives may be deported; they decry the existence of the so-called school-to-prison pipeline; they point to the deaths of Michael Brown and Trayvon Matrin; they believe that the patriarchy is responsible for the sexual assault of one fourth of college women and then denies them almost one fourth of their rightful paychecks; and that voicing opposition to same-sex marriage leads to teen suicide and hate murders.
Their passion is worth emulating. This isn’t a hobby to them – they believe that our society is an oppressive place, and that harming Israel is part of the solution.
Meanwhile, all the talk and action last spring about the importance of fighting on campus itself, the adult Jewish community reverted to its old entrenched incumbent strategy of ignoring campus radicals so as to deny them the press and legitimacy that comes with controversy.
Emails “acquired” by SJP indicate that Hillel, on the advice of a PR firm, has chosen to focus on those they believe they can persuade, but not engage with anti-Israel advocates directly, and is imposing this strategy on other groups. SJP, which does not lack for campus profile or resources, will thus have more freedom to define themselves, their opponents, the issue, and the agenda, making it harder to portray them as the extremists they are.
Individual campuses and controversies aside, without understanding and fighting the ideological changes driving progressives against Israel, there is little hope of reversing these trends. In fact, if advocates of ignoring SJP are right and large swaths of the campus scene are lost causes, non-receptive to anti-SJP messaging, or only realistic targets to the weakest of asks, fighting the core ideological battle becomes even more important.
At minimum, it is important to inoculate our own community, through practice and experience, against the silencing power of the white privilege weapon and the affinities that make it difficult to challenge the identity politics left.
SJP’s relentless quest for institutional and social power is backing Israel advocates into a corner. The pro-Israel community, on campus and off, needs to be passionate, confident, aggressive, and persistent – because the opposition is dedicated, tireless, and deadly serious.
As I said last spring, winning elections, managing the silencing effects of the privilege discourse, and aggressive coalition action are required to defeat BDS and its underlying ideological goals. The result of limited progress on these fronts may be a BDS victory in a flagship university’s student government.
UPDATE: Shortly after this post was published, pro-BDS UCLA USAC President Devin Murphy resigned. Pro-Israel Internal Vice President Avinoam Baral is next in line to assume the presidency. This could change quite a bit as to the likely outcome. In Murphy’s resignation letter posted on Facebook, he addresses divestment:
“Divestment is inevitable. Justice and freedom has never been granted by appeasing the oppressor. As students, we have a moral responsibility to ensure that our tuition is not funding the oppression of Palestinians, let alone any historically underrepresented communities. We’ve been here before; let’s do it again. As one of my past statements noted, “Until we engage in critical discussion, and until we remove ourselves from stances of passive neutrality, we will always be complicit in injustice.”
CampusClimatologist is someone very familiar with the situation at UCLA, but who, for reasons related to employment, has to use a pseudonym.
[Featured Image: February 2014 UCLA Student Senate Vote Against Divestment]DONATE
Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.