Like the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters operate with two fundamental assumptions. One of them is that Zionism is a form of racism. The second is that opposing Zionism means opposing all forms of racism and colonialism – including anti-Black, anti-immigrant, anti-Arab, and anti-Jewish racism.
During the recent Million Student March, a local network of SJPs, NYC SJP, took a leading organizing role, demanding that “CUNY to be accessible to working class communities in NYC as the public university system.” Furthermore, in accordance with broad, anti-racist principles, the students condemned the ongoing decision of the CUNY administration to “protect the interests of a racist system over the interests of the oppressed communities of New York.”
Zionism is an ideology and political movement which in theory and practice has meant the ongoing colonization of Palestine. As Zionism is a form of racism, and racism has no place in the university, the students also condemned their “Zionist administration [which] invests in Israeli companies,” and “hosts birthright programs and study abroad programs in occupied Palestine.” At the rally the NYC SJP chanted, “Zionists out of CUNY.”
In retaliation for this consistent anti-racist position, a petition is circulating, stating that CUNY should “shut down its chapters of SJP,” and that “The SJP is infringing on the rights of other students with its antisemitic statements.” The New York Post accuses NYC SJP of “an anti-Semitic spin.” And the CUNY administration recently released a statement speaking of “language reeking of thinly veiled bigotry, prejudice, and anti-semitism.”
Given the coordinated nature of these statements, IJAN considers this an attack on students’ rights of freedom of expression, and a dangerous and false allegation of antisemitism to smother students’ legitimate criticisms of Zionist racism. We reject any suggestion that statements criticizing Zionists or other racists makes Jews “unsafe.” It is Zionism, not attacks on Zionism, which makes Jews unsafe. Furthermore, IJAN rejects any suggestion that students’ attempts to open up the university to more working-class communities of color, or to end relationships with Israeli universities, is a move to target Jews. Indeed, as NYC SJP states in their response to these allegations, they oppose “anti-semitism and all forms of racism.”
This rhetoric of “safety”and the suggestion that there is only one Jewish perspective on Zionism erases the history of Jewish opposition to Zionism, and falsely implies that Jews are made to feel unsafe when Zionism is attacked. As a network of anti-Zionist Jews, IJAN rejects any such suggestion.We stand fully with NYC SJP and their allies in their attempts to challenge racism at the university – including the form of racism which supports the Israeli colonization of Palestine. We reject any attempt to silence these students, and see it as both a grave infringement on their freedom of expression, as well as a cheapening of the history of genuine anti-Jewish prejudice, both in this country and abroad.
Such attacks are also part of an organized Zionist attempt to censor criticism of Zionism on and off the university campus, and to target with backlash those who wish to link anti-Zionist struggle to other anti-racist struggles. We hope that CUNY will respect the rights of students to fight to liberate themselves and their communities, in line with CUNY’s historic mission to serve the people of New York.