Why Jews must oppose muzzling of Palestine solidarity activists

Young woman looks at camera during Palestine solidarity rally

History shows that Jews must always support any group that is unfairly targeted.

Tess Scheflan ActiveStills

Northeastern University’s administration recently suspended its chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a recognized student group whose mission is to educate about the plight of Palestinians living under more than half a century of Israeli occupation. The administration also initially threatened some members of SJP with expulsion from the university.

As a former executive director of Northeastern University’s (NEU) Hillel Foundation and its university Jewish chaplain, I am especially sensitive to issues involving NEU’s Jewish students, Israel and anti-Semitism.

Not in spite of this, but because of this, I am deeply troubled by Northeastern’s actions. The university contends that its decision was based specifically on SJP not having followed explicit university rules and, more generally, by its acting in ways considered “uncivil” — in particular creating an atmosphere that caused some students, specifically Jewish students, to feel “unsafe.”

In reality, these are justifications that are patently untrue and meant to confuse at best, or, at worst, totally obscure the true motivations for the university’s actions.


NEU points to two particular cases, in which it claims that SJP acted counter to university procedures and expectations. According to the administration, SJP “disrupted” a pro-Israel policy program — a talk given by Israeli soldiers — without receiving prior authorization as required by university rules on political actions.

And, more recently, SJP was accused of breaking procedure by distributing leaflets under dormitory doors with a mock warning that the residents were to be evicted.

SJP did, in fact, notify the authorities about their members’ intention to walk out of the Israel program. In response, the group received an email message from the administration that acknowledged what the SJP activists planned to do and asked only that they act “civilly.”

As the SJP members walked out, only one shouted a few not uncivil words before leaving.

No one was prevented from entering the event, nor was it in any way “disrupted.” It is questionable whether a group of students leaving an event can be classified as an “action” requiring university permission. But in this case, the response of an officer of the university certainly demonstrates that the school was aware of what was planned.


The situation of the “eviction” notices is somewhat more complicated. But it is clear that NEU’s reaction to it was irresponsible.

The distribution of the flyers cannot be seen as targeting any particular student group (i.e. Jewish students), since SJP would have no idea where particular students were housed. The flyers were placed at all doors in the facilities.

As for “frightening” students by making them think that they were really being evicted, the flyers were clear that this was a mock eviction exercise meant to highlight the reality of the evictions given to Palestinians before their houses are demolished or turned over to illegal Israeli settlers.

Finally, many groups on campus, including Hillel and other pro-Israel groups, regularly distribute flyers supporting positions or announcing events. The university, appropriately, seldom asks for prior permission nor does it censor the content of these communications.

In fact, the accusations were not generated from students but substantially from persons and groups outside of the university. It is well known that the extreme right-wing Zionist political group Americans for Peace and Tolerance and its president Charles Jacobs have, for some years, waged a pronounced attack on NEU and certain faculty members who they portray as anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic.

To its credit, the university has been supportive of its faculty. But in SJP’s case, it has unfortunately succumbed to the illegitimate accusations and pressures of these outside groups and the significant donors they have managed to rally.

Longtime, respected faculty members are difficult to undermine, but the vulnerable students of SJP have not been as easy to protect.


Why am I, a former Hillel director, so concerned about this situation? Why would I care about a bunch of undergraduate students who are part of an organization whose core purpose is to support Palestinians and criticize the State of Israel?

Do I have any objection to the university exercising its obvious right to regulate the behavior of sanctioned student groups?

First, the university’s decision is, simply, wrong.

Its contention that the issue is not one of “freedom of speech” but adherence to school rules is an absurd contention given SJP’s actions.

There is, for me, something else at work here. Judaism teaches us that there are times when ethics and morality come into conflict with self-interest. With only a tiny number of exceptions, we are called on to do what is morally right even if it leads to an outcome that we do not see as what is “best” for us.

There is little doubt in my mind that that the university’s treatment of SJP cannot be defended. In this case, however, I don’t see any contradiction between what is right and what is in Jewish self-interest. While I have serious concerns about Israeli policy vis-à-vis the treatment of Palestinians and the occupation, whether these issues are right or wrong should be irrelevant in this case.

We Jews have learned the hard way, over generations and centuries, that any time rights are curtailed one can rely on our being amongst the top of the list of those targeted. Wherever some group is persecuted, it is only a matter of time before Jews will be too.

The lesson should be — and historically has been — that we Jews must always support any group that is unfairly targeted. That’s why Jews in the US have overwhelmingly supported the rights of minorities and persecuted communities.

That’s why I am convinced that for the sake of both our Jewish values and our long-term survival, the ill-conceived treatment of Northeastern University’s Students for Justice in Palestine is, in the final analysis, not only wrong but ultimately, as my grandmother used to say, “bad for the Jews.”

Martin R. Federman is a Jewish educator who was the executive director of the Hillel Foundation at Northeastern University in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He is currently an active member of Jewish Voice for Peace and co-chairperson of American Jews for a Just Peace-Boston.




Why should we defend people who lie and defame Israel and want to destroy a Jewish state?

I am going to make a very simple case for Zionism that cannot be attacked on the grounds of human rights:

The whole point of the Jewish state is "defensible Jewish borders and a strong Jewish army". The rest is dispensible.

These two things are a matter of life and death for the Jewish people. We finally learned our lesson.

Why can't Israel welcome in millions of at worst hostile or at best ambivalent Arabs? Because in order to maintain a Jewish Army and Jewish borders, the state must retain a Jewish majority. Why must it continue its presence in Judea and Samaria? It is a critical natural boundary in order to maintain a defense, and leaving would reopen the state to attacks from these highlands onto Israel's population centers.

Had the Arabs not rejected the Yishuv in 1920, they would be equal citizens of a Jewish-majority state. Instead they terrorized the British into sealing the borders to Jewish refugeea during the Shoah. The fact that the " Nakba" refugees survived while the trapped Jews of Europe were exterminated should give you some comfort. At least they had countries to take them in.

This is a matter of life and death for a people who have suffered centuries of homelessness. As Jabotinsky testified in 1937 to the Peel Commission:

"I have also shown to you already that, in our submission, there is no question of ousting the Arabs. On the contrary, the idea is that Palestine on both sides of the Jordan should hold the Arabs, their progeny, and many millions of Jews... I fully understand that any minority would prefer to be a majority, it is quite understandable that the Arabs of Palestine would also prefer Palestine to be the Arab State No. 4, No. 5, or No. 6 — that I quite understand; but when the Arab claim is confronted with our Jewish demand to be saved, it is like the claims of appetite versus the claims of starvation."


You have made a clear point, I just want to follow up for clarification: are you in fact suggesting that the survival of a Jewish majority state is the primary value? That is is more important that the state be a Jewish majority state than it be a democracy?

I am confused by your "very simple case for Zionism that cannot be attacked on the grounds of human rights". Since the rights of a minority to self-expression and even dissent against a political system are fairly basic human rights, are you arguing
(1) That Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state trumps any other value (including human rights); or
(2) That Zionism does not take into account human rights of non-Jews at all and so therefore cannot be accused of being faithless to its own values on the basis of said human rights since they are not a part of the equation?

Those are the only two interpretations of your statement I can find that make sense since your assumption that your claim of ethnically determined borders and and ethnically dominated army do not automatically obviate critiques based on human rights.

Nor does your insistence that the Zionist enterprise is necessary for the survival of the Jewish people. The United States, for example, provides an example of a liberal, pluralistic, multi-ethnic democratic society in which Jewish interests are exceedingly well protected. Most American Jews are content to live in the U.S. and feel no compulsion to move to Israel where they would be "safer". Is it not curious that Israel's biggest supporter also happens to be the greatest counter-argument to the presumptions of Zionism in Israel?


The most important human right is the right to life, so if you want a rights-based paradigm, I still win.

However, I am speaking in terms not of "human rights" but of lex naturales à la Hobbes. This is the first natural law from Leviathan:

"And because the condition of man (as hath been declared in the precedent chapter) is a condition of war of every one against every one, in which case every one is governed by his own reason, and there is nothing he can make use of that may not be a help unto him in preserving his life against his enemies; it followeth that in such a condition every man has a right to every thing, even to one another's body. And therefore, as long as this natural right of every man to every thing endureth, there can be no security to any man, how strong or wise soever he be, of living out the time which nature ordinarily alloweth men to live. And consequently it is a precept, or general rule of reason: that every man ought to endeavour peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek and use all helps and advantages of war. The first branch of which rule containeth the first and fundamental law of nature, which is: to seek peace and follow it. The second, the sum of the right of nature, which is: by all means we can to defend ourselves."

If you recall, Hobbes's lex naturales is a body of precepts for behavior that all rational people must follow. I am simply saying that any group of people has a right to demand security by force if security by peaceful means is worthless (international security system.. See Rwanda)


Does this most important human right apply only to Jews? Do Palestinians also have a right to life? And a right to defend themselves?

Why not just come clean and say: We Jews have been through a lot in 2000 years, including the mass murder of the holocaust. Quite frankly, we haven't gotten anywhere respecting other people's rights and it's time to consider ours and ours alone. Therefore, we have built a state in which we are privileged, we have engaged in an occupation in which more Palestinian lives have been lost than our own, and we have made it impossible for people to exercise other natural rights. We acknowledge this. But for us the survival of the Jewish people is paramount. They need not survive as participants of a democracy or as respecters of other people's rights; they need only survive. And that's what we're here for.

The main problem with your strain of Zionism is that it makes a great case for itself on the basis of "rights" but does not really want those rights applied to the Palestinians.


When you say that not all Jews have moved to Israel because they feel safe, you forget that Germany's Jews felt the same way before the rise of the Nazis.

Israel exists so that we are never left with nowhere to run.

I would much rather be a Palestinian in a world with an Israel than a Jew in a world without one.


There is only one nation-state between the river and the sea. Unless something happens very soon, that is all there will ever be. The occupied territories will be de facto annexed to Israel (if they are not already). Thus, in order to maintain this safe haven for the Jewish people, that nation-state will have to be maintained on anti-democratic principles: it will have to discriminate on the basis of race and ethnicity. It will be a polity in which one segment of the population will perpetually have rights (land, immigration, water, movement) while the other will not.

Is the establishment of a safe haven for a people worth it if doing so undermines the very values that define those people? Is building a "Jewish state" that ignores the precepts of Judaism on equal treatment of all residents of the land whether עזרח or גר (e.g., Lev 16:29; 17:15; 18:26; 24:16, 22; Num 15:29–30), worth it?


I challenge you do some reading about what has been the fate of the Palestinian people, from before 1948 until this day, at the hands of successive Israeli governments maybe starting with "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine" by Illan Pappé, a truly courageous Israeli writer and peace activist, who was forced to leave his native Haifa in 2007 and go abroad because of death threats against him and his family. His only "crime" was telling the truth.
Reading his many books may help you to separate myth from reality.


You should read the book "Sipping from the Nile", an autobiographical account by a Jewish lady of her childhood and family life in Cairo. Although some of her family were Zionist supporters, she explains that they did not suffer hostility from their neighbours, or pressure to leave Egypt, until after the Israeli attack on Egypt in 1956. As to the "ethnic cleansing of Jews" from the Arab middle east after 1948 that Zionists often complain about, it should be remembered that the Declaration of the Jewish State called for "the ingathering of the exiles", and much of the migration to Israel was voluntary. It should also be remembered that it followed the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in which 750,000 Arabs left the territory controlled by Israel, and were never allowed to return (plus 300,000 in 1967). Such anti-Semitism as there is in the world largely derives from the behaviour of the Jewish State.


Antisemitism as it exists today is due to the actions of the Jewish state? Are you insane? The Nazi propaganda broadcasts poisoned the populations of the Arab states, inculcating them with a Nazi-type of antisemitism that is flaunted openly, with Mein Kampf (My Jihad (Struggle)) and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as bestsellers.

But that still does not explain the anti-Jewish attacks during the Ottoman empire or during the military occupation of Palestine during the mandate, i.e., the Nebi Musa Pogrom of 1920, and the gruesome Pogroms in Hebron and Safed in 1929.

Moreover, there is still rank antisemitism coming from all over Europe, where people still hold Jews responsible for the death of Christ, which is believed by anywhere betweeb 10 and 50 percent of the populations of Europe.

Moreover, the beliefs in Jewish control of the government, media, business, and banking are still going strong in countries whose Jewish populations were mostly exterminated.

Antisemitism still exists, and it is incredible that you would assert that it is all Israel's fault. If you were serious about your avowed antiracism, you would not condone antisemitism under any circumstances.


I said that anti-Semitism today largely results from the actions of Israel, not that it is "all Israel's fault". I do not condone anti-Semitism under any circumstances. I try to understand its origins, in an effort to help defeat it.

If you read the history of Palestine, you will find that in general the Jews fared better under Moslem rule than under Christian rule. There was little generalized anti-Semitism in Palestine. Attacks on Jews in the Mandatory period took place against the political background of large-scale immigration of European Jews which was being imposed on Palestine by the British. Taking the Hebron massacre as an example, many of the Arab households sheltered the Jews from the attackers. The attack was inspired by a very nationalistic demonstration by Jews in Jerusalem, and rumours (probably false) that they had killed Arabs and tried to take over the Holy Sites. The violence in Palestine was political in nature: if the immigrant settlers had been British, they would have been resented as much, or even more, than the Jews.

I am one of the people who believe that the Jewish Temple leadership were responsible for the death of Jesus, because that is what the New Testament says. No-one who has the slightest knowledge of Christianity could possibly believe that the Jewish people collectively should be blamed for that. I think that anti-Semitism in Europe arose from the fact that Jews were an identifiable minority, and there is a natural tendency for attach blame to such minorities when things go wrong. We see this happening today in Britain with Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants.

Jews are certainly strongly represented in banking, media and other particular professions, such as science and technology, out of proportion to their numbers. This is a factual matter. The Zionist lobby (which does not include all Jews, and has many non-Jewish members) certainly has a very great influence on the US Government. It is not anti-Semitic to say that.


What connection does that have with the Israeli inhuman treatment of Palestinians?


I have seen what the occupation means with my own eyes, and I can promise you that it is *not* the lesser evil. It is the worst treatment of human beings that I have every personally witnessed, anywhere. I know it's not the worst thing that's ever happened, or even the worst thing happening right now, but I guarantee it's worse than the alternatives.

Israel is only one of many nations in which Jewish citizens can live free and equal lives, and it could continue to offer that without abusing the Palestinian people. The hypothetical possibility that every other country could suddenly become oppressive can't possibility justify the actuality of real oppression here and now.


There is no such thing as a defensible or indefensible border. If you have more firepower than your adversary, you can defend any border. Furthermore, if there are two nations with a common border, *both of them* have the right to a secure border, and any changes to the border need to be agreed. The only threat to Israel's security arises *because of* Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory. All the Arab states have offered peace with Israel if it will end the occupation.


There are two American strategic surveys assessing exactly this question that I know of: The first from 1967 by Earl Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff in response to a request by President Johnson detailed here:


The second is by Irving Kett, an American Colonel at the Army War College, detailed here:


Terrain is of supreme importance for a country like Israel that needs time to mobilize reserves in order to put up a serious defense. Without the high mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria, an enemy ground assault can quickly fan out and defeat Israel before its reserves can mobilize.

Moreover, the Palestinians in western Samaria (Tulkarem, Qalqilya, etc) are positioned in places to rain down direct machinegun fire on Israel's principal transportation artery and can hit Ben-Gurion airport with mortars and artillery. Line of sight rockets can be fired on Hadera and Tel-Aviv, including critical infrastructure.

One strong push could bisect Israel if its borders become the 1949 armistice lines.

This is why there will be no two state solution on the armistice lines, even with swaps, and why Israel must control the eastern border, in order to prevent a conventional military push or infiltration by Al Qaeda, Takfiri, and irredentist groups and arms within 8 miles of 80% Israel's population.

A one-state solution is even more impossible politically and even more dangerous militarily, for obvious reasons. Moreover, it negates a Jewish majority, and therefore a Jewish Army and Jewish borders.

The only solutions will be either some kind of Jordan option, where the eastern part of Judea and Samaria is placed under Jordanian control (itself either under Hashemite or Palestinian control), or one or another variation on ethnic cleansing. I am not making a moral judgment, but a social and military analysis.


It is the occupation of Palestinian territory and the suppression of the Palestinian right to self-determination that creates enemies for Israel. You already have peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan. Make peace with the Palestinians on the basis of international law and you will have peace with the Arab states. Of course, there will be some rejectionists on both sides, but they will not be an existential threat, and internal security forces will be able to deal with them.


There it goes again. Cowardly Zionism hiding behind Judaism to justify its racism and crimes. Attempting yet again its ritual attempted defilement of Torah by wrapping itself up in it and proclaiming that every thing it does is for it. What banal evil hypocrisy.

Judaism survived Czar and Furhrer, it will survive Zionism. We hope.

Never again for anyone!


Never again is "never again will we be led like lambs to the slaughter" or some variation. It is a defiant statement that we will never again be left defenseless. You are draining out the content by making it seem as though it is just a promise to prevent genocide in the future. (A total failure given Rwanda and Darfur...)


I find it curious that the first comment (and indeed the responses thereto) is merely another boilerplate "us versus them" diatribe, which has virtually nothing to do with the issue at hand, namely, the members of Students for Justice in Palestine at Northeastern University, whose organization has been summarily outlawed and some of whom were threatened with university expulsion.

The real issue here is that a university (and one in the heart of "liberal" America, in Boston, with a president, Joseph Aoun, who is himself an Arab from Lebanon, a linguist who had studied under Noam Chomsky at MIT) shows utter disregard not only to basic principles of democratic values, but also to the very agreements that it itself had reached with these students. If anyone has violated an honor code here, it is the University, not the SJP students.

The other discussions we can, do, and will have year round. But please don't try to insult us by pretending that Northeastern University has not treated these students unfairly because of their political stance AND -- in some cases -- because of their ethnicities. We do know from previous reports that University Police targeted Arab and Muslim students in their dorm rooms regardless of SJP membership. Let us not forget that.

So if there was an "unsafe atmosphere" on that campus, it was for Arab, Muslim and probably other "brown" students, and it was instigated by the University Police and administration.


My argument is that the existence of a Jewish state and a Jewish Army is a vital national interest of the Jewish people, based not on want but on need. The exterminated millions serve as a warning to us, the Jewish people, against placing our faith in the military might of our friends. The shoah vindicated the fears of the Zionists, who lamented the tragedy of the Jewish people that the state had not been proclaimed ten years earlier.

Jabotinsky in 1923 wrote:

"Yet if homeless Jewry demands Palestine for itself it is 'immoral' because it does not suit the native population. Such morality may be accepted among cannibals, but not in a civilised world. The soil does not belong to those who possess land in excess but to those who do not possess any. It is an act of simple justice to alienate part of their land from those nations who are numbered among the great landowners of the world, in order to provide a place of refuge for a homeless, wandering people. And if such a big landowning nation resists which is perfectly natural – it must be made to comply by compulsion. Justice that is enforced does not cease to be justice."

"All sorts of catchwords are used against Zionism; people invoke Democracy, majority rule national self-determination. Which means, that the Arabs being at present the majority in Palestine, have the right of self-determination, and may therefore insist that Palestine must remain Arab. Democracy and self-determination are sacred principles, but sacred principles like the Name of the Lord must not be used in vain –to bolster up a swindle, to conceal injustice. The principle of self-determination does not mean that if someone has seized a stretch of land it must remain in his possession for all time, and that he who was forcibly ejected from his land must always remain homeless."

(He means forcing Arab acceptance of Jewish immigration, not expulsion or confiscation of their property. He was for a binational state w/a Jewish majority.)


I see that “dcom” still refuses to respond to the actual article or to my critique of his previous response. Until s/he has anything relevant to say, I’m signing off.


Jews were not a wandering, homeless people in 1923. There were settled Jewish populations in the Middle East, Poland, Russia, Britain, USA, and many other places. They had a strong emotional connection with Palestine, just as Irish Americans have a strong emotional connection with Ireland. But most Jews do not want to go and live in Palestine, and most Irish Americans do not want to go and live in Ireland.


"All of the Zionists predicted some kind of massive super-pogrom." Can you give some examples please, who and when? And why not USA, Canada, South Africa, Australia which all had land to spare, and existing Ashkenazi communities into which they could integrate. Why Palestine, a tiny country where a mass Jewish immigration would disturb the population balance, and would involve expulsion of the Arabs (see Hertzel's diaries), and where they would not be welcomed by the indigenous Jews who spoke a different language, and mostly were opposed to Zionism on theological grounds?


"Following the Kishinev pogroms of 1903, Herzl foresaw further persecutions. In fact, he predicted that a Jewish catastrophe was imminent — a prediction that was tragically realized during the Second World War. Herzl sought, therefore, a “temporary haven” in Uganda as an emergency measure and not as a rejection of a territorial base in Eretz Israel. His wish, however, never came to fruition. Although he won support at the sixth Zionist Congress to dispatch an investigation commission to East Africa, Russian Zionists, led by Chaim Weizmann (1874-1952), lined up against him. "

You may ask what led them to choose Eretz Yisrael, and the answer was given by Jabotinsky in 1905, in that Palestine was first of all the only place where they could actually convince people to go, and that no other choice would be able to attract enough people, due to the history of the Jews there. It was also a question of being able to make a historical case for legitimacy to the world.

https://t.co/OhiFbEDyke article starting on page 21.

Moreover, Jabotinsky made the case later in 1923 in "Ethics of the Iron Wall" that

simplest way out would be to look for a different country to colonise. Like Uganda. But if we look more closely into the matter we shall find that the same evil exists there, too. Uganda also has a native population, which consciously or unconsciously as in every other instance in history, will resist the coming of the colonisers. It is true that these natives happen to be black. But that does not alter the essential fact. If it is immoral to colonise a country against the will of its native population, the same morality must apply equally to the black man as to the white.

I think that I have at least answered the second part of your question. If you want more documentation on the first (the need to escape europe), I can find direct quotes for Jabotinsky, Herzl, and Weizmann.


"The principle of self-determination does not mean that if someone has seized a stretch of land (the Zionists have seized Palestine) it must remain in his possession for all time, and that he who was forcibly ejected from his land (the Palestinians) must always remain homeless."


The hasabarats are out in force, I see.
Clearly, Federman has struck a nerve.


Hasbara is paid propaganda for the government. Are you accusing me of being a paid operative or even of using a "Hasbara" manual?

If so, I can tell you that I am not, and when you call concerned Jews "rats", it seems a little bit antisemitic. Now note that I am not calling you that for any criticism of Israel or its policies but because you believe in a "Hasbara conspiracy" and because of the manner in which you speak.


I've been reading the comments to my article, some of which I agree with, some I don't, but most of which are arguments that, as Uri Horash suggests, belong somewhere else. I'm taken by the reality that few people seem to be moved by the issues of free speech, academic freedom and student censorship that are really the at the heart of Northeastern University's indefensible suspension of its Students for Justice in Palestine group. Part of my point was that whether you believe Israel's policy towards Palestinians and the occupation of their territory is immoral or necessary/defensible, NEU's decision was, simply, wrong. I would like to think that all fair-minded people would understand that but I know that is too simple even naive. However, while I believe that this is something that should be self-evident for all people, I was speaking particularly from the point of view of a committed Jew who is rooted in Jewish traditions of social justice, the sacredness of education and belief in open discussion. So thanks, Uri, for reminding people what the issues my article focused on were.


Concerning the issue raised in the above article, I support Federman's position. An opportunity to make the possibly rather in-your-face tactics of the SJP group at Northeastern into an opportunity for critical dialogue - a learning moment for all - was stupidly blown by educators without much courage or imagination. This is a very bad decision that needs to be contested.


The article states that the Palestinian group violated the University's policy by distributing literature at the dormitories. The author attempts to draw a comparison to the Jewish group's activities by simply saying they also distribute on campus. However, it seems to me inappropriate and rightfully against the rules to turn students' housing into an area for literature distribution. Disbanding a club for violating the rules which it is supposed to follow is not akin to saying students as individuals rather than as club members cannot distribute literature. A little bit of depth rather than rhetoric would have been helpful.