By Andrew Lapin
October 26, 2023
(JTA) — The White House denounced “antisemitic messages being conveyed on college campuses” in a statement Thursday, condemning students groups that have praised Hamas’ attack on Israel or “call for the annihilation of the state of Israel.”
The statement is the most direct critique President Joe Biden’s office has yet made about inflammatory rhetoric surrounding Israel on college campuses, which has spiked following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and Israel’s war in Gaza against the group, which the United States has designated as a terrorist organization. The statement did not detail specific incidents, although it did appear to refer to an instance in which Jewish students at Cooper Union were barricaded in a library during a pro-Palestinian protest.
In the weeks since the Oct. 7 massacre, chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine at a series of campuses have praised the attack that killed 1,400 Israelis or said blame for the bloodshed lies almost entirely with Israel. At George Washington University, students reported to be associated with the group projected messages including “Glory To Our Martyrs,” “Divestment From Zionist Genocide Now” and “Free Palestine From The River To The Sea” onto the side of a library building for two hours on Tuesday night.
“Amidst the rise in poisonous, antisemitic rhetoric and hate crimes that President Biden has fought against for years, there is an extremely disturbing pattern of antisemitic messages being conveyed on college campuses,” Andrew Bates, White House deputy press secretary, said in a statement. “Just over the past week, we’ve seen protests and statements on college campuses that call for the annihilation of the state of Israel; for genocide against the Jewish people. Jewish students have even had to barricade themselves inside buildings. These grotesque sentiments and actions shock the conscience and turn the stomach. They also recall our commitment that can’t be forgotten: ‘never again.’”
Bates added, “Delegitimizing the State of Israel while praising the Hamas terrorist murderers who burned innocent people alive, or targeting Jewish students, is the definition of unacceptable — and the definition of antisemitism. President Biden is proud to have been an enemy of antisemitism and hate his entire life, and he always will be.”
Also on Thursday, the Anti-Defamation League sent letters to the heads of nearly 200 universities asking them to investigate their chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine. The ADL partnered on the letters with the Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, a pro-Israel legal group. For years, the Brandeis Center has pursued a series of civil rights lawsuits demanding that university administrations take a firmer hand in countering anti-Israel activity.
The letters claimed that SJP chapters could be guilty of “potential violations of the prohibition against materially supporting a foreign terrorist organization.” They call on universities to investigate the chapters for “whether they have improper funding sources, have violated the school code of conduct, have violated state or federal laws, and/or are providing material support to Hamas.”
The letter cites some chapters’ statements and messaging justifying or supporting the attack by Hamas, which killed and wounded thousands and took more than 200 captive, as well as other chapters’ calls for “‘dismantling’ Zionism on U.S. college campuses.” It also cites literature from SJP’s national umbrella group about planned “Day of Resistance” events, which included strategies for how to reframe the Hamas attacks as acts of legitimate resistance.
“SJP chapters are not advocating for Palestinian rights; they are celebrating terrorism,” reads the letter, signed by ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt and Brandeis Center leadership.
An ADL spokesperson told JTA that it “has long tracked and exposed SJP’s antisemitism,” but that the group’s escalation of activities since the Hamas attacks “forced us to consider whether they have crossed a very serious legal line.”
SJP has come under increased scrutiny as its chapters have taken a leading role in anti-Israel campus activities. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate, ordered on Tuesday that all chapters of the student group in his state’s university system be shut down — a move that could open up the state to free-speech lawsuits.