For years, the anti-Israel group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has presented itself as an “independent grassroots organization” that supports justice and human rights while opposing all forms of bigotry. Their recently leaked SJP Divestment Handbook, however, reveals that SJP relies heavily on outside political groups — and often, ones that actively promote hate.
The SJP Divestment Handbook details the inner workings of SJP’s campaigns against Israel as a part of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.
The story begins with the front cover, which states, “Produced with support from US Campaign for Palestinian Rights” (USCPR). USCPR is a national coalition of (mostly off-campus) groups representing the BDS movement in America. As part of BDS, this coalition seeks to end Israel’s existence and deny Jews the right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland.
Many of the most problematic members of USCPR are featured prominently in SJP’s handbook as contributors and essential resources for campus campaigns. SJP campus chapters are encouraged to reach out to American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) to trade strategies and get non-students to attend student government meetings about divestment. AMP chairman Hatem Bazian, a co-founder of SJP, has repeatedly spread anti-Semitism on social media, while other AMP leaders and speakers have engaged in racism, homophobia, genocide denial, and praise for terrorist groups. One AMP employee listed as a contact in the handbook has said that Israel is, “an illegitimate creation,” and that, “Israelis have to be bombed”.
The US Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) is listed as a primary resource for speakers that SJP can bring to campus. USACBI is at the forefront of campaigns that have been widely condemned for violating academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas. They even go as far as boycotting all, “projects involving Palestinians and/or other Arabs on one side and Israelis on the other,” unless the Israelis involved agree to support all of BDS’s political demands beforehand. In effect, this rules out any feasible effort to promote a just peace based on self-determination for both peoples. USACBI also receives fiscal sponsorship from Al-Awda, a hate group which has celebrated figures like Samir Kuntar - an infamous terrorist who murdered a four year old child.
When SJP activists need “sophisticated technology” to pressure student governments, non-students to help them canvas during important votes on campus, or “endorsements from… rabbis” they are directed to contact Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). JVP, whose pro-BDS stance aligns with only 4 percent of the American Jewish community, has worked with USCPR, SJP, AMP and others to glorify convicted terrorist Rasmea Odeh. This despite the fact that Odeh’s own relative is on film confirming her involvement in the murder of two innocent civilians. In the summer of 2017 alone, JVP supported anti-Semitism at the Chicago Dyke March, targeted at-risk LGBTQ Jewish youth for “sabotage, bullying, and harassment” and falsely accused Israel and Jewish organizations of being responsible for police brutality against people of color in America.
Aside from all the hateful outside influence the SJP Divestment Handbook reveals, it also casually suggests ways that activists can use deception to promote their agenda. For example, the introduction makes clear that “student-led divestment” is part of the larger global BDS movement. Yet when it comes to writing anti-Israel divestment resolutions, SJP chapters are instructed to think about publicly distancing their campaign from BDS in order to win student government votes. In this dishonest approach, the new handbook borrows from an older version called “Divest Now! A Handbook for Student Divestment Campaigns”. The original states that divestment was “introduced in North America as a stepping stone towards a broad, comprehensive boycott of Israel,” but instructs activists to say they are only targeting “corporations and institutions profiting from Israel’s occupation.”
In the end, all SJP and its off-campus support system have managed to do is increase hostility and division between students. While some supporters of divestment are simply motivated by concern for Palestinian human rights, they are being exploited by outside political interests that promote hatred and have no qualms about using deception to achieve their goals. This is particularly ironic, given that SJP often claims pro-Israel activists are “not grassroots” due to their involvement with community organizations. As long as SJP’s campaign of hate continues, the Jewish and pro-Israel community should be proud of its efforts to empower students and level the playing field.
Students in America have the potential to help Israelis and Palestinians build a better future together. In order to fulfill that potential, they must stop allowing the BDS movement to exploit their voices for an unjust cause.