Syracuse University is being urged to cease granting college credits to students who intern with an activist group that promotes the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign.
The Syracuse Peace Council (SPC) is listed as one of 14 “internship sites” available to students majoring in Writing Studies, Rhetoric, and Composition, each of which offers three credits and a letter grade.
The calls come in the wake of a gathering hosted by the SPC’s Justice for Palestine Committee on January 22 at ArtRage Gallery in Syracuse, which was attended by more than two dozen people, among them Campus Reform correspondent and SU student Justine Murray.
Activists at the event — titled “Palestine: Behind the Wall” — repeatedly denounced Zionism, a diverse movement that supports the Jewish people’s right to national self-determination, as a racist ideology.
During a one-on-one conversation with Murray, SPC member Julia Ganson — a former program manager at SU — was recorded agreeing when asked whether young kids should be taught about the US-designated terrorist organization Hamas and all “the good work they do.”
“I think so, yeah, yeah,” Ganson said of the Gaza-based Islamist group. “We’ve made it into this very simple thing, you know, Hamas is a terrorist group so we shouldn’t have anything to do with them. They have done a lot of good for Palestinians.”
In another instance, speaker Pat Carmeli told the audience that according to author and former academic Norman Finkelstein’s reading of international law, Palestinians “actually have a right to use violence … they have a right to fight their oppressors.”
“He said Israel on the other hand, who is often charged with using excessive force, according to international law — as oppressors, as illegal occupiers — they have actually no right to use violence,” she shared.
Avigyle Carmeli — who Murray told The Algemeiner was introduced as a member of the Justice for Palestine Committee board, and whose relationship to Pat could not be confirmed — separately told Murray once asked whether violence against Zionists is justified, that while she is “not a violent person, and I don’t really condone violence … I think that fighting a racist ideology and sometimes with violence might be the answer for some people.”
Murray also asked Avigyle, this time before other attendees, to dispute Zionist assertions that Israel is the only Middle Eastern country where people who identify as Jewish can live openly and safely, specifically by naming an alternative.
“What is a place that’s safe for Palestinians,” Avigyle retorted, as unidentified audience members laughingly answered Murray by offering locations such as “Syracuse,” “Brooklyn,” and “Florida.”
“I think Zionism needs to end, there can’t be a Zionist state, it’s just really wrong,” Avigyle added.
Murray said she was filled with a “feeling of dread” after witnessing the room erupt with laugher and “mockery towards the Jewish people” while discussing where Jews could live “without the fear of hatred and violence.”
“There is something frightening about seeing a crowd of civilized, students and adults instantly reaching for stereotypes, specifically in their references to Brooklyn and Florida, when discussing the threats faced by Jews around the world,” she told The Algemeiner.
“Historically, this is the exact type of derision used by purportedly civilized societies in the past” when they embraced antisemitism.
“One has to imagine that this same group would never use such mockery, derision and hate-filled laughter when discussing other minority groups and the troubles they face around the world,” she said.
Murray urged the administration to nix the SPC’s designation as an approved internship site, pointing to the political nature of its work.
“If it’s not allowing students to earn credits for being members for campaign organizations and political activists, then it should not allow students to earn credits for this clearly political, activist organization,” she said.
Miriam Elman, associate professor of political science at SU and the new executive director of the anti-BDS Academic Engagement Network, likewise argued against granting students course credits for interning with the SPC.
The Justice for Palestine Committee, which in April was involved in the disruption of an on-campus speech by an Israeli diplomat, “has been engaged in a troubling pattern of virulent anti-Israel, and in some cases antisemitic, activism that is betraying its mission and legacy,” Elman told The Algemeiner.
“At a time when antisemitism is growing at an alarming rate in our country and on our campuses, particularly in New York State, Syracuse University cannot ignore that its students are receiving course credit for interning with an organization that tolerates offensive rhetoric toward Jews, provides a platform for antisemites, and justifies — based on a misinformed reading of international law — violence toward Israelis,” Elman said.
“The statements made about Israel and the Israeli-Arab conflict during this videotaped presentation were demonstrably false, but its the explicit hatred expressed for Zionist Jews along with remarks supporting violence and terror organizations that are even more disturbing,” she added.
Her concern was echoed by Sarah Levin, executive director of Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA), which works to raise awareness of the antisemitic violence and persecution sustained by Jewish communities in the region both before and following Israel’s establishment.
“When groups like the Syracuse Peace Council who purport to be champions of human rights not only dismiss, but mock the very real ethnic cleansing and dispossession of close to one million indigenous Jews from the Middle East and North Africa they prove themselves to be not only anti-Zionist, but extremely ignorant and biased against Jews,” Levin said.
“Rather than promoting equitable solutions and relationship building efforts between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East, these groups care only about vilifying Israel and its supporters; thus exposing themselves as misguided at best and antisemitic at worst,” she warned.
SU and SPC did not immediately respond to The Algemeiner‘s requests for comment.
This article was updated to include comments by Justine Murray.