How to Combat Anti-Israeli Hate on College Campuses

October 13, 2020 Topic: Security Region: Middle East Blog Brand: Lebanon Watch Tags: IsraelPalestiniansPoliticsNetanyahuCollege

How to Combat Anti-Israeli Hate on College Campuses

The rise of the on-campus anti-Israel movement is multifaceted, but one feature is all too common: Anti-Zionists and boycott, divestment and sanctions supporters who tar Israel as an illegal “occupier” and/or an “apartheid” nation.


Israel’s Arab neighbors, of course, were rather upset at the emergence of a Jewish state in their region. A combined Egyptian/Jordanian/Syrian/Lebanese Arab force immediately invaded the nascent Jewish state, hoping to annihilate its fledgling paramilitaries and wipe away any incipient taint of a sovereign Jewish presence in the Levant. The resultant war, which culminated in a miraculous Israeli victory, dragged on for nearly a year. Between February and July of 1949, Israel reached successive armistice agreements with each of Egypt, Lebanon, Transjordan (whose official name was changed to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan less than a month later) and Syria.  

Crucially, none of these armistice agreements established permanent borders; Israel did not reach a peace accord, at the time, with any one of these nations. Rather, according to their own explicit terms, each armistice agreement established temporary ceasefire lines, the most famous of which was the “Green Line”—a term still frequently bandied about today and sometimes misleadingly referred to as the “1967 borders.” Under the temporary ceasefire lines of 1949, Jordan soon fully occupied Judea and Samaria, the eastern portions of Jerusalem, and the Old City of Jerusalem in a dubiously legal fashion. Over the course of their occupation, the Jordanians would desecrate and destroy all but one of the Old City’s thirty-five synagogues


But the plain text of the armistice agreements was emphatically clear—as actually insisted upon by the defeated Arab armies themselves—that the ceasefire lines represented only a separation of forces, and neither a concession nor final settlement of any contested territory. As the Israeli-Transjordanian armistice agreement said, in language mirroring its sister accords, “The [a]rmistice [d]emarcation [l]ines defined in articles V and VI of this [a]greement are agreed upon by the [p]arties without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines or to claims of either [p]arty relating thereto.” As such, nothing that happened between the years 1947 (when the UN Partition Plan for Palestine failed) and 1949 (when Israel reached armistice agreements with the four invading Arab armies) altered Israel’s borders, under the principle of uti possidetis juris, away from those that the modern Jewish state inherited from preexisting Mandatory Palestine. 

Eighteen years later, in the Six-Day War, Israel’s Arab neighbors again attempted to annihilate it. Israel’s victory in this surprise defensive war was a victory of biblical proportions that permitted the Jewish state to regain territorial possession of Judea and Samaria, the Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights. But yet again, nothing changed under international law: uti possidetis juris continued to apply, just as it did in 1948, tracing back to the Mandate. Israel’s borders after the Six-Day War were precisely the same as they were the day that Ben-Gurion declared independence in May 1948. 

This then gets us back to that most tendentious of words muddying the state of Israel-related discourse on the university campus today: “occupation.” Those making this accusation claim its provenance lies in Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (hereinafter, “Article 49”), adopted in 1950. Ironically, Article 49 neither defines nor forbids “occupation”—instead, it offers a list of humanitarian guidelines that should be observed when one nation is asserting military control over at least part of another nation. In order to tar Israel as an “occupier” under Article 49, enemies of the Jewish state point to the Article 49 provision stipulating that an “[o]ccupying [p]ower shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” They use this provision without first proving that Israel is an “occupying power,” and then baldly assert that it is an “occupying power” because it permits Jewish civilians to move into Judea and Samaria. The logic is laughably circular.  

Although Article 49 never directly defines what exactly an “occupation” is, it does address instances where one sovereign captures territories from another established sovereign during wartime. As discussed, under uti possidetis juris, Israel had the best legal claim to Judea and Samaria both before and after the Six-Day War—and, as goes without saying, a sovereign cannot dispossess itself of its own territory via “occupation.” 

The much-ballyhooed UN Security Council Resolution (“UNSCR”) 242, passed in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, does not in any way alter the conclusion that Israel is the best claimant to Judea and Samaria. That resolution affirmed “[w]ithdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict”; but as the careful reader will note, the operative language is “territories,” not “the territories,” therefore unambiguously permitting at least some Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria. Additionally, UNSCR 242 also requires Arab UN member states to “[t]erminat[e] . . . all claims . . . of belligerency and . . . acknowledg[e] . . . the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence” of Israel—obligations they clearly have not fulfilled. Given uti possidetis juris—not to mention the wholly defensive nature of Israel’s involvement in the Six-Day War—it would be extraordinarily peculiar to think of Israel as an “[o]ccupying [p]ower” under Article 49. Even assuming, arguendo, that “occupation” did commence in 1967, furthermore, it would not have survived the signing of the Oslo Accords and the peace treaty with Jordan, in 1993 and 1994—after all, Article 49 has no legal application outside of international armed conflicts. But this lattermost thought experiment notwithstanding, Israel was not an illegal “occupier” in 1948, it was not an illegal “occupier” in 1967, it was not an illegal “occupier” after the Arabs’ third failed attempt to exterminate Israel in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, and it is not an illegal “occupier” today. 

This remarkably straightforward analysis and application of international law notwithstanding, supporters of the Jewish state on the American university campus today are routinely assailed as apologists for “apartheid,” illegal “occupation,” and/or European-style ethnic colonialism. Many, perhaps most, of these verbal assaults comfortably fit the requisite criteria for the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism. But due to the ubiquity of these incidents, however tragic that ubiquity may be, it is imperative that Zionists squarely address how to best handle them. Based on personal experiences and the vicarious experience of close friends and loved ones from the front lines of the on-campus “Israel wars,” here is some advice to Zionist students under siege on the American university campus today.

First, know your facts and your basic history. Understand, and be able to explain, what exactly the Jewish state of Israel is and how it first came into being. Understand, and be able to explain, the relevant history—the dates and events that matter, and why they matter. Understand, and be able to explain, a rudimentary conception of the international law principle of uti possidetis juris and how it applies to the state of Israel’s rightful legal claim to Judea and Samaria—dating back to Article XXII of the Covenant of the League of Nations. Be respectful of the other side’s narrative, but be confident in the moral and legal superiority of your claim. 

Second, be the better person. We Zionist veterans of the on-campus “Israel wars” all know what a determined SJP/JVP foe looks like: threatening, slanderous, bellicose, hysterical. It is imperative that supporters and friends of Israel neither mimic their grotesque tactics nor stoop to their sordid level. Instead, recall: We have the better of the legal argument, we have the better of the historical argument, and we have the better of the moral argument. All we must do is maintain our composure, speak the historical truth, and make the unabashed moral case for Israel’s right to the land of Eretz Yisrael—forcefully but respectfully, unapologetically but reassuringly.

Third, be strong and be proud. You are standing up for the noblest and most just causes of all: the health, safety, prosperity, and security of the Jewish people and the Jewish people’s right to self-determination and territorial sovereignty in their ancestral, biblical homeland. If you are a proud Jew or a proud friend of the Jews, then there is simply no more righteous cause. The modern state of Israel, which was born from the ashes of one of human history’s darkest chapters, has survived against impossible odds and developed the region’s most advanced military—a fighting force, that is, which self-imposes the most stringent ethical norms in all of modern warfare and has executed countless daring raids to rescue Jewish hostages abroad and bring them home to safety. Israel has become the whole world’s envy in technology venture capital. It is an intrinsically moral state, a beacon of light amidst a turbulent sea, and an indispensable military and intelligence ally for the United States. Perhaps most importantly, it is the Jews’ Promised Land. Israel is, in a nutshell, one of the most remarkable human success stories in two to three millennia—and inherently worthy of a robust defense in the lion’s den of today’s neo-Jacobin American university campuses.

On the one hand, it is profoundly sad to see Israel, once such a unifying issue for our normally fractious politics become the intensely debated subject that it is today. On the other hand, it is cause for optimism that, despite all the intensity and vitriol that this issue lamentably engenders, there is such a simple, persuasive, and compelling legal argument to support the modern state of Israel’s rightful territorial claim to Eretz Yisrael—including the most relevant portion, for purposes of this essay, Judea and Samaria. It is my hope that beleaguered students today encountering the BDS movement’s headwinds will be able to utilize this essay to stand up defiantly for Israel’s dignity—and defy those who would smear it as an illicit “occupier.”