American Miseducation: a misleading attack on pro-Palestinian protesters & the American left

By Glenn Sacks

In The Free Press’ new documentary U.S. Colleges Teaching Hate: American Miseducation they allege that “Gen Z, the most educated generation in U.S. history, [has] become sympathetic to terrorism”, and that “when Hamas attacked Israel, a new form of violent antisemitism instantly exploded onto American streets.”

They note “this newest strain of the oldest hatred comes…from students and faculty at America’s most vaunted centers of learning…[We] ask how the smartest people in the country became the source of so much hate?” 

Yet the documentary finds only a smattering of the antisemitism The Free Press claims is ubiquitous. It does find some examples of foolish, feverish, exaggerated or hostile statements and actions by pro-Palestinian demonstrators. But the documentary mostly misrepresents pro-Palestinian and leftist protesters’ actions, equating legitimate criticism of Israel and Israeli policies with antisemitism. Moreover, it disappears the major role that American Jews and Jewish students are playing in the pro-Palestinian movement.

Is it antisemitic for pro-Palestinian demonstrators to tear down ‘posters of Israeli hostages’?

One of the documentary’s prime examples of antisemitic hate is that pro-Palestinian demonstrators and activists are “tearing down posters of Israeli hostages.”

Certainly one can feel for the anguished Israeli families worried about the fate of their kidnapped loved ones. Yet the pro-Israel side portrays their posters as if they're akin to the “Have you seen me?” or “Missing” photos of lost loved ones once found on American milk cartons.

Let us be clear: these posters and the verbiage accompanying them are political vehicles deployed to justify Israel's war in Gaza. Does anyone really believe pro-Israel activists are placing these posters on American college campuses because they think random freshmen might know in which of Hamas’ Gaza hideouts and tunnels a particular hostage is being held?

Granted, neither side of this conflict should be tearing down the other’s political posters, but it’s not uncommon in these types of political battles. The pro-Israel activists probably knew that the pro-Palestinian demonstrators would play into their hands by tearing down the posters, and they anticipated the public relations windfall their side has received.

Are the swastikas at pro-Palestinian demonstrations antisemitic?

The Free Press’ Olivia Reingold, narrator of the documentary, advises us “attend enough of these demonstrations and you’ll start to see the swastikas”, creating the impression that pro-Palestinian protesters are sympathetic to the Nazis and are wielding Nazi symbols and Nazi-like rhetoric against Jewish students. Yet in each of the cases the documentary points to, the swastikas are used to draw analogies to Israeli government actions that the demonstrators oppose

A Jewish pro-Israel activist at University of Pennsylvania tells us someone spray-painted "Jews are Nazis" on the wall of a Jewish fraternity house. This spray-painting is clearly wrong in equating Israelis or pro-Israel American Jews with Nazis. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance correctly condemns “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.”

However, Zionists both in Israel and in the United States often equate being Jewish with being a Zionist and a defender of Israel. There's a certain hypocrisy in vilifying pro-Palestinian protesters for doing the same.

The Free Press is correct to claim that the slogan "Jews are Nazis", is unfair, noxious, and inaccurate. However, the bottom line is that this unfortunate message is based on a clear condemnation of Naziism and, by extension, anti-semitism.

Is the ‘colonizer’ label antisemitic?

Israel's defenders spend much time and energy vituperating against the “colonizer” label which pro-Palestinian activists and the left often apply to Israel. Within the first minute of the documentary Reingold claims she is “struck'' by “language like ‘colonize and colonizer’”, and says pro-Palestinian activists "hurl" the term "settler-colonialist". However, as British-Palestinian author Isabella Hammad and Palestinian historian Sahar Huneidi recently noted, for decades Zionists themselves used the word “colonization” to refer to their attempts to create a Jewish state in Palestine. They write:

“Until the 1960s and the first wave of successful anti-colonial independence movements, Zionists were not ashamed to call their project colonialism. Established with the aim of creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine, their institutions from 1897 onward included the Jewish Colonization Association, the Society for the Colonization of the Land of Israel, the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association, and the Jewish Colonial Trust.”

The King–Crane Commission, an American-led commission of inquiry regarding what should be done with the territories of the defeated Ottoman Empire, studied Palestine and the Zionist project extensively.

According to the report, released in August of 1919, the total population of Palestine (aka “Occupied Enemy Territory Administration South”) was 647,500—515,000 Muslims and 192,500 others, roughly equally consisting of Christians, Jews, and Druses. Jews, the Report found, were no more than 10% of the total population, as contrasted with a Muslim population of 80%.

Regarding Zionism, the Commission was initially sympathetic to the idea, explaining:

“The commission was abundantly supplied with literature on the Zionist program by the Zionist Commission to Palestine; heard in conferences much concerning the Zionist colonies and their claims; and personally saw something of what had been accomplished. They found much to approve in the aspirations and plans of the Zionists, and had warm appreciation for the devotion of many of the colonists and for their success, by modern methods, in overcoming natural obstacles.”

Nonetheless, the Report recommends “serious modification of the extreme Zionist program for Palestine of unlimited immigration of Jews”, explaining that “the erection of such a Jewish State” could not “be accomplished without the gravest trespass upon the…existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine." They note:

“The fact came out repeatedly in the Commission's conference with Jewish representatives, that the Zionists looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, by various forms of purchase.”

The Commission explains:

“[T]he non-Jewish population of Palestine–nearly nine tenths of the whole--are emphatically against the entire Zionist program. The tables show that there was no one thing upon which the population of Palestine were more agreed than upon this.”

It concludes:

“To subject a people so minded to unlimited Jewish immigration, and to steady financial and social pressure to surrender the land, would be a gross violation of the principle just quoted, and of the people's rights, though it kept within the forms of law.”

They also explain that “No British officer, consulted by the Commissioners, believed that the Zionist program could be carried out except by force of arms. The officers generally thought that a force of not less than 50,000 soldiers would be required even to initiate the program. That of itself is evidence of a strong sense of the injustice of the Zionist program…”

The Commission derides the idea, often promoted by Zionists today, that Jews had a right to found Israel based on the indigeneity of the Jewish people to Palestine, explaining “For the initial claim, often submitted by Zionist representatives, that they have a 'right' to Palestine, based on an occupation of 2,000 years ago, can hardly be seriously considered.”

The Commission concludes:

“In view of all these considerations, and with a deep sense of sympathy for the Jewish cause, the Commissioners feel bound to recommend that only a greatly reduced Zionist program be attempted by the Peace Conference, and even that, only very gradually initiated. This would have to mean that Jewish immigration should be definitely limited, and that the project for making Palestine distinctly a Jewish commonwealth should be given up.”

Clearly the word “colonize” is apt. In 1922, Muslims represented 78 percent of Palestine’s population, and Jews only 11 percent. In the ensuing 25 years–while the United States and others largely refused to take in desperate Holocaust refugees–the Jewish population grew 750 percent.

In 1947, the United Nations proposed partitioning Palestine, offering the Jews, who were then a third of the population, 56 percent of Palestine. The Palestinians understandably refused, leading to the 1947-1948 civil war and the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. By 1948, the Jewish settlers were in control of Palestine.

(To be fair to Israel, unlike other major settler colonies, including the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, many Israelis were refugees as well as settlers. Perhaps instead of debating whether Israel is a settler colony or not, the Israelis should acknowledge that they were settlers, the Palestinians should acknowledge that many Israeli settlers were also refugees, and going forward instead of using "settler colonialism" we should use the label “settler-refugee colonialism.”)

Is it antisemitic when pro-Palestinian demonstrators ‘recontextualize’ the October 7 attack?

In the documentary, political scientist Yascha Mounk, Associate Professor of the Practice of International Affairs at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., condemns the label “colonizer” and explains that campus anti-colonizer rhetoric means “you can recontextualize something like the terribly gruesome Hamas massacre on October 7 as a form of righteous resistance against white colonialism.”

Underlying the documentary–which says not one word about Israel's long-running mistreatment of the Palestinians–is the ludicrous pretense that Israelis and their supporters have no idea why Hamas would attack Israel.

The obvious truth is that Hamas attacked Israel because of the way the Israeli government and army have manhandled Palestinians in the occupied territories. That Hamas, in addition to attacking legitimate military targets such as Israeli Defense Force bases, also engaged in criminal, indefensible attacks on civilians does not change this fact.

Moreover, the crucial distinction between military and civilian targets has too often been ignored by both sides of this debate. The pro-Palestinian side doesn’t like to dwell on Hamas’ despicable attacks on civilians, while the pro-Israeli side acts as if Hamas’ October 7th action was an unprovoked attack which only targeted civilians.

Antisemitic professors?

It is on this question of resistance that the documentarians and others condemn Columbia Arab Studies Professor Joseph Massad, particularly for his article “Just another battle or the Palestinian war of liberation?”, which he wrote the day after Hamas’ attack.

In reading Massad’s piece, one is initially surprised by the lack of condemnation of Hamas' killing of Israeli civilians, though in truth this makes him no worse than many world leaders and major figures who have ignored Israel's killing of Palestinians.

According to United Nations statistics, from 2008 to 2020 in the conflicts between Israel and Palestinians, there were 22 times as many Palestinian deaths as Israeli. During the 2021 conflicts, the ratio of deaths was 18-1. Since October 7, 27,747 Palestinians have been killed, as opposed to 1,139 people killed in Israel–a ratio of 24-1. Of those killed, forty percent are children.

However, Massad, still in the first half of the piece–after 23 paragraphs and before 34 more–does offer clear condemnation of Hamas' attacks, writing that Hamas’ “Palestinian operation has resulted in more than 700 people killed in Israel and more than 2,200 injured – all in all a horrifying human toll…” In fact, he links to an October 8 Times of Israel article titled Death toll from Hamas onslaught passes 800, over 100 kidnapped, as Israel strikes Gaza.

Part of the reason Massad is vilified is he describes the attacks against dozens of Israeli military bases as “innovative Palestinian resistance.” Yet, as the Washington Post details, many in Israel’s defense and security apparatus are expressing similar sentiments.

For example, Michael Milshtein, a former senior adviser to COGAT, the Israeli military agency in charge of the Palestinian territories, says, “After so many years of discounting Hamas” Israeli military leaders were surprised by the scale of the Hamas attack. He adds, “[Hamas] knew exactly where they were going, what they were doing, even though it was their first time there.”

Shai Asher, a member of the armed kibbutz security team fighting Hamas on October 7, noted how his group struggled to communicate with each other and were unable to call for help and reinforcements. He says:

“The phone network doesn’t work, WhatsApp doesn’t work, everything is broken down, our radio doesn’t work, all the channels of command are missing…They [Hamas] had a flawless battle plan that they executed flawlessly.”

Massad’s piece is very critical of Israel, and does cheerlead for the military aspects of Hamas' attack a little loudly. But while perhaps Massad could have used a better editor (as well as some decaf), his piece provides no evidence that he's an antisemite.

In American Miseducation, a Jewish University of Pennsylvania student is appalled that Arabic Literature professor Huda Fakhreddineher said, “The assumption that all Jewish people condone the genocidal Zionist project in Palestine is the epitome of antisemitism and a desecration of the memory of Holocaust martyrs.”

The student speaks of her great grandfather who died in the Holocaust, asking “You don't think he would’ve been proud of the state of Israel?” However, based on what some Holocaust survivors have said about Israel’s recent actions, this student’s assumption is questionable.

For example, 87-year-old Holocaust survivor Marione Ingram says, “students have asked me…what they should do. And I tell them that to protest Israelis’ actions in Gaza, in the West Bank and generally, and for generations — this is not something that has just suddenly sprung up because Hamas attacked Israel…I tell them, ‘I think you should criticize. And if people tell you that you’re an antisemite, tell them you’re not an antisemite. You’re protesting a government policy.’”

The Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center’s “Open Letter from Survivors”, signed by 14 Holocaust survivors, condemns Hamas' attacks on Israeli civilians and states:

“As Jewish children in German-occupied Europe during the Holocaust, we experienced the destruction of our families, traditions, and communities. We looked around at a society on the brink of calamity and wondered, ‘Who will stand up for us?’ while most of the world looked away… All Palestinians are not Hamas. And as we see the images of Palestinian children covered in soot, their parents and grandparents lining up at the border to seek safety in Egypt, thousands more already dead and wounded, our hearts ache for them too. The plight of civilians trapped in a war zone is one that we also know all too well.”

American Miseducation is correct to condemn UC Davis Assistant Professor Jemma Decristo and School of the Art Institute of Chicago professor Mika Tosca for their hostile, over-the-top online posts.

Decristo posted:

“One group of people we have easy access to in the US is all these Zionist journalists who spread propaganda and misinformation…they have houses with addresses, kids in school…They can fear their bosses but they should fear us more."

Tosca apologized for a post calling Israelis ‘pigs’ and ‘very bad people’, explaining “I allowed my reaction to the violence in Israel and Palestine to take an inappropriate and offensive form…To the many Israeli and Jewish people who I hurt with my words: I am truly sorry. I own my mistake and promise to be better.”

Were Jews Physically Attacked at Tulane University?

American Miseducation claims that there has been a wave of attacks on Jewish students at Tulane University in Louisiana. The incident featured is a scuffle that broke out between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrators when the pro-Palestinian demonstrators started to set an Israeli flag on fire, and pro-Israel protesters tried to tear away the flag.

Whatever one thinks of this method of protest, the US Supreme Court ruled in Texas v. Johnson (1989) that flag burning counts as symbolic speech and political speech, and is protected speech under the First Amendment.

One can empathize with pro-Israel demonstrators who don’t want to see the Israeli flag burned. However, the documentarians don’t seem to understand that what they show us is actually an attempt by pro-Israel demonstrators to deprive the pro-Palestinian demonstrators of a legitimate, constitutionally-protected way to protest Israel's actions and policies.

Nor is there is any indication in what we're shown that the pro-Palestinian demonstrators were going out of their way to fight the pro-Israel demonstrators. Moreover, clashes between demonstrators are common in many other political contexts.

While there's a lot of rhetoric about violence and attacks, the only example of violence shown is when a lone pro-Palestinian protester walks up and slaps a man standing with the pro-Israel protesters. American Miseducation is absolutely correct to condemn this, but a ~5’ 6” woman slapping a ~6’ 3” young man is not exactly a modern pogrom.

Also, clearly the clips shown in the movie are crafted to show pro-Palestinian demonstrators at their worst, and there’s no reason to think that this is representative of the pro-Palestinian demonstrators as a whole.

American Jews & the white ‘oppressor’ class

We’re told that campus identity politics now groups American Jews with the white "oppressor" class: in the documentary, Mounk condemns campus identity politics which “split the world into whites and ‘people of color,” and the way its adherents “think that is really the key distinction that explains the United States and other parts of the world.”

Campus identity politics have many flaws, including the tendency to lump working class white males in with white male corporate executives as being similarly “privileged.” But it would be foolish to deny the material reality of the divide between whites and blacks--according to Brookings Institute research, the net worth of a typical white family is $171,000, while a typical black family's is only $17,150.

Some American Jews may not enjoy the experience of being lumped in with whites in this dichotomy, and I don't blame them, but it's not antisemitic, and materially speaking, it’s accurate. According to the Pew Research Center, American Jews are much more likely to have incomes of $100,000 or more, and less likely to have an income of $30,000 or less, than people of any other religious affiliation, including American Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Mormons, and numerous other groups.

The ratio of American Jews earning earning $100,000 or more in relation to “Historically Protestant blacks” is 5.5 to 1. Historically Protestant blacks are over three times as likely to earn $30,000 or less than American Jews.

Is ‘the only Jewish country in the world’ being ‘singled out’ for criticism?

Mounk implies it's antisemitic when critics “single out the only Jewish country in the world in ways that don't seem to apply when you’re talking about other countries.” This complaint is frequently employed by the Israeli government and its supporters.

Superficially there is some validity to this–certainly Israeli atrocities get more attention at the United Nations than atrocities committed in many countries in Africa and Latin America.

But while there are horrible things that happen in the world all the time, the “only Jewish country in the world” is perhaps America's closest ally, and has received over $300 billion in Americans’ tax dollars since World War II. It is natural and inevitable that events there would gain more scrutiny than events in countries which share little connection with the US.

It is also important to note that while Israel does get a lot of criticism, there is little collective action done against it. American and/or UN sanctions have been harshly deployed against other nations. For example, according to the United Nations, the devastating post-Gulf War embargo and trade sanctions against Iraq led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children from disease and malnutrition. Cuba has endured history's longest trade embargo, as well as Trump-era measures which make it difficult for any foreign businesses to invest or do business in Cuba.

Looking at the economic devastation imposed on Iraq after the Gulf War or even Cuba today, and given Israel's very real misdeeds, it's hard to conclude Israel is being singled out for punishment. In fact, they are almost uniquely lavished with military, political, and financial support from the United States.

Also, while Israel’s supporters complain about being “singled out”, Israel is the only country in the world which has backed the US’ cruel, preposterous embargo on Cuba. Every year for the past three decades the United Nations General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to condemn it. Often, the only nation in the world that votes against the resolution besides the US is Israel.

Antisemitic chants at rallies?

Reingold says, “In DC, at the largest pro-Palestinian rally to date, what I heard was revealing” and we’re shown demonstrators chanting “Zionism, Zionism you can't hide, we accuse you of genocide.” Yet various forms of this chant are commonly used and in many different contexts–I've been at demonstrations where it was used about American presidents, Soviet and Russian leaders, and many others. This is certainly not antisemitism, nor is it unreasonable to apply the word “genocide” to a country that has killed roughly 250 people a day for almost four months.

We’re repeatedly told that pro-Palestinian protesters are calling for the the “erasure of Israel and of Jews from the land” and the “genocide of Jews,” but we never hear anyone say this. Instead we see demonstrators chanting anti-Zionist slogans such as “from the river to the sea” and “we don't want no two state, we want all of it”, which the documentarians and the Israeli sympathizers they interview tell us are calls for genocide. Yet these slogans have been credibly defended by many.

For example, re: according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Palestinian scholar Yousef Munayyer says “from the river to the sea” is “used to reference the lack of freedoms Palestinians have in the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, which includes the state of Israel as well as the Gaza Strip and the occupied territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. ‘That’s what has to change. That doesn’t mean that there should be any violence against Israelis.’”

Where are the Jewish pro-Palestinian protesters?

While Mounk is describing campus pro-Palestinian activists’ alleged hostility to Jews, we’re shown a film clip of pro-Palestinian demonstrators flooding into a building at University of Michigan. Apparently we're not supposed to notice that two of the first pro-Palestinian "antisemitic" protesters into the building are holding up signs which say "University of Michigan Jews say Boycott, Divest, Sanction.”

The film completely disappears the inconvenient fact that many of the pro-Palestinian demonstrations they label antisemitic are either being led by Jews or feature large Jewish components. Groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine, IfNotNow, and Jewish Voice for Peace have led or played an instrumental role in these actions.

Jewish Voice for Peace, founded in 1996, describes itself as “the largest progressive Jewish anti-Zionist organization in the world” and as a movement of “U.S. Jews in solidarity with the Palestinian freedom struggle, guided by a vision of justice, equality, and dignity for all people,” It claims more than 300,000 supporters and a million followers on X, and maintains active chapters on many American college campuses.

Free speech on campus

While the documentarians largely fail to document the campus antisemitism they claim is ubiquitous, they do make a legitimate argument about free speech on campus. Reingold complains that “overnight the very people who had spent years demanding safe spaces and complaining about microaggressions transformed into free speech absolutists.” Fair enough.

Conservatives have spent decades condemning these campus policies, sometimes quite correctly, and demanding free speech. Yet in seeking to stigmatize and repress pro-Palestinian protests, some conservatives now appear to be advocates for suppressing speech.

Moreover, some of the same conservatives who, often with justification, condemn liberals and campus leftists for reflexively deploying the label “racist”, now reflexively label any criticism of Israel “antisemitic.”

American Miseducation is the latest example of how since October 7 conservatives have promoted the narrative that pro-Palestinian voices and the American left in general are antisemitic. However, there has been remarkably little scrutiny of their claims. I have taken a close look at American Miseducation–its allegations of antisemitism are largely without merit.