A Jewish student holds up an Israeli flag in front of a student holding up a Palestinian flag on the edge of a pro-Israel rally at UC Berkeley, Oct. 10, 2023. (Photo/Ben Weiss-Ishai)
A Jewish student holds up an Israeli flag in front of a student holding up a Palestinian flag on the edge of a pro-Israel rally at UC Berkeley, Oct. 10, 2023. (Photo/Ben Weiss-Ishai)

‘Must justice for Palestine mean injustice for Israel?’

The city where I live and the university where I work pride themselves on being a vanguard for social justice. So it is fitting that an organization with “justice” in its very name, Students for Justice in Palestine, originated at UC Berkeley.

But for National SJP, which offers tools to build a student movement on behalf of “Palestine liberation” to over 200 affiliates at U.S. college campuses, what does justice mean?

Well, how about the eradication of Israel and the mass murder of Israelis? (Inexplicably, the New York Times and Haaretz omitted this not-so-trivial detail in their recent profiles of SJP).

Don’t take my word for it. Instead, let’s turn to the words of the National SJP itself, as expressed in its ”Day of Resistance Toolkit.”

The five-page document provides talking points and guidance for SJP chapters and affiliates for holding “resistance” rallies on campuses.

The SJP Toolkit, which has been quoted from at myriad protests, opens with a celebration of Oct. 7 as a “historic win for the Palestinian resistance.” By drawing no distinction between Hamas and Palestinians, this formulation ironically strips Palestinians, many of whom disavow Hamas, of intellectual sovereignty. Worse, it renders Hamas terrorism synonymous with Palestinian emancipation. Indeed, it makes no mention whatsoever of the 1,200 Israelis raped, burned and finally butchered by the “Palestinian resistance” on  Oct. 7 — not even as regrettable collateral damage.

As for the Palestinian “martyrs,” the SJP Toolkit insists that their deaths were not in vain. They fell to the “iOF,” Israel Occupying Forces, meaning the Israel Defense Forces plus all other Israelis, in the service of reclaiming “our colonized homeland.” After “over 75 years” of fighting for freedom, “Palestine will be liberated from the river to the sea.”

The SJP Toolkit draws no distinction between Israel’s boundaries after 1948 and after 1967, including the West Bank, which many Zionists themselves consider occupied territory and where Jewish occupants self-describe as settlers. Instead, it insists that all Israelis are settlers and that “settlers are not civilians” per international law.

Forget about microaggressions and dog whistles. SJP minces no words.

The document, in turn, renders all Israelis as “military assets” because they reside on “stolen land.” All Israelis from infants to the elderly who live between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea are fair game. And all Israelis bear sole responsibility for all deaths inflicted upon the “Zionist entity.”

Simply put, as UC Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky emailed me after reading it, the SJP Toolkit “flat out defends killing all Israelis.”

Forget about microaggressions and dog whistles. SJP minces no words. Israel and Israelis are not only legitimate targets for elimination, but they have only themselves to blame for their erasure.

No wonder Israelis are “fleeing” in fear, as the SJP Toolkit claims, before fantasizing: “Their ‘dedication’ to the settler colony is easily broken.”

Over dinner recently, my 12 year-old daughter spoke about a walkout for Palestine that took place at her Berkeley public school earlier that day. I don’t know who was behind that walkout. The one at her brother’s Berkeley High School the previous month had been promoted by a group that, like SJP,  “holds the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence … across historic Palestine.” (That group, the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, has an agreement to provide services to the San Francisco Unified School District that is now under review by the district.)

My wife and I discussed with our daughter the meaning of words and deeds like these. We parsed the chilling pronouncements of SJP, as reflected in its toolkit. We also puzzled over the calls for an “immediate cease-fire,” issued by the San Francisco and Oakland teachers unions, which rightfully deplored the loss of so many innocent Gazan lives, yet made no mention of releasing the hostages in exchange for a cease-fire, much less calling for the release of ordinary Gazans from the fascistic grip of Hamas.

“Must justice for Palestine mean injustice for Israel?” our daughter asked us. Of course not, we replied, even if SJP and kindred groups insist otherwise.

“Resist that,” we told her.

But resist, too, the inverse.

Just as justice for Palestine need not, should not and must not mean injustice for Israel, so, too, justice for Israel need not, should not and must not mean injustice for Palestine. From the river to the sea neither Palestine nor Israel will be free if it means only one or the other.

A version of this piece originally appeared in a Times of Israel blog.

Mark Brilliant

Mark Brilliant is an associate professor in history and American studies at UC Berkeley.