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A Williams Student Considers SJP's Outlandish Ideology

A week ago today, on Sunday, May 5, 2024, as I was preparing to leave Williamstown and head home to Los Angeles, I stopped on the encampment on Sawyer Quad (what we once, as I recall, called Stetson Lawn) and attempted to engage some of the protesters.

 

They were a dour bunch, very earnest, none smiling, all women.  I commended them on their passion, willing to experience discomfort to stand up for a cause they believed in.  When I asked if they had tried to talk to those who supported Israel, they cited one person who heckled them when they marched up Spring Street a couple weeks ago.  Another faulted those who walked loudly by the encampment at night, trying to wake up those sleeping in the tents.


I agree that the individuals doing those things behaved badly, pointing out that they did not represent the universe of Williams students critical of their cause and supportive of Israel.


I asked if they criticized those who defaced the posters of the hostages that pro-Israel students posted on the east-facing picture window of Paresky.  They agreed that that was wrong.  Still they didn’t seem able to appreciate that just as those defacing the posters don’t represent the universe of anti-Israel protesters, those disturbing the protestors’ rest don’t represent the universe of pro-Israel voices at Williams.

 

I pressed them on their willingness to engage with those who hung the posters on Paresky.  They refused, one woman saying that they weren’t interested in engagement, but on pressing their demands on the administration. 

 

At that point, I realized my attempts at dialogue were fruitless.  I could not enjoy the type of engagement with them that helped define my experience at Williams, the type of engagement we hope to promote by setting up this free speech alliance. Where we listen to each other’s arguments and respond to their points.

 

With that as introduction, let me share with you a piece a Gillian Denham '25 shared with us about her attempt to engage with the protesters.  She was similarly frustrated and concerned by their extremism.


And this all begs the question:  how can we get through to such individuals, reminding them that the purpose of Williams, of a liberal arts education, is not to sit on your talking points but to listen to and engage with those who take issue with them?

B. Daniel Blatt '85



On May 1, 2024, tents began to pop up around Sawyer quad. I was glad to see Williams students joining colleges around the country in what had become a national movement. This movement, I believed, was a manifestation of our collective outrage over the continued killing of innocent people in Gaza. By now, students with diverse views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be able to come together. After all, we all want peace. But, through my interactions with students at the encampment, I was quickly disillusioned. This was no moment of community reconciliation. The Williams encampment protest was doomed from the start primarily because, for SJP ["Students for Justice in Palestine], it was never about the humanitarian issue. SJP is isolating itself through its impractical and frankly offensive ideology. Its members don’t call for a cease fire; they call for the end of Israel and of the United States.


SJP is isolating itself through its impractical and frankly offensive ideology. Its members don’t call for a cease fire; they call for the end of Israel and of the United States.

Now, I wasn’t completely oblivious to SJP’s radical stances before protests materialized

at Williams. I, like many of you, had read the National SJP’s “Open Letter from Students for

Justice in Palestine to Universities,” to which Williams SJP is visible as the 5th signatory. The

letter does not simply call universities to divest from weapons manufacturing but to “cut all

institutional ties to the zionist entity.” Letters by the National SJP never refer to Israel by its

name, rather using this term “Zionist entity,” perhaps not incidentally the same term employed in Houthi propaganda to delegitimize the state. It also refuses to call the United States by its name, referring to North America as “Turtle Island (the so-called United States and Canada).” As I quickly realized in talking to fellow students at the encampment, these terms are not to be written off. They are important indicators of SJP’s ideology.


Earlier this week, I attended a casual community discussion at the encampment, and I

was deeply troubled by what I heard. The start of the discussion was benign enough, with

students talking about their feelings, nothing out of the ordinary on this campus. Many expressed a frustration with the wider Williams community who had not joined in the protests. They wondered “Was it neutrality? Was it apathy?” And for a second, only a second, I wondered too.


Many in our community do not join, not because they do not care, but because they could not bear to be associated with SJP’s outlandish ideology.

But when the conversation switched to the protest’s goals, the answer was painfully obvious.

Many in our community do not join, not because they do not care, but because they could not bear to be associated with SJP’s outlandish ideology. The student next to me began to lay out this ideology. “This is only the start,” they said. “Free Palestine means the end of Israel and the end of the United States.” I was shocked. But, looking around the circle, I saw only nods. The conversation continued on as if nothing out of the ordinary had been said. Did everyone I was sitting with truly assent to the end of Israel and the end of the United States? I had to be sure. So,I asked the student who had spoken to elaborate on those views. I suggested that, perhaps, the reason that some students refrain from getting involved is because this type of rhetoric isolates huge portions of our community. Not to mention, don’t we want a practical goal that can stop the killing as quickly as possible? I said that calling for the end of Israel is precisely why some media labels encampment movements around the country as antisemitic. As for the end to the United States, I said, “what do you really want here?” What followed was an echo chamber like no other, as the group went around the circle with their collective rebuttal to my statements.


What followed was an echo chamber like no other, as the group went around the circle with their collective rebuttal to my statements.

They took turns explaining to me that both Israel and the U.S. are genocidal states, and

“genocidal states do not have the right to exist.” I was told that I conflated antisemitism with

anti-zionism. But, please SJP, explain to me what will happen to the Jews in Israel when it ceases to exist. Immigrate to the United States? Well, no, because apparently you are abolishing that too. Of course, they had no plans for what should go in the place of these states. These goals are outrageous, and, if you stop and think about them even for one second, you see that they would mean much more death and much more pain. As for the time-scale of their goals, the group did not care for speed or practicality, stating that what they hoped for “may not be in our lifetime.”


I was told that I conflated antisemitism with anti-zionism. But, please SJP, explain to me what will happen to the Jews in Israel when it ceases to exist.

But revolutionary goals legitimize revolutionary means. And, if the goals won’t be reached any time soon, then there is no need to reassess when no progress is made. This partly explains why SJP will never be successful. They are not discouraged when the administration does not comply with their requests because their goals are something completely out of the administration’s reach anyway. SJP’s further negotiations with the college will bring no change because they cannot be taken seriously with this rhetoric. The college sees SJP for what it is, a small group of students that do not represent the wider views of the community.


Perversely, SJP’s inattentiveness to the irrationality of their goals demonstrates a

disregard for the Palestinian lives that will be lost in the meantime, while they continue to play Marxist. But for many of these students, it was never about quickly stopping the killing. That is what upsets me so much. Throughout our discussion, the group often repeated that “this is not just about a humanitarian issue.” But shouldn’t it be? About 32,000 Palestinians have died since the start of this war. Now imagine a student movement that genuinely focused its attention on a practical end to this killing. Few, if any, students or members of the administration would push back at a peaceful protest for peace.


The irrationality of their goals demonstrates a disregard for the Palestinian lives that will be lost in the meantime

I had naïvely assumed (and deeply hoped) that the views represented in National SJP

material, clearly so far from the mainstream, did not truly represent the Williams SJP group or the wider involvement at the encampment. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case. And worse, SJP is still being considered the arbiter of student opinion on the war. It is SJP who has met with the administration, and it is SJP who, in Maud Mandel’s most recent letter, has been offered the opportunity to meet with the Board of Trustees.


SJP doesn’t seem to recognize the extremity of its views or the unacceptable nature of its

goals. But, we can only have a productive discourse when our goals are attainable, and we can only harness the strength of our entire community when our aims do not offend and isolate each other. If you, too, care deeply about saving Palestinian lives but stand by the necessity of the state of Israel and of our own nation, please make your voices heard. Don’t continue letting SJP speak for you.

1 Comment


Ralph Hammann
Ralph Hammann
May 14

Beautifully stated! It’s refreshing to hear from at least one student at Williams who is engaged, uses critical thinking, and is brave enough to expose this rubbish.

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