Victimology 101 at UC San Diego

Adding to the evidence that California campuses have become the epicenter for anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, and anti-American activism, student groups at UC San Diego led by Students for Justice in Palestine introduced -- for the third time -- an initiative aimed at divesting university funds from “U.S. companies that profit from violent conflict and occupation.”

This year, the divestment call was aimed specifically at General Electric and Northrop Grumman -- firms that “produce parts of Apache helicopters used by the Israeli Defense Forces against Palestinians” -- with the empty ambition that “by removing investments from companies who assist in perpetuating the violence in the area [supporters would be instrumental in] setting up a forum where peace is achievable.”

As had happened on two earlier occasions on the UCSD campus when a similar divestment initiative was presented, the proposal was roundly defeated in a 20-13 vote, stunning its supporters.

The rejection of calls for divestment from companies doing business with Israel mirrors what has happened elsewhere on campuses, where such campaigns represent the continuing effort by some activist members of the academic Left -- joined happily by Islamists and other ideological enemies of the Jewish state -- to prolong and enhance the demonization of Israel for the purpose of delegitimizing, weakening, and, it is hoped by these advocates, eventually extirpating Israel altogether. Positioned as a morally upright effort to assert and protect the rights of the long-suffering Palestinians, these efforts at demonizing Israel are not, in fact, benign gestures of peace activists and well-meaning academics in pursuit of social justice for the Palestinians.

But a telling, if not unexpected, thing happened once the student groups who had sponsored this odious divestment resolution actually lost their bid to implement it: supporters of the divestment initiative immediately proclaimed that the initiative had failed because opponents of the resolution were “racists” and bigots. They claimed opponents pressured the student government representatives to vote down the campaign in a manner that created a “hostile campus climate … for students of color and students from underserved and underrepresented communities,” suffering victims who are now “hurt, [and] feel disrespected, silenced, ignored and erased by this University.”

These victimized students and faculty also self-righteously proclaimed in a letter to the UCSD administration that the pro-Israel faculty and staff who spoke against the resolution at the meeting should not even have had a voice in the proceedings: “The fact that they can state whatever they like at public meetings because of academic freedom but while also using their positions of authority as professors or staff for power and intimidation is not acceptable.”

The language of the whining memo to the UCSD administration, like the language of the divestment resolution itself, is revealing. Both are laced with the tired Marxist, post-colonial vocabulary depicting a Manichean world view in which Israel is the brutal oppressor and the Palestinians are the innocent Third-World oppressed, and that the absence of peace in the region is only the fault of the militaristically mighty Jewish state. “The reality is,” the memo clarified for those on the administration who might not know, “that [the Israeli/Palestinian conflict] is a human rights issue where the oppressed are fighting against the oppressor.”

The language of human rights has, of course, been exploited to promote the Palestinian cause by many in the West and in the Arab world who wish the struggle to be seen not for what it actually is -- a decades-old campaign to extirpate the Jewish state and “drive the Jews into the sea” -- but instead as merely a process by which the Palestinian Arabs throw off the yoke of colonial oppression by Israel and achieve self-determination and statehood. But that formula requires that the Palestinians always remain victims, for it is in that way that they are able to acquire support in furtherance of their cause.

That same designation of victimhood had obviously become a tool for Students for Justice in Palestine and other student groups and faculty members who wrote the scolding entreaty to UCSD administrators. Nowhere in their accusatory memo did they address the central point of the resolution; that is, whether it had any merit at all and whether the vote to defeat it was handled transparently and fairly (which it obviously was). Instead, their reaction to losing the vote was not to look at the vacuity of their campaign but rather to make themselves into victims who now “feel uncomfortable” on campus because of the rejection of their ideas. In other words, on campuses today, feelings trump ideas.

“In the society of victims," Charles Sykes observed in his engaging book A Nation of Victims, “individuals compete not only for rights or economic advantage but also for points on the ‘sensitivity’ index, where ‘feelings’ rather than reason are what count.”

As victim groups become aware of their supposed classification as “authentic” victims, they are prone to contradict the stated goal of diversity by limiting real dialogue and interchange between opposing points of view such as those expressed by some pro-Israel, anti-divestment faculty and students at the February 29 meeting. Thus, while “social justice” proponents, who claim a high moral ground because they fight for the rights of the oppressed, adamantly defend free speech for themselves in order to define their own world views, they are clearly uncomfortable with the speech of others and exempt themselves from having to live by the suppressive rules of expression they craft for others.

In fact, the UCSD students claimed, the mere presence at the meeting of those with alternate views of the divestment resolution resulted in a “hostile campus climate being created for students of color and students from underserved and underrepresented communities,” something that served to “erase the existence of many individuals in the room,” presumably only those who hoisted the hateful resolution on this campus in the first place.

This technique is effective for those who make themselves victims on campus because it helps to insulate them from criticism and sanction for their often radical ideologies. As the signatories of the memo -- members of the Muslim Student Association, Students for Justice in Palestine, MEChA, Student Affirmative Action Committee, and the Black Student Union, among them -- had already made clear, the failure of the divestment resolution was the fault of others, not them, due to the racism and bigotry of pro-Israel faculty and students who obviously lack concern for social justice, Palestinians, and “students of color” like them. In his insightful book Illiberal Education, Dinesh D’Souza noted that campus groups regularly “seek the moral capital of victimhood” as the UCSD students are doing. Why? Because, he said, “by converting victimhood into a certificate of virtue, minorities acquire a powerful moral claim that renders their opponents defensive and apologetic, and immunizes themselves from criticism and sanction.”