By Michael Morris
I am a proud member of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity. When I joined as an undergraduate, I did so because of my current friends, the opportunity to make more friends and the comfort of joining a Jewish organization.
Other considerations included parties on the weekends, access to tutors and old tests (we consistently had the highest GPA of any fraternity/sorority on campus), and the food (usually sports would be on this list, but not for Vandy AEPi in the ’70s and ’80s).
What I didn’t know before I became president of my chapter was how much I would learn by being accountable for a $100,000+ budget every semester, how important it is to work with charitable institutions and raise money for them, and how becoming a Jewish leader has its benefits, pitfalls and traps. One of the highlights of my experience was the “get out the vote” drive that we coordinated for several months before the 1984 presidential election with the backing of AIPAC and the Gary Hart campaign.
As history recounts, university campuses move with the tide. Many universities (173 to be exact) are host to a virulent organization called Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), obviously a pro-Palestinian school association. Single-focus social action clubs on campus are not new or unique, but I question the motives of this organization as well as its benefit to the campuses it claims to serve.
SJP is not a benign campus club. Unlike fraternities, the school newspaper, intramural teams, chess clubs and hiking clubs, students are not joining the SJP for friendship, academic enhancement or social interaction. They are joining for one purpose: to advance an agenda of a foreign institution. A hidden facet of the SJP is that usually the organization is initially organized by a cadre of faculty rather than students. Finally, to exacerbate the lack of integrity of the SJP, its funding is suspected to come from foreign countries and national pro-Palestinian movements; the money does not come from undergraduate resources.
My point is that the foundation of the SJP is vastly different from the overwhelming majority of student organizations, even considering just the single-focus social action clubs. Academics, camaraderie and accountability are not the cornerstones. Instead, foreign governments and a handful of faculty are organizing and using the SJP to advance the agenda of a foreign entity, are using the club to teach the fine art of propaganda, and are leading anti-Semitic and anti-Zionistic campaigns on campuses. All the while, the student government and university administration are forced to treat the SJP with the same dignity and respect as the debate team and Catholic Student Union.
One thing I find ironic is that like most pro-Palestinian organizations, the SJP is not overtly pro-Palestinian; rather, its actions, programs and raison d’être are demonstrably anti-Zionist. I guess it sounds better to use a positive label like “pro-Palestinian”; that’s propaganda.
AEPi, Hillel and Chabad on campus are social, academic, somewhat religious and at times social-action-oriented university-sanctioned student organizations. On the social action front, I am proud when they raise money for sick children. I am even more honored when they promote Israeli culture or combat anti-Semitism on their respective campuses. AEPi brothers at UC Davis recently rose to the occasion to help overturn the idiocy of a boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign.
The Electronic Intifada (a radical website that states its mission as publishing news and analysis about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) recently ran a scathing article of half-truths and full lies called “The frat boys who slander Palestine solidarity.” It angrily contends that AEPi is dedicated to opposing the growing campus movement to boycott Israel; that AEPi has close ties to Israel lobby groups intent on crushing the BDS movement; that AEPi has active partnerships with Friends of the IDF and JNF; and that AEPi fabricates anti-Semitism to malign Palestine solidarity activists. I loved Michael Jacobs’ response: “Many of the things the authors fling at AEPi as insults are things AEPi is proud of.”
The anti-Zionism agenda is holding full-court press on college campuses. When I look back at my time on Vanderbilt’s campus and consider the bonds of friendships, the parties and the rigorous academics, I wonder, “What will members of the SJP reflect on?”