Boycott Zionist and Israel Institute Sponsored Classes in Spring 2022

A Call from SJP UChicago


We are calling on our fellow students to support the Palestinian movement for liberation by boycotting classes with Zionist narratives or those taught by Israel Institute fellows. Participating in these classes perpetuates a propaganda campaign that creates complicity in the continued Zionist occupation and colonization of Palestine.

Classes to Boycott:

We are calling for a boycott of the following classes funded and supported by the Israel Institute: 

NEHC 20195/30195 Linguistic Policy and Agenda in Israel

RLST 22040 – Religion in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Peacemaking

RLST 27713 – Israel and American Jewry: Peoplehood, Religion, and Politics

NEHC 20180 – Constitutional Law and the Palestinian-Arab Minority in Israel

And the following classes which perpetuate falsehoods, propaganda, and myths that mask the settler-colonial nature of Zionism, obscure Palestinian perspectives, and lend the apartheid state of Israel legitimacy: 

NEHC 21202Israeli Society through Media: The Four Tribes of Israel

RLST 25821 – Psychology of Conflict: Lessons from Jerusalem

RLST 27716 – Tel Aviv: Urban Culture and Urban Image

Why Boycott the Israel Institute?

The Israel Institute is a highly politicized institution with the explicit goal of strengthening support for U.S.-Israel relations on U.S. campuses. It is deeply and inextricably tied to the Israeli military-industrial complex, especially the Israeli Occupation Forces and the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. The founder, the current president, and the longtime executive director of the Israel Institute (Itamar Rabinovich, Daniel Shapiro, and Ariel Roth, respectively) all hold leadership positions in the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Israel. The INSS is an explicitly Zionist institution devoted to producing concrete military tactics, demographic plans, and ideological justifications for the Israeli state “security” apparatus, tools which are directly used in organized state violence against Palestinians. It is important to boycott the Israel Institute and oppose its ties to the University, both because of the propagandistic role it plays in controlling discourse about Israel (see our report), and because of its deep ties to the Israeli military.

This boycott is targeted against the Institute itself, and is not primarily motivated by course content.

Zionist Narratives: Course Descriptions and Critiques

NEHC 21202Israeli Society through Media: The Four Tribes of Israel

Course Description: From the outside, Israeli society might seem homogeneous and cohesive, bound together by the outside challenges and threats that have defined its eight decades of existence. However, in a recent public speech, President Reuben Rivlin warned Israelis of the tribal schisms tearing contemporary Israeli society and defined a ‘new Israeli order’ splitting the state into 4 groups: Arabs, ultra-Orthodox Jews, national religious Jews and secular Jews.

Using the president’s description of the “four tribes of Israel” as our framework, this course focuses on representations of the different groups in Israeli media and popular culture.

We will ask:

• What distinguishes each of these tribes?

• What is the narrative held by each tribe to describe itself and the ‘other’ tribes?

• How do the different tribes interact?

• Is modern Israel a successful immigration society or a failed experiment at creating a melting pot?

Using Israeli society as a case study, we will also consider prevailing ideas about mediation and reconciliation in fragmented societies.

If there is student interest, the course may include a section for advanced Hebrew learners.


This course description reinforces the Zionist myth that external threats or hostilities have defined Israel’s “fragile existence.” This propaganda is mobilized by Israel to justify its continued “need” for huge amounts of military aid from the U.S. and is also used as an apologetic narrative for the state’s continued aggressive actions, especially against Palestinians and in South Lebanon.  

In reality, Israel has always been an aggressive and expansionist state. In both 1948 and 1967 Zionists carried out ethnic cleansing and land seizure campaigns, dispossessing, expelling, and killing Palestinians to occupy their land. However, Israel’s ethnic cleansing campaigns and land annexations continue to be depicted in Israeli propaganda as ‘defensive wars’ required for ‘security purposes’ due to Israel’s supposed fragility. To grasp the absurdity of this depiction, consider the fact that Israel — besides being backed militarily, financially, and diplomatically by the strongest superpower on earth — possesses the fourth-largest military on the planet and the only nuclear weapons program in the region. The Palestinians, for their part, possess no army, no airport, no advanced weaponry, and no control over their borders. Further, Israel has consistently refused to sign onto any of the non-proliferation treaties that Western powers have required other countries all over the world to sign onto, and does not provide inspectors or international organizations data about its extensive nuclear capabilities.

The course description asks: “Is modern Israel a successful immigration society or a failed experiment at creating a melting pot?” It is clearly neither. Israel is a settler-colony founded on the continued ethnic cleansing and attempted erasure of Palestinians. It currently exists as an apartheid state with explicit racial hierarchy between Jews, the ‘non-Jewish’ population, and ‘Arabs’. 

The notion of a state built exclusively for one ethnic group’s special benefit fundamentally contradicts the idea of a ‘melting pot’ or ‘immigration society’ right from the start. Israel, as an enthonational state build upon the attempted physical and cultural erasure of the indigenous Palestinians, was never intended as a melting pot to begin with, even according to the theory of prominent Zionist thinkers. In fact, the need for Jewish ‘demographic supremacy’ and ‘favorable’ population distributions between Jews and Palestinans is an ever present part of Israeli political discourse. To take one of many examples, Ariel Sharon explained his decision to call for Zionist settlers to move out of the Gaza strip in the following terms, on Israeli national television: “Gaza cannot be held on to forever. Over one million Palestinians live there, and they double their numbers with every generation.” Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres followed this up: “We are disengaging from Gaza because of demography.” The disengagement from the Gaza strip is just one of many examples of racist ‘demography’ discourse in Israel – among the most blatant today is the case of the ‘Judaization’ of Jerusalem, which is addressed in the course critique below.

The question of immigration as posed in the course description is particularly offensive given that Palestinian refugees are denied the right of return while a Jewish person living anywhere in the world is recognized as having a “birthright” to live on conquered Palestinian land. The notion of a “melting pot” is laughable given the lengths to which the state has historically gone in order to create apartheid conditions through separation barriers, military checkpoints, differential access to freedom of movement and land ownership on the basis of ethnicity, etc. not to mention the more extreme forms of violence it inflicts daily on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

RLST 25821 – Psychology of Conflict: Lessons from Jerusalem

Course Description: Conflict is an inescapable aspect of life. Psychological theories help us to understand the origin of conflict, its escalation and resolution. In this course students will learn about the psychology of power, perspective taking and competition. We will also explore the various barriers to mutually-beneficial solutions. We will study all this in the context of Jerusalem, an ancient city that is sacred to many religions. It is a kaleidoscope of diversity, with multitudes of holy places, traditions, languages, identities and nationalities. Jerusalem will provide the prism through which to look at the intersection of linguistic and cultural landscapes, tensions between and within religions and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this multi-disciplinary course, we will consider concepts from Psychology, History, Sociology, Religion and Political Science. Students will engage in role plays to simulate real-life events, learning from direct experience as well as from discussions of research findings. We will use a variety of media including short videos, art, a virtual tour, and lectures by visiting experts. Boaz Keysar


The notion that what is needed is a psychological understanding of the “conflict” in Jerusalem is politically regressive and obscures the reality of Israel’s practices. There is an ongoing Zionist campaign of Judaization of Jerusalem, achieved through the fragmentation of Palestinian communities through various discriminatory ID and residency laws, restrictions on access to the city by native Palestinians, and state-sanctioned settler violence, harassment, and evictions. Judaizing Jeruslaem means removing signs of what the state deems Arab-Palestinian culture, while making the city unlivable for Palestinians, dividing Palestinian communities, and outright evicting and dispossessing Palestinian families in favor of racist settlers.

The purpose of Israel’s ideologically driven mission to Judaize (“unify”) Jerusalem is to solidify the city as exclusively Jewish both culturally and demographically, as part of the Zionist objective of establishing Israel as the “nation state of the Jewish people” with an exclusively Jewish Jerusalem as its capital. These goals work together with Israel’s false narrative of religious and historical continuity with Jewish history. Zionism and the drive to establish an ethnocratic nation-state in Palestine is in fact a modern and largely secular European phenomenon which developed in the late 19th century in response to modern European antisemitism and alongside other European colonial projects. Zionism did not originate among the small indigenous Jewish-Palestinian population in the pre-colonial period and as an ideology is not historically continuous with ancient Jewish history in the region. Rather, as many nationalist projects do, Zionism has mobilized this ancient history as a source of shared myth to bind its adherents and lend itself an air of legitimacy. The key problem is that there was and continues to be a real indigenous population living in Palestine prior to the violent establishment of the Israeli state, which was between 80-90% non-Jewish up through the early 1930s. These mythical claims of continuity with thousands of years of Jewish history continue to be used by Zionists as ideological justification for the ethnic cleansing of the native Palestinians. Violently Judaizing Jerusalem is a key part of both the ideological and material imperatives of Zionism, which work hand in hand. 

The campaign to Judaize Jerusalem mainly manifests itself in the drive for land and real estate exclusively for Zionist settlers, which is achieved by violently breaking up the continuity of existing Palestinian communities and neighborhoods through evictions, military violence, harassment, intimidation, and stifling restrictions on the freedom of movement of Palestinians in and out of, and within Jerusalem. 

This course description makes it seem as though there is an “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” in Jerusalem—one that is complex and mediated through religion, psychology, and abstract “barriers to solutions.” The essential reality that this propaganda obscures is that Zionists, through Israel’s intertwined state apparatus and settler violence and the material support of the US, are ethnically cleansing the Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem in order to establish control over the land and solidify their hold over an ideologically important city. 

RLST 27716 – Tel Aviv: Urban Culture and Urban Image

Course Description: This course deals with Tel Aviv as a cultural-social and demographic locus in the Israeli imagination. Since its establishment in 1909 as the `First Hebrew City` and a realization of Theodor Herzl vision for Alt-Neu-Land (Old New Land), Tel Aviv has held a huge significance in the Zionist and Israeli imagination as a cultural-economic capital, attracting young people from all over the world and offering a liberal state of mind inspired by big world cities like New York, Berlin and Vienna. 

In this course, we will examine the different representations of Tel Aviv in Israeli culture and the gaps between the public image of the city and the reality. 

Readings and film screenings will include critical writing like White City Black City: Architecture and War in Tel Aviv and Jaffa, latest popular movies taking place in TLV and poems and short stories about the city. Ehud Har Even


This course description refers to Tel Aviv as being imagined by Zionists as “offering a liberal state of mind.” The reality is that this so-called “liberal” city, which began as a small moshav in 1909, was built on six displaced Palestinian villages whose inhabitants were ethnically cleansed in 1948 and are still denied the right of return. After ghettoizing the Palestinian city of Jaffa, it unofficially annexed it in the 1970s. Tel Aviv University was built on the ruins of the Palestinan village of Sheikh Muwannis which was completely emptied of its inhabitants, and the University continues to desecrate and build over Palestinian graveyards to expand its dorms.

In Conclusion

Many courses which proclaim to be about aspects of Israel and “Israeli culture” are designed to obscure Palestinian perspectives, making no mention of Palestine or Palestinians and preferring the term “Arabs” at most. In these courses, there is no mention of the fact that Israel is an apartheid state, and Israel’s history is framed as a conflict between two equals in an effort to legitimize its existence to uninformed students. These classes often rely on Orientalist narratives, pinkwashing, and liberal-washing in an attempt to legitimize Israel as a paragon of Western liberal values. Controlling the narrative is incredibly important to settler-colonial states, as it allows them to dehumanize indigenous populations and justify their violent seizure of land. Courses from the Israel Institute themselves engender complicity in the colonial entities ongoing crimes against humanity, and thus are targeted directly by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). Join the movement and boycott these courses to stand in solidarity with Palestinians and with liberation movements worldwide.

— SJP UChicago