New details on the climate of hate at Vassar
We previously reported on the anti-Semitic messages sent at Vassar College after the launch of a Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) student campaign by Vassar Students for Justice in Palestine and Vassar Jewish Voice for Peace.
The messages also followed fast on the heels of a faculty-sponsored anti-Israel speech by Rutgers Professor Jabir Puar in which, among other things, she accused Israel of conducting an experiment in “stunting” growth of Palestinian bodies, Vassar faculty-sponsored anti-Israel event erupts in controversy.
Not much was known about the anti-Semitic messages except that they were sent via the anonymous campus app Yik Yak. Here is an example which was posted on Facebook by the Vassar Jewish Student Union:
More details on what transpired were published yesterday in the Miscellany News, the Vassar student newspaper, as part of an op-ed criticizing both the anti-Semitic conduct and the SJP response. The Op-Ed was written by Vassar student Jesse Horowitz, Antisemitism present in antizionist rhetoric.
What is amazing is that the student(s) who made the anti-Semitic messages on Yik Yak apparently is defending them by saying he (or she?) only meant to say “F*ck Jews” to Jewish students who support Israel. From the Op-Ed (emphasis added):
Last Friday, Feb. 5, an email was sent out to the student body regarding antisemitic comments posted on Yik Yak. Most notably, one user commented “f*ck Jews” on a post defending Israel, which prompted swift condemnation from the Administration as well as student groups such as the Vassar Jewish Union (VJU) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
But that wasn’t all. Later on in the same conversation, that individual clarified that they didn’t mean f*ck all Jews, just the ones who support Israel, and fully embraced that this somehow made their comment acceptable.
That same day, another commenter on Yik Yak used similar antisemitic language, engaging in statements such as “your just a retard and so are Zionists” and “Zionism is a plague of mankind. These Jews stand around throwing this is antisemitic and that’s antisemitic” and “I’ve never met a Jew who didn’t think Israel is their home land. Jews through terrorism have kept Palestinians locked like animals in their home.”
That same commenter insinuated that the Jews, and me personally for being a Jew, should evaluate what we “do wrong in Palestine and other places.” I have photographic evidence of this entire conversation.
The author of the Op-Ed had other astute observations about the campus climate at Vassar and the role the BDS movement plays (emphasis added):
It is impossible to discuss these statements while ignoring the growing anti-Zionist sentiment on campus….
The activities and language of pro-Palestinian groups on campus goes above and beyond critiquing Israel into demonizing opposition.
For example, take SJP’s condemnation of the antisemitic statements made on Yik Yak. In it, they denied that Judaism is inextricably linked with Zionism. This is telling. While there are certainly Jews on campus who do not identify as Zionists, SJP seems to believe that they can make unfairly broad statements condemning Zionism, even liberal Zionism, as inherently racist, while ignoring that, for most people, Zionism and Judaism are linked. When organizations such as SJP make broad statements condemning all Zionists as racists, not only are they attempting to marginalize and demonize their opposition, but they are sending a message to the community that it is okay to think less of a Jew who defends Israel’s right to exist.
The op-ed author also recounted how pro-Israel students are demonized on campus:
Unfortunately, pro-Palestinian student groups on campus have gone out of their way to obstruct the activities of dissenters.
Perhaps the best example of this comes from the end of last semester, when SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace both tried to prevent J Street from attending a conference in New York because some of the speakers at the event identified as liberal Zionists. While the VSA unanimously agreed to let J Street attend the conference, this incident highlights a frustration that many individuals have with dialogue regarding Israel on this campus. The most baffling part of all of this is that J Street is not even a radical Zionist organization. They’re a moderate group that urges for a two-state solution and whose foremost concern is peace in the region.
Legal Insurrection has obtained copies of campus-wide emails sent by the Vassar administration.
On Friday, February 5, 2016, Edward L. Pittman, Associate Dean of the College for Campus Life and Diversity, sent a campus-wide email:
From: Edward Pittman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Fri, Feb 5, 2016 at 2:06 PM
Subject: [Students] Bias Incident Alert Report
To: Students List <email@example.com>, All List <firstname.lastname@example.org>
February 5, 2016
On Thursday, February 4, the Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT) received reports of anti-Semitic comments and slurs that were posted on YikYak, a social media platform used by many members of the Vassar community. While it cannot known whether the offensive comments were made by someone from Vassar, the impact on students and others in our community is of serious concern and violates Vassar’s anti-discrimination policies and commitments to inclusion.
More detailed information can be found on the BIRT website, accessible with a Vassar username and password: http://pages.vassar.edu/bias/
Students from the Vassar Jewish Union have posted their own response on Facebook.
Students and others seeking support can contact offices within the Dean of the College division, including but limited to the following: the Director of Jewish Life, Rabbi Kerry Chaplin, the Religious and Spiritual Life Office, Campus Life and Diversity, Counseling Services, and our Residential Life Office.
You can also refer to the BIRT website for information on how Vassar responds to reports of bias incidents.
Associate Dean of the College
A Listing of BIRT Members
Director for Jewish Life and Assistant Director for Religious and Spiritual Life, Kerry Chaplin
Dean of Students, D.B. Brown.
Director for the Campus Life ALANA Center, Bethel Nathan.
Director of Psychological Services, Wendy Freedman.
Student Association Vice President for Student Life, Christopher Brown ’16.
Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Residential Life, Luis Inoa.
Director of Media Relations and Public Affairs, Jeffrey Kosmacher.
Director of Religious and Spiritual Life, Sam Speers
Associate Director of Safety and Security, Kim Squillace.
Director for Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, Rachel Pereira
Faculty/House Fellow, TBD
A second email was sent by the President of the Vasser Students Association and the Vassar President on February 8, 2016:
From: President’s Office <email@example.com> Date: Mon, Feb 8, 2016 at 1:33 PM
Subject: [Students] Message from VSA and College Presidents
To: All List <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Students List <email@example.com>, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Members of the Vassar Community,
Recently, several anti-Semitic statements were posted to Yik Yak, as reported to the campus Friday by Vassar’s Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT). The anonymous nature of Yik Yak makes it difficult to impossible to hold any individual or individuals accountable for these abhorrent posts. However, as a community, we denounce such egregious behavior, as BIRT has done and as we are writing to do today.
We have worked very hard as a community, in particular over the last several years, to live up to our commitment to treat all members of our community with respect and to counter all forms of discriminatory behavior on campus. We call on all of you now, again, to condemn all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, gender discrimination, and other behaviors that do not live up to our values.
We cannot and will not tolerate hateful speech or other forms of discriminatory expression or behavior. Please join us in standing up for respect and dignity for every member of our community.
Ramy Abbady, President of the VSA
Catharine Hill, President of Vassar College
The Vassar student council is expected to vote on the BDS resolution in early March. Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace, which obviously were well organized long before they brought the resolution, have events organized on campus to advocate for passing the resolution.
SJP/JVP also arranged for other groups to endorse the resolution. Based on information received, the groups include The Vassar Drone Initiative, the Multiracial-Biracial Student Organization, the Vassar Prison Initiative, Grassroots Alliance for Alternative Politics, the Middle Eastern Student’s Collective, the Feminist Alliance, Queer Coalition Vassar College, Vassar Transparency Coalition, and Young Greens Rising.
Vassar J Street U, which describes itself as the “the sole pro-Israel organization on campus” issued a statement against the resolution, though it adopted many of SJP and JVP’s criticisms of Israel, just not the BDS remedy.
We will continue to follow the situation.