It started with a course boycott and ended with a Nazi cartoon.
In the spring of 2014, a series of ugly incidents rocked the campus of Vassar College, a small liberal arts college just north of New York City.
It started with a boycott protest against a course that involved travel to Israel and the West Bank, including forcing a professor and students to walk a gauntlet of people ululating (audio example here). It culminated in the posting on social media of a Nazi cartoon portraying Jewish control of the U.S.
The group mounting the protest and posting the plainly anti-Semitic cartoon was Vassar Students for Justice in Palestine.
The series of events was ignited by passage of an academic boycott of Israel by the American Studies Association, a rejection of the boycott by Vassar’s president (along with 250 other university presidents), and a counter-reaction by 39 Vassar professors who defended the boycott. SJP took it from there.
It’s all detailed in my post Anti-Israel academic boycott turns ugly at Vassar and a series of follow up posts, including about my debate challenge to the 39 professors (which was not accepted):
- Anti-Israel “Climate of fear” at Vassar
- No takers on my debate challenge to Vassar pro-boycott faculty, but I’m still going
- Anti-Israel Vassar student group focuses on race of crowd at my speech
- “One responded, actually calling for a boycott of Professor Jacobson”
- Vassar President condemns “racist, anti-Semitic graphic” posted by Students for Justice in Palestine
- Vassar removes Wall of Truth raised to protest anti-Israel campus climate (Updates)
- NY Daily News Editorial: “Vile at Vassar”
- Pro-Israel Muslim Vassar student’s lonely fight to defend Israel
With everything happening on the anti-Israel boycott front, both good and bad, Vassar had faded a little from memory, until I saw a July 3, 2015 Op-Ed in The Washington Post by Jill Schneiderman, one of the two Vassar professors teaching the boycotted course. For Schneiderman, the memories obviously haven’t faded, and remain raw.
The Op-Ed is How academic efforts to boycott Israel harm our students. Read the whole thing. Here is an excerpt:
In March 2014, I and my co-teacher stood with 27 Vassar College students at the sparkling Auja Spring in the parched West Bank of the Palestinian territories. We listened attentively as environmental educators from the Auja Eco Center and a Palestinian graduate student from Al-Quds University explained the Auja village’s dependency on this sole water source. Sadly, this learning experience almost didn’t happen. My colleague and I were nearly prevented from embarking on the trip by opposition from a surprising source: the faculty and students of our own academic institution….
Several months before my trip, the American Studies Association voted to support an academic boycott of Israel, a position that several faculty members at my college also held. Apparently, my course and the study trip associated with it were subject to the boycott, and the trip became a flash point for the boycott, divestment and sanctions — BDS, for short — debate on campus. Protesters bearing anti-Israel signs stood chanting outside my classroom; students were pressured by their peers to drop the course. My integrity was attacked in a standing-room-only forum at Vassar’s campus center led by pro-BDS faculty members. The stress affected my health, and my faith in longtime colleagues and the college administration was shaken….
This is not to say that protest does not have its place; of course students should protest and argue about positions with which they disagree. I would have liked for the students holding placards and chanting slogans outside my classroom to come inside and debate in full sentences with a fuller command of the issues at hand. Had they done so, I am sure we would have had some challenging and uncomfortable discussions…. By fostering narrow perspectives, bullying stymies learning and is anti-intellectual.
I understand from national reports that what happened at Vassar is happening in some form or another at academic institutions across the country. Instead of working to engage debate and refute contentious ideas, students and faculty are shutting down avenues of inquiry and blocking the attempts of others to examine difficult issues. Though it came at great personal cost, I decided to stick to my educational principles, and I’m glad I did.
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