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Vassar College Tag

I'm still trying to get my mind around the Vassar College campus reaction to my planned lecture on "hate speech" and free speech, which I wrote about in Safe Spaces and Safety Teams at Vassar College for My Lecture on Free Speech. Hundreds of students, faculty and staff were whipped into a frenzy by factually false accusations against me and regarding my appearance. There were many false accusations. In this post, I'll address just one aspect, that I supposedly posed a threat to campus safety.

On October 25, 2017, I gave a speech at Vassar College on "An Examination of Hate Speech and Free Speech on College Campuses." The main sponsor was the Vassar Conservative Libertarian Union, which also sponsored my 2014 speech at Vassar. Other sponsors were Students for Liberty and the Leadership Institute. The lecture originally was advertised as "'Hate Speech' is Still Free Speech, Even After Charlottesville." The name was changed because the sponsoring student group filed for funding under another title, so we were asked to use that approved title. Regardless of title, the planned discussion of hate speech sent a portion of the campus into a vicious smear campaign against me.

We frequently cover issues related to free speech on campus, including shut-downs, shout-downs, disruptions, threats and violence. There is a long history to this problem, and it first showed itself in attacks on Israeli, pro-Israel and Jewish speakers, as I documented in With campus shout downs, first they came for the Jews and Israel.

If you didn't read Legal Insurrection, you might think that liberal arts Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, just north of New York City, is an island of tolerance, understanding and freedom of thought. That's what its website says. But since you read Legal Insurrection, you know that for the past several years Vassar has been rocked by intellectual intolerance and antisemitism masquerading as anti-Zionism. Some faculty have been in the lead in creating this atmosphere, and the administration more often than not turned away from confronting the problem head on. Here are a few of my posts about Vassar (you can view all of them here):

Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, has had an abysmal few years when it comes to anti-Israel and sometimes antisemitic activity. You can scroll through our Vassar Tag for dozens of posts. Here are a few of those posts that provide an overview: When I appeared on campus in 2014 to challenge pro-BDS faculty to a debate, one of those faculty tried to organize a boycott of me!

Late last month, Vassar College students narrowly rejected a proposed Israel-boycott. Legal Insurrection led the way in exposing anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity at Vassar over the past two years. Key parts of the problem were vocal faculty who were hostile to Israel and favorable towards the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The Vassar administration, while opposed officially to BDS, seemed frozen by the aggressive tactics of student groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace. Despite the repudiation of the boycott, reports of anti-Jewish hostility and administration inaction increased so much so that Jewish students solicited help from outside groups. Thirty four Jewish and civil rights groups participated in the letter to Vassar College President. Thursday, the AMCHA Initiative issued a press release detailing Vassar student concerns and the response from outside groups:

The Vassar student body voted the past two days on two anti-Israel referenda sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace. For background on anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activism at Vassar, see Tuesday's post, Vassar students start voting on anti-Israel referenda. The results were just announced by email, and both referenda were rejected. The vote was close.  The BDS resolution was rejected 573 Against, 503 For. The spending resolution was defeated 601 Against, 475 For. Under the circumstances, with a years-long anti-Israel propaganda campaign supported by vocal faculty members, this must be considered a huge victory for the voices of reason on campus.

We have covered extensively the goings on at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, with regard to anti-Israel resolutions proposed by Vassar Students for Justice in Palestine and Vassar Jewish Voice for Peace. The atmosphere has been particularly toxic, with overt acts of anti-Semitism and intimidation of students who oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. For background, see the Vassar College Tag and these posts: The short version is that the Vassar Student Association council passed a resolution endorsing the BDS movement, but fell short on endorsing a resolution prohibiting use of student funding for certain companies, including Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

The anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement at Vassar College has been unusually ugly and aggressive in the two-plus years I've been covering developments there. In my first post on March 27, 2014, Anti-Israel academic boycott turns ugly at Vassar, I detailed -- based on interviews with professors who witnessed the events first-hand and documents provided to me -- the picketing of a course because it involved travel to Israel, and the vitriol directed not only at the professors at a campus-wide Open Fourm, but also at Jewish students who spoke out in defense of Israel:
What transpired was anti-Israel vitriol directed at Professors and students taking a course that involved travel to Israel and the West Bank, an intimidating protest outside a classroom, and a campus forum in which the Professors and Jewish students were belittled, heckled and mocked in such crude ways that it left even critics of Israel shaken.
The two professors targeted, Jill Schneiderman and Rachel Friedman, later wrote in the Vassar student newspaper about the "climate of fear" that had descended on campus:

At one level, you could put this post in the "tell me something I don't already know" category. For several years I have been documenting anti-Israel activity on campus, typically part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and carried out by groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). At the same time, I've pointed out many instances where such anti-Israel activity crossed-over into overt anti-Semitism, including at places like Oberlin and Vassar. (And that's putting aside whether the radical extremist anti-Israelism itself is anti-Semitic.) So the correlation between anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism seems obvious. When the only Jewish-majority nation in the world is demonized and dehumanized based on factual falsehoods and distortions under standards applied to no one else, it is no surprise that the hate manifests itself in hatred not just of Israel, but of Jews.

In a vote tonight, the Vassar College Student Association (VSA) council passed by a vote of 15-7 an anti-Israel Resolution which adopts the full BDS movement list of demands and calls for divestment from certain companies. The BDS Resolution was a joint effort of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace. A student representative of Jewish Voice for Peace stated opposition to the State of Israel, as tweeted by the student newspaper. I have confirmed with someone in the room that the statement actually was made, and that it was by a JVP student:

The Vassar College Student Association is in the midst of a highly contentious debate over whether to adopt an anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution and bylaws amendment proposed by Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace.  SJP takes the position that the BDS resolution includes an academic boycott, though there is no explicit language to that effect in the resolution. There also is a counter-resolution by Vassar J Street U which condemns Israel's occupation of the West Bank, but does not call for a boycott. The vote is Sunday night, March 6, 2016. The BDS vote will be anonymous, while the J Street U vote will be on the record. Scroll through our Vassar College Tag for numerous recent reports on the campus atmosphere and conflict created by the BDS resolution, as well as the history of BDS and anti-Semitism at Vassar. There was an important development today. In a mass email to all students, VSA's Executive Board indicated it had been informed by the administration that Student Activity Funds used to fund VSA may be taken out of the control of VSA should the BDS resolution be adopted. (Full email at bottom of post.)

The Vassar College Student Association  council is voting anonymously on March 6, 2016, on an anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions resolution proposed by Vassar Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Vassar Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). For details, see Vassar anti-Israel activists attempt stealth academic boycott Resolution. For years the BDS campaign on campus has been punctuated by crude and misleading accusations against Israel, and an implicit and sometimes explicit argument that Zionism is inherently racist. Overt anti-Semitism rears its head from time to time. In researching Vassar's history, I came upon an interesting historical contrast with the current situation. In November 1975, the U.N. General Assembly passed the notorious (and now rescinded) "Zionism is Racism" Resolution. Then U.S. UN Ambassador Daniel Moynihan spoke eloquently in rebuttal of spoke of the “infamous” Zionism is Racism act.

One of the most controversial aspects of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is the academic boycott. That academic boycott has been condemned and rejected by the Presidents of over 250 American universities and colleges, and major groups such as the American Council on Education (1700+ Higher Ed Institutions), Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (216 Universities and University Systems), Association of American Universities (62 Universities). The American Association of University Professors (approx. 48,000 members) not only rejects the academic boycott, it also calls it a violation of academic freedom. Almost all resolutions introduced at student governments by groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) focus on divestment from companies allegedly aiding Israel's violation of Palestinian human rights. These are symbolic resolutions since student governments have no say on university finances; sometimes they pass, but more often they fail.

One question I frequently get is something along the lines of "How did college campuses get this way?" And by "this way" people refer to the leftist intolerance of opposing viewpoints, now expressed through the misnomered "social justice" movement and Social Justice Warriors. My response is pretty consistent, that we abandoned the campuses and what you are seeing now was one or two generations in the making. What you are seeing play out now in the intolerance at Vassar related to Israel -- and many other campuses such as Oberlin College -- is just a variation on a theme that has been growing for decades. A reader, who is a Vassar alum, send me an interesting historical anecdote. William F. Buckley, Jr.'s was invitated to be commencement speaker at Vassar in 1980.

As documented before, Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, has faced a waive of anti-Israel, and in some cases anti-Semitic, activity on campus for the past two years centered around the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The latest spark is a combined effort by Vassar Students for Justice in Palestine and Vassar Jewish Voice for Peace, to pass an anti-Israel divestment resolution targeting companies, including Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, that supposedly contribute to the oppression of Palestinians. The controversy has put a lot of pressure not just on the Vassar administration, but also the Vassar Student Association, which is considering the BDS resolution for a March 6 vote. The Miscellany News, the student newspaper, reports that the students on VSA just voted to take the BDS vote in secret: