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Vassar College Tag

Vassar College has been rocked by a series of anti-Israel, anti-Semitic events. Apparently the President of Vassar, Catharine Hill, has received numerous alumni complaints and concerns, because she issued a statement to alumni seeking to allay their concerns. But in the process, the President sought to shift the responsibility by blaming "online publications" and "social media" for the controversy. I don't know if the President included Legal Insurrection in her criticism, but please scroll through our Vassar College Tag so you can see how thoroughly we have documented all our reporting. As background, anti-Israel activism has led to anti-Semitic incidents in 2014 and 2016. Among other things, in 2014 Jewish students who stood up at a campus-wide forumwere mocked and jeered by a raucous crowd of students and faculty, a class was picketed and a professor forced to cross a picket line of ululating students because the course involved a trip to Israel (and the West Bank), Students for Justice in Palestine posted a Nazi cartoon on social media, and pro-Israel displays were vandalized.

"Social justice" activism at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, is becoming self-parody, and not in a good way. We have covered extensively the anti-Israel activism that has led to anti-Semitic incidents in 2014 and 2016. Among other things, in 2014 Jewish students who stood up at a campus-wide forum were mocked and jeered by a raucous crowd of students and faculty, a class was picketed and a professor forced to cross a picket line of ululating students because the course involved a trip to Israel (and the West Bank), Students for Justice in Palestine posted a Nazi cartoon on social media, and pro-Israel displays were vandalized. Just recently, a Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution campaign kick-off by SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace, followed by a faculty-sponsored event at which Israel was accused of engaging in an experiment to "stunt" Palestinian bodies, led to anti-Semitic messages on campus Yik-Yak. As if that were not bad enough, the social justice warriors at Vassar now have turned their sights on a feminist professor who allegedly did not use proper pronouns for transgender students.

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:

Once again, Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, is mired in controversy regarding anti-Israel activities on campus involving Vassar faculty. The controversy surrounds the February 3, 2016, appearance of Rutgers Associate Professor Jasbir Puar at the invitation of several Vassar departments, including Jewish Studies. At the outset of the appearance, according to the Vassar alumni/parent/friends group Fairness to Israel (FTI), a request was made by the Vassar professor introducing the speaker not to record the event, although it was acknowledged that it was legal to do so:
Before I give my brief remarks, I would like to request that you silence your devices you brought with you so as not to disrupt the conversation with Professor Puar is conducting with us today. I would also like to request on her behalf and on behalf of the rest of the assembly that you refrain from recording this evening’s proceedings, in the spirit of congeniality and mutual respect, though it is not against the law, to record someone vocation professional labor without informing them, it is quite unseemly and violates the modest contract of trust essential to the exchange of ideas.
Requesting non-recording of an open, public event on the pretext that non-recording is "essential to the exchange of ideas" is odd.

Concentrated, intense anti-Israel activity at Vassar College in early 2014 resulted in gross displays of anti-Jewish hostility, as I documented at the time, Anti-Israel academic boycott turns ugly at Vassar. Thirty-nine Vassar professors signed a letter in the student newspaper supporting the academic boycott of Israel, and aggressive protests by Students for Justice in Palestine created a pervasive climate of fear on campus. When I was invited by a student group to speak on campus, no academic department would co-sponsor my appearance despite the fact that several departments co-sponsored the appearance the week before of the anti-Israel activists Ali Abunimah and Max Blumenthal. The hostility following my appearance on campus was so intense that Vassar SJP circulated on social media a Nazi cartoon. Since then, there has been near continuous anti-Israel activism on campus, including an appearance by the leader of national Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), and a dining hall boycott of Sabra Hummus (which later was reversed).

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): 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:

On Thursday, the State of Israel is celebrating her 67th birthday. Naturally, pro-Israel college students nationwide have organized celebratory gatherings - ranging from guest speakers to culturally (read: food) oriented events. On Massachusetts Institute of Technology's campus, the planned celebration was not without controversy and dissent. On April 20th, the student group [email protected] issued an "open letter" decrying an Israel Independence Day celebration scheduled to take place during SpringFest. [email protected] went as far as to claim that the event makes them feel "unsafe."
The Israeli Independence Day raises politically sensitive questions given that it just so happens to represent the 1948 Palestinian Exodus, also known as the "Nakba". This is a day of extreme tragedy and traumatic loss for millions of people, including many students here at MIT. As Palestinians and supporters of Palestine in the MIT community, we are alarmed by the fact that the UA are endorsing this event, given that the UA represents us as well. We feel unsafe in an environment that celebrates a catastrophic day for one nation at an official school-wide capacity by a body that represents all students equally, with no regards or sympathy towards our tragedy. We direct this message to the entirety of the student body with a request for change. We request the UA to detach the carnival from SpringFest, and to refrain from sponsoring and/or publicizing it at a school-wide capacity.
[email protected], promoting a narrative of victimhood, suggested that the celebration of Israel's independence threatened their community standing.

I graduated from Vassar College in May 2014.  I was the President of the Vassar Conservative Libertarian Union, and the anti-Israel fervor found me. Before we go into this sordid story, it gives us perspective on the times to remember that Vassar College was once a great friend of Israel. In 1975, "Students React Quickly to U.N. Zionism Vote" was a headline in the school paper:
"Concerned Vassar students gathered in the Chapel on a rainy Nov. 12 to protest the U.N. resolution condemning Zionism as racism. Chaplain George Williamson, Jewish Chaplain Derry Baker, Professor Benruy Kraut and two prominent Jewish community leaders, Rabbis Arnold and Zimmet spoke at the student organized rally."
It took thirty years, but what if I told you today that this same college community now views Zionism as the most insidious form of racism. Would it seem Orwellian? Two student groups, Students for Justice in Palestine and JStreetU, were formed last fall. Both liberal, SJP rallies against a two state solution while JStreetU claims to endorse one. At a glance they might seem different, but they share a lot in common when it comes to condemning attempts by me and my group to counter anti-Israel propaganda on campus. In December 2013, the American Studies Association released a resolution boycotting Israel. Reminiscent of students in 1975, the Vassar administration swiftly rejected this resolution right after New Years 2014. Soon-after the Vassar Jewish Union (VJU) became an Open Hillel, which means they welcome anti-Israel speakers. Thirty-nine Vassar faculty then wrote a letter condemning Vassar College's decision.  Students for Justice in Palestine proceeded to swoop down on pro-Israel and neutral students. They protested a class taking a trip to Israel inside an academic building and intimidated the professors. At a Vassar Open forum I attended in May 2014 shortly before graduation, Vassar College President Catharine Hill made clear that she never has condemned the picketing of the class, and any impressions otherwise are wrong: Following complaints about the picketing of the classroom, the Vassar Committee on Inclusion and Excellence organized an open forum led by Professor Kiese Laymon that de facto established any criticism of SJP was motivated by racism, civility was a "cardboard notion," and taking a trip to Israel was the equivalent of organizing an outing to Jim Crow Mississippi. Not surprisingly, the only acceptable thing to say on campus became the lie that Israel is a racist, apartheid state. In order to show the humanity of the perceived Israeli monster, I began innocuously posting images from the Facebook page “Humans of Tel Aviv” in a Vassar student group Facebook page, to show that Israeli cities are cosmopolitan, socially liberal places that resemble Vassar in some ways. This provoked a leader of SJP to tell me “the devil has enough advocates.” Weeds often grow in abandoned fields. Looking back, the first sign of weeds was an "Apartheid Wall" that sprang up in the College Center. This is a common BDS tactic which all follow a similar formula in demonizing the Israeli state. [caption id="attachment_82985" align="alignnone" width="640"]https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=648478308550930&set=pb.569630543102374.-2207520000.1396799191.&type=3&theater (Mock "Apartheid Wall" at Vassar College 2014)[/caption] I walked up to SJP and told them that I was raised in a Muslim family. They loosened up immediately and seemed eager to welcome me into their hate. There are not a lot of Arab and Middle Eastern students on campus. I remembered that a friend had told me about the Wall of Truth, pro-Israel murals that sometimes counters the apartheid walls.

In early April, The New York Daily News had a blistering Editorial regarding the anti-Israel Climate at Vassar College, Vassar’s miseducation, focusing on the anti-Israel climate we documented in Anti-Israel academic boycott turns ugly at Vassar. Today the Daily News has another devastating rebuke to Vassar, focusing on the reaction to my speech at Vassar which culminated in the now-infamous posting of a Nazi propaganda poster by Students for Justice in Palestine. I previously knew that the several academic departments which co-sponsored the anti-Israel Max Blumenthal and Ali Abunimah appearance the week before my appearance, would not sponsor me.  I did not previously know that college funds were used for the Blumenthal-Abunimah appearance. Read the whole thing.  Here's an excerpt from Vile at Vassar:
... Faculty members have joined the depravity. Thirty-nine professors protested after [Vassar President Catharine] Hill properly said in January that Vassar would not join the American Studies Association’s anti-Semitism-tinged call for boycotting Israeli universities. The 39 backed the boycott, with some asserting that Hill’s action “silenced discourse on campus,” as one put it. Duh, they claim they want dialogue while supporting a boycott against dialogue. Then it turned out that the 39 lacked the courage of their convictions. When Cornell University Law School professor Bill Jacobson challenged the entire group to debate the merits of boycotting Israel, they all ducked. So on May 5, Jacobson spoke — without fee — on campus at the invitation of the Vassar Conservative Libertarian Union, which is headed by a Muslim student. The libertarian union had sought co-sponsorships for Jacobson’s talk from numerous student groups and academic departments. All refused, a fact that demonstrates how strongly anti-Israel sentiment holds sway at Vassar, perhaps inducing a climate of fear among those who feel otherwise.

NOTE: Literally seconds after this went live I received a message that Vassar had taken down the Wall of Truth which is the subject of this post after it was defaced by anti-Israel students.  The title and text of the post has been adjusted accordingly. Vassar College has been a hotbed of anti-Israel agitation by Students for Justice in Palestine and supporters, as documented in the following prior posts: The situation is so bad that a self-avowed left-wing Daily Kos Diarist and Vassar alumna/us wrote a stinging rebuke, Anti-Semitic Times at Vassar College:
I graduated from Vassar two years ago and I am a proud left winger, but I just can't be down with the Students for Justice in Palestine group at my alma mater. The group is full of filthy anti-Semites, who are spectacularly ignorant about everything from Nazi propaganda to Israel's defense of itself..... At Vassar, even for me, the unhinged left wingers could be too much.... Vassar has become a reactionary, ignorant, illiberal place full of unlettered bigots. No longer will I aid those values with donations.
The Vassar Conservative-Libertarian Union (VCLU), which sponsored my speech at Vassar, decided that it was time to protest before students left campus for the summer. VCLU erected a Wall of Truth to counter the many defamatory and false allegations made against Israel. [caption id="attachment_86233" align="alignnone" width="547"](Wall of Truth at Vassar College, May 2014, feat. Alec Ferretti and Julian Hassan) (Wall of Truth at Vassar College, May 2014, feat. Alec Ferretti and Julian Hassan)[/caption] The Wall of Truth specifically was placed in the same location that Vassar SJP puts its misnomered "Apartheid Wall" during Israeli Apartheid Week:

In February and March 2014, Vassar witnessed ugly and racialized taunting of professors and students regarding a class trip to Israel, Anti-Israel academic boycott turns ugly at Vassar.  The administration took a hands-off approach. Starting shortly after my appearance at Vassar on May 5, to speak against academic BDS, Students for Justice in Palestine began a social media campaign focused on the race of the crowd as a means of denigrating my appearance as an old white Zionist alumni intrusion onto campus. SJP's social media then devolved further, into tweeting and posting of white nationalist and neo-Nazi anti-Zionist material: [caption id="attachment_86121" align="alignnone" width="549"]Vassar SJP Twitter Nazi Poster Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 12.03.51 AM (Image via Prof. Rebecca Lesses)[/caption] The tweets and postings were documented by Ithaca College Professor Rebecca Lesses at her blog, Mystical Politics.  SJP initially defended the conduct at its Facebook, WordPress, Tumblr and Twitter accounts, but then apologized on Sunday, May 11 and again on Tuesday, May 13:

On May 5, 2014, I gave a lecture at Vassar College against the academic boycott of Israel. Originally I had challenged the 39 professors who signed a letter defending the academic boycott of Israel to debate, but none accepted the challenge. During the Q&A, I learned for the first time from student organizer Luka Ladan that one of the professors had called for a boycott of my lecture. The full video is here. The two anti-Israel speakers I referenced were Max Blumenthal and Ali Abunimah, who appeared in an event sponsored by several academic departments, the week before. Those same academic departments were asked to sponsor my appearance, but none did. I had not made a big deal about it, although it troubled me that a professor would call for a boycott of a lecture simply because of a difference of opinion. When I saw a Wall Street Journal column posted late this afternoon, I remembered that statement about boycotting me. Ruth Wisse, professor at Harvard, writes, The Closing of the Collegiate Mind:
There was a time when people looking for intellectual debate turned away from politics to the university. Political backrooms bred slogans and bagmen; universities fostered educated discussion. But when students in the 1960s began occupying university property like the thugs of regimes America was fighting abroad, the venues gradually reversed. Open debate is now protected only in the polity: In universities, muggers prevail....

It wasn't planned this way. It's just a coincidence. Really. By the time you read this, I'll probably be in the car driving to Poughkeepsie, NY, where I will appear tonight at 7 p.m. to give a speech in support of Israel and academic freedom. And against the Open Letter signed by 39 Vassar faculty members -- none of whom took up my debate challenge -- who support the American Studies Association boycott of Israel. Maybe I'll play this recording of David Ben-Gurion reading the Israeli Declaration of Independence: Things have been tense lately at Vassar when it comes to Israel. While I'm not expecting "trouble," I thought you might like to see what trouble for pro-Israel speakers on campuses looks like, in the video below taken at UC Davis in February 2012:
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