Letter to the Editor 04/10/2014

Had I any doubts that our students are ill-served when faculty act primarily as activists rather than scholars, Prof. Schreier’s letter (“Campus Discourse Continues to Be Strong,” The Miscellany News 4/3/14) has completely dispelled them. It is a textbook example of how easily facts are sacrificed when one’s concern is to promote a specific political agenda.

Let’s start with Prof. Schreier’s recasting of the original “open letter” signed by 39 Vassar professors “dissenting” from President Hill’s and Dean Chenette’s condemnation of the ASA boycott of Israeli academic institutions. He says it was simply a defense of academic boycotts as a form of non-violent activism –surely nothing that the alumni group Fairness to Israel (FTI) could fairly characterize as “ranting.” In actual fact, it was President Hill’s and Dean Chenette’s statement that was limited to that issue; they asserted (along with 250 other universities and colleges) that academic boycotts are detrimental to the free exchange of ideas. But while Pres. Hill and Dean Chenette did not address the ASA’s unfair and unjustified singling out of Israel for academic isolation, the 39 professors nevertheless took the opportunity to sling the same inflammatory accusations against Israel that BDS supporters use to urge elimination of the Jewish state. Without any specifics but much rhetoric, the 39 professors asserted that Israel inflicts “considerable violence and brutality” on the Palestinians and “other minoritized populations,” that it engages in “ongoing systematic dispossession of Palestinians, the destruction of their homes and livelihood,” that it has “apartheid legislation,” and that it has created a “humanitarian crisis” – among other horrible acts. When inflammatory statements of this sort are made gratuitously and without specifics, most people would agree that constitutes ranting.

Prof. Schreier also retreats from the 39 professors’ expressed concern that Vassar’s rejection of the ASA boycott could have a chilling effect “on our campus.” Now, after FTI has pointed out all the ways in which anti-Zionist views are echoed loudly, aggressively and hostilely on Vassar’s campus while pro-Israel voices have been silenced, Prof. Schreier assures us that campus discourse is open and that debate is “lively.” And the evidence for this? Israel Apartheid week! The SJP members physically harassing students attending class to prevent their planned trip to Israel! The fact that the SJP’s harassment efforts failed! How bathroom stalls littered with flyers full of anti-Israel rhetoric stimulates debate is a puzzle to me (and conjures surreal images that I prefer not to entertain). Ditto for disruptions of classroom learning and the other intimidating tactics employed by SJP.

In fact, my sense is that Prof. Schreier is getting a bit worried that SJP’s free rein to engage in disruptive tactics may be curtailed. So he takes this occasion to compliment Vassar’s administration for its tolerance, contrasting it to Northeastern University and Barnard College where, he suggests, they have chilled legitimate debate as part of a backlash against the ASA boycott. This is yet another example where Prof. Schreier does not allow facts to get in the way of spin. Neither NU nor Barnard acted in response to the ASA boycott. At NU, Jewish students had endured several years during which BDS supporters were allowed to run rampant, engaging in such activities as mocking Jewish students for being Jewish and touting anti-Semitism as a “badge of distinction.” The NU administration finally was moved to act after some groups began documenting these anti-Semitic incidents. In suspending the NU chapter of SJP, the administration noted that those students had vandalized campus property, refused to follow university rules when sliding mock eviction notices under the doors of fellow students, and disrupted events featuring speakers they opposed.
And, at Barnard, a banner showing a map that eliminated Israel was removed not in contravention of long-standing practice, but precisely the opposite. The banner had been posted in a particular space dedicated to promoting campus events; using it for controversial statements was outside of the norm, because the prominent location implied official endorsement.

Perhaps Professor Schreier’s most appalling reality lapse is his accusation that FTI has helped right-wing bloggers “emphasize” the racial elements of the issues at hand. FTI’s response to the 39 professors’ “open letter” made no reference to the race of the anti-Israel protesters. In fact, it was a left-wing , notoriously anti-Zionist blog, Mondoweiss, which first revealed a Vassar professor’s claim that SJP students were being targeted unfairly because of their color (even though no disciplinary actions were ever brought based on their disruptive behavior).

Indeed, Prof. Schreier has no compunction whatsoever in injecting race into the debate when it serves his purpose, as he did when suggesting that Judaism is a race in an interview on the ASA boycott published by The Miscellany News on January 22.

Prof. Schreier does mention that some students have finally begun to organize “pro-Israel” groups, which is the one hopeful sign in all of this sorry state of affairs. One such group, the Chabad Student Jewish group, hosted an event on April 3, in which two Israeli soldiers spoke about their lives, their work and their aspirations for peace. They encouraged all to attend, including those opposed to the Israeli state, in the hope that students would hear firsthand from those whom they have been taught and encouraged to vilify. Although this was a meaningful opportunity for students and faculty to engage in the type of open dialogue Prof. Schreier purports to espouse, neither he nor any of the other 38 signers of the open letter in support of academic freedom found the time to attend.

Laurie Josephs ’78 P’12. Member of Fairness to Israel

8 Comments

  1. Comment edited: Our wealthy “victims” are back at it again. I’m no great lawyer but when I spot half truths a mile away, what does that tell u about the nature of these “victim” allegations. I’ll parse a few of these “victim” allegations. Read on and judge for yourself.

    The statement. “Prof. Schreier has no compunction whatsoever in injecting race into the debate when it serves his purpose, as he did when suggesting that Judaism is a race in an interview”

    http://miscellanynews.org/2014/01/22/features/office-of-the-president-opposes-israel-boycott/

    “He proceeded, writing, “The second, explicit question is whether Apartheid South Africa and contemporary Israel are comparable. Before anything, let me say clearly that I would never say the two countries are the same. This being said, it is hard to deny that both counties maintain (or maintained) hierarchies based on race or, in Israel, what is often called “nationality.””

    The Prof. clearly distinguishes between South Africa (race) and Israel (“nationality”). Did Laurie Josephs miss the “or,in Israel, what is often called “nationality”” while she stuck the race label on Prof. Schreier. Or is it business as usual ? Throw an openly false accusation. Business a usual.

    “Disruptive behavior”. What rules did the students of color break. None. Unless of course having an angry demeanor by students of color is a violation. But Laurie Josephs demands disciplinary action. The gates of “freedom” are well manned here.

    Northeastern University. Pro-Palestinians students were suspended for disrupting a speech. Their crime. They walked out of a speech. Pro-Israel students were never suspended, nor investigated for openly disrupting an event. The university claims it was not a violation since they had a permit. “Equal protection” is well accounted for.

    Barnard College. The SJP students had a permit to post a banner. They posted a banner in a legal place with a permit The next day the rules were changed. Their crime. They posted an inconvenient banner. So when you hear mumbo like “dedicated to promoting campus events”, you know the fix is in. Jim Crow would be proud.

    There are rules for pro-Palestinians of color protestors and there are rules.

  2. Raj, if you insist on continuing to troll the Misc comments, please do yourself the favor of getting your facts straight.

    A. Read Laurie’s letter again. She does not say that “students of color” were disruptive. That’s your interpretation, and that of the professor quoted by Mondoweiss. The SJP students, on the other hand, were clearly attempting to (and succeeding in) intimidating and frightening students and disrupting a class. That is behavior that merits disciplinary action. Almost nobody other than you is trying to defend it.

    B. No students were suspended at Northeastern for anything. A campus organization, SJP, was suspended from operating on campus due to ongoing and flagrant violations of the University’s published Code of Conduct, not for “walking out of a speech.”

    C. There was no “crime” at Barnard and no punishment. The banner was removed and the school’s policies are being reviewed. Rules change when privileges are abused, which was clearly the case there.

    You are the one, Raj, who keeps injecting “color” into this discussion. And you are the one making inappropriate analogies to Jim Crow and bigoted remarks about Jews. Please try to stay on topic.

    • A. Falsehood – The statement —–“Prof. Schreier has no compunction whatsoever in injecting race into the debate when it serves his purpose, as he did when suggesting that Judaism is a race in an interview”.
      A. Pointing out the Falsehood —- Prof. Schreier’s Statement —- “I would never say the two countries are the same. This being said, it is hard to deny that both counties maintain (or maintained) hierarchies based on race or, in Israel, what is often called “nationality.”

    • B. Falsehood – “Read Laurie’s letter again. She does not say that “students of color” were disruptive. ”
      B. Pointing out the Falsehood – “In fact, my sense is that Prof. Schreier is getting a bit worried that SJP’s free rein to engage in disruptive tactics may be curtailed.”.
      .
      .
      People can live in a cocoon where they believe that standing outside a class merits disciplinary action. Point me to the Vassar Code of Conduct where it states that standing outside a class is a violation. Why make up stuff. Oh wait, the “victim” tactic. Never mine.

    • D. Implied Falsehood – The banner was removed and the school’s policies are being reviewed. Rules change when privileges are abused, which was clearly the case there.
      D. Pointing out the Implied Falsehood – “Privileges were abused” – How ? By following the rules and hanging a banner. Oh wait, it was an inconvenient banner. Never mind. The “victim”hood continues.

    • Me repeatedly pointing out falsehoods by our wealthy “victims” brings out the usual smears. Am i surprised. Nope. That’s the tactic of right wing pro-Israel groups. Words like “self hating Jew” directed at the organizer of the trip were not invented by “anti-semites”. Just like Peter Beinart points out, right winger pro-Israel groups have no problem fomenting a culture of hate from people like Sheldon Adelson who states the most racist and vile things. Similarly look at their embrace of the openly anti-semitic right wing preacher John Hagee.
      Any wonder why Jewish students themselves are walking away from right wing organizations like the Hillel (the old one). Keep fooling yourselves people. My “topic” is point out what i believe are the open falsehoods and hypocrisy. And that gets the “victims” all riled up.

  3. C. Falsehood – No students were suspended at Northeastern for anything. A campus organization, SJP, was suspended from operating on campus due to ongoing and flagrant violations of the University’s published Code of Conduct, not for “walking out of a speech.”
    C. Pointing out the Falsehood – Code of Conduct on what grounds. Nice of you to omit that. But here is Boston Globe article that directly contradicts your falsehood. But then again are we surprised.

    http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2014/03/28/crossed-lines-protest-and-free-speech-northeastern/PrRFtt0WUHCiZoBEcDGtDI/story.html

    ” The “event disruption” refers to a walk-out SJP staged last June during a presentation by Israeli soldiers. This is how my colleague, Yvonne Abraham, described it: “At the start of the event, 35 students stood, small signs taped to their shirts. One member called the soldiers war criminals. One or two chanted slogans. They were gone in a minute.””

    “Harvey Silverglate, a civil liberties attorney in Boston, co-founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and supporter of Israel, believes the students had a right to do what they did.”

  4. It’s time for those of us who care deeply about Israel to organize and fight back hard against these actions. If is is fair for these students to organize to boycott and divest from companies that do business with Israel or West Bank Settlements then it is equally fair for us to boycott them. I am in a position to hire a fair amount of people and I check the resumes. When I see resumes from the BDS crowd and their supporters (and I check by going on line) the resume gets tossed. No internships, no summer jobs, no permanent jobs, no exceptions. Donations I used to make to Vassar go to Friends Of The Israel Defense Forces instead. Never again means taking action, not sitting idly by while our enemies organize and in spite of all of the moral outrages in the world choose to act against the one tiny Jewish state whole the Arab states discriminate at will.

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