Preliminary org criticized for online image

On Tuesday, May 13, the Vassar preliminary student organization, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), posted an image online linked to Nazi propaganda. The distribution of the image, as well as President Hill’s response to it, has sparked serious debate about the College and its responses to instances of anti-semitism and racism.

This action by SJP comes at an already heated time for the College after an incident involving Vassar security and the Poughkeepsie police that took place three weeks ago and incited claims of racial profiling from students and alum.

The image posted by SJP was highly critical of American international intervention but also featured several anti-semitic and racist references and images.

As a member of the Jewish-affiliated but all-inclusive student group, a student representative from the VJU explained, “I don’t think there is any denying that the post was anti-semitic. SJP’s focus is on Israel-Palestine which does not directly relate to Judaism. They are two very different things. I think that this post was an attack toward Jews on campus and in general and I think it was disconnected in a lot of ways from the debate that was going on.”

SJP initially released a response to criticisms of the post that defended consulting problematic source material if the content was good.

After further outcry from members of the Vassar community, the preliminary student organization released a longer apology on May 13.

This apology post explained that up until that point, only one member of the student group was in charge of social media and that the org’s general body was not being consulted about these posts.

The apology went on to say, “We condemn any and all hate speech including any form of anti-Semitism and we are deeply sorry several offensive posts were made in SJP Vassar’s name.”

On May 14, President Hill released a statement to the community responding to SJP’s post. In the all-campus email, Hill condemned the actions of the student organization and called for temporary disbanding of the group pending an investigation of the organization’s actions in addition to a VSA review of the org.

Hill went further, writing in the message, “I also request that the SJP Vassar membership take responsibility for its actions and cease representing itself as an official Vassar group, pending these investigations. Vassar College is committed to free speech and academic freedom, but we condemn racist, hateful speech.”

Hill’s message was well-received by some but incited further outrage by other members of the community who felt as if her response to cries of anti-semitism were far more active and direct than her responses to incidents of racism and racial profiling that have been taking place all year.

With regards to the email,the VJU representative said, “Do I think that Cappy’s email was wrong or she shouldn’t have done this? No. Personally, I think how she expressed herself in this email, she should do more often. I think that the problem is how she acted in this instance was the exception but this should be the norm with all issues related to discrimination. There should be no tolerance for hateful speech regardless of the student body that is being attacked.”

He continued, “One thing to consider is she might be more harsh or more outspoken because it is a Vassar org and not an individual student and it was clear who the culprit was, whereas often times bias incidents can occur and it isn’t clear who is committing them. Nonetheless the administration should have a more uniformed response to all incidents of bias regardless of the group being targeted.”

Another concern brought up by critics of the administration’s response to SJP’s post stemmed from the fact that Vassar has a large population of alums who are politically involved in the Israel-Palestine issue.

On May 15, the issue was made further complicated by a poster that was installed in the Retreat. The poster was titled the “Wall of Truths” and featured several ideas presented as “myths” relating to the Israel-Palestine debate.

Many found the poster to be extremely offensive. Asthe VJU representative said, “Jstreet U was upset because the content was unacceptable but furthermore this is why people assume anyone who is ‘pro-existence of a Jewish state’ is radically conservative because of people who post things like this. I’m sure there are some people who assume this was posted by Jstreet U or a group of Jewish students even though it wasn’t. It just isn’t true. A lot of this stuff isn’t right.”

In addition, the Israel-Palestine controversy at Vassar has been featured in several publications including the Wall Street Journal and the New York Daily News. Generally, these opinion pieces have been strongly critical of non pro-Israel groups on campus, notably SJP.

As one opinions piece in the Wall Street Journal read, “I am still waiting for the day a student or faculty member stands up to these academic hooligans at the Vassar Quad. Now that would show some ‘critical thinking.’” (Wall Street Journal, “Anti-Israel Jews and the Vassar Blues”, 2.13.14)

Regardless of opinion on this specific issue, many feel as if more space needs to be made for discussion and dialogue on campus.

This debate was widely-discussed this semester, due in some part to the international studies class that traveled to Israel over spring break. In response to student protest of the class, a panel was held in March by the Committee on Inclusion and Excellence to discuss the issue of Palestinian sovereignty and the ethics of student protest.

Emails from President Hill have since followed, all calling for respectful discourse on the issue. What is clear from the controversies that have broken out recently is that people feel strongly about the Israel-Palestine issue and want to be able to discuss it.

Asthe VJU representative remarked, “I just think that there should be a way to create a space to discuss this on campus rather than social media where it is very reactionary and disconnected. It could shed light on where people are coming from on both sides.”

One Comment

  1. Honestly, anyone who posts and then defends Nazi propaganda should be summarily expelled. It’s hate speech, plain and simple. SJP began the year toeing the line between anti-Israel and anti-Semitism. But this term it has crossed that line repeatedly. Any fair reading of the Vassar SJP blog reveals anti-Semitism. Take for example the following SJP claim, which reads like something out of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion: “Ethnic cleansing and ‘purification’ is the operational logic of the Zionist state project” (Vassar SJP WordPress, May 9th).

    I am confident that if a Vassar student or organization had made similar claims targeted at other minority groups, the student would be expelled and the organization would be disbanded. Does anyone doubt that if VCLU published a Jim Crow style picture of an African-American — say, accompanied by an editorial decrying affirmative action — VCLU would lose its status as an official Vassar organization? Of course not. VCLU would lose its funding, and rightfully so. In addition, Vassar has a history of expelling students on the basis of their hate speech. Just this year, the College expelled two students on the basis of their speech against transsexuals. The precise language from that incident, “know your place tranny,” is offensive, but certainly no more so than the repeated instances of anti-Semitic rhetoric from the person who runs SJP’s social media operation. Expulsion is the precedent for this sort of behavior, and it is a completely reasonable standard to apply in this case.

    This year, SJP has made Vassar an unsafe environment for me and for other Jewish students. From their harassment of students participating in the spring break trip, to the Nazi incident and anti-Zionist rhetoric about ethnic cleansing that verges on blood libel, SJP has done everything in its power to make Vassar an unsafe space for Jews. SJP argues that their hatred is for Zionists rather than Jews, but this is difficult to believe for anyone who actually listens to them for very long. And for Jews, who are more likely than any other religious group to support Israel in its current form, this can be a distinction without a difference.

    The Administration must remedy the harm done by SJP this year on its watch. Up until now, President Hill has given us nothing but lukewarm repudiations and prolix calls for mutual respect. I ask that she respond to the actions of SJP in the same way that she would if they had been targeted at another minority group.

    Every Vassar donor, Jewish and non-Jewish, has contributed money to SJP this year through the VSA. I cannot control the Administration or the VSA, but I will do my best to insure that no more of my money goes to SJP. Unless SJP is formally disbanded and the members responsible for anti-Semitism are expelled, I pledge not to give a single cent to Vassar. I hope that every opponent of anti-Semitism to join me. Regardless of your views on Israel, it is wrong for us to provide financial support to an organization that shelters anti-Semitism. Vassar, renowned for its tolerance, should suffer this ugliness least of all.

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