Last Friday, Feb. 5, an email was sent out to the student body regarding antisemitic comments posted on Yik Yak. Most notably, one user commented “f*ck Jews” on a post defending Israel, which prompted swift condemnation from the Administration as well as student groups such as the Vassar Jewish Union (VJU) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
But that wasn’t all. Later on in the same conversation, that individual clarified that they didn’t mean f*ck all Jews, just the ones who support Israel, and fully embraced that this somehow made their comment acceptable.
That same day, another commenter on Yik Yak used similar antisemitic language, engaging in statements such as “your just a retard and so are Zionists” and “Zionism is a plague of mankind. These Jews stand around throwing this is antisemitic and that’s antisemitic” and “I’ve never met a Jew who didn’t think Israel is their home land. Jews through terrorism have kept Palestinians locked like animals in their home.”
That same commenter insinuated that the Jews, and me personally for being a Jew, should evaluate what we “do wrong in Palestine and other places.” I have photographic evidence of this entire conversation.
It is impossible to discuss these statements while ignoring the growing anti-Zionist sentiment on campus. But how linked are these sentiments and what responsibility should pro-Palestinian organizations take incidents such as this?
Firstly, it is important to define antisemitism. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an international civil rights organization whose primary purpose is to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people” defines antisemitism as “belief or behavior hostile toward Jews just because they are Jewish.”
Secondly, what is the definition of Zionism? According to the Anti-Defamation League, it is a “Jewish national movement of rebirth and renewal in the land of Israel.” The organization goes on to write that “modern Zionism fused the ancient Jewish biblical and historical ties to the ancestral homeland with the modern concept of nationalism into a vision of establishing a modern Jewish state in the land of Israel.” Essentially, Zionism is the belief that Israel ought to exist as a home for the Jewish people.
So, this begs the question: is anti-Zionism inherently antisemitic? The state department’s official position seems to suggest so, and this has also been endorsed by high profile figures such as President Obama and Pope Francis.
With that said, I don’t view it as particularly constructive to adopt this definition when discussing these issues as they affect Vassar. It is perfectly legitimate to question any movement or ideology, and Zionism is no exception.
So, let’s accept, for the time being, that anti-Zionism is not inherently antisemitic. After all, it goes without saying that Israel’s human rights record has not been perfect, and it’s unacceptable to completely dismiss all opposition to it as racist. However, just because criticizing Israel is not inherently antisemitic does not mean that the rhetoric of organizations such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), or even, for that matter, a Jewish Voice for Peace, cannot contribute to antisemitic viewpoints.
I truly believe that it is the responsibility of those who believe in a cause to stand up for it, as this is the basis for a healthy democracy. At the same time, those same individuals carry an equal responsibility to engage in said activism without demonizing those who disagree.
The activities and language of pro-Palestinian groups on campus goes above and beyond critiquing Israel into demonizing opposition.
For example, take SJP’s condemnation of the antisemitic statements made on Yik Yak. In it, they denied that Judaism is inextricably linked with Zionism. This is telling. While there are certainly Jews on campus who do not identify as Zionists, SJP seems to believe that they can make unfairly broad statements condemning Zionism, even liberal Zionism, as inherently racist, while ignoring that, for most people, Zionism and Judaism are linked. When organizations such as SJP make broad statements condemning all Zionists as racists, not only are they attempting to marginalize and demonize their opposition, but they are sending a message to the community that it is okay to think less of a Jew who defends Israel’s right to exist.
Furthermore, I take issue with SJP’s endorsement of bullying, vaguely antisemitic ideas such as pinkwashing. Pinkwashing Israel, a global LGBT, anti-Israel organization, defines pinkwashing as “the disingenuous invocation of LGBT rights by Israel and its supporters to divert attention away from its atrocities against the Palestinians.”
The idea that Jewish, Israeli or LGBT rights organizations are scheming to exploit LGBT rights for the purpose of distracting the public from human rights violations in Palestine is reminiscent of the old and tired antisemitic beliefs of a “worldwide Jewish Zionist conspiracy.” Even if that is not pro-Palestinian activists mean to suggest, it should be obvious why such an idea could lead to an antisemitic incident. It begs the question: when an organization takes what has traditionally been said to marginalize Jews and replaces the word “Jew” with “Zionist” or even “Jewish Zionist,” does that make said statement any less problematic. My answer, and I suspect the answer of most individuals, would be of course not.
But even this I can tolerate to an extent, as long as there is a healthy opposition to these ideas. Unfortunately, pro-Palestinian student groups on campus have gone out of their way to obstruct the activities of dissenters.
Perhaps the best example of this comes from the end of last semester, when SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace both tried to prevent J Street from attending a conference in New York because some of the speakers at the event identified as liberal Zionists. While the VSA unanimously agreed to let J Street attend the conference, this incident highlights a frustration that many individuals have with dialogue regarding Israel on this campus. The most baffling part of all of this is that J Street is not even a radical Zionist organization. They’re a moderate group that urges for a two-state solution and whose foremost concern is peace in the region.
That these groups cannot find a way to work together to pursue peace in Israel speaks poorly on the state of discourse at Vassar, and should shed a light as to how antisemitic incidents related to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis could arise.
So what’s the takeaway? Firstly, I urge Vassar’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine to formally acknowledge that their language has been has been irresponsible and apologize to the Jewish community. Secondly, I ask them to take a stand in favor of free speech at Vassar and to oppose the censorship and unfair treatment of any student organization, even those that disagree with them on a particular issue.
Finally, I ask the student body to engage in respectful dialogue that does not dismiss anyone’s opinion as either inherently antisemitic or racist. We must realize that saying “f*ck Jews” is wrong the same way saying “f*ck Palestinians” would be wrong. If the state of discourse on Israel is allowed to continue, Vassar will be doomed to become an extremely hostile environment where those of certain beliefs are privileged over others. It is on the basis of a free state that we can fight for our beliefs while respecting the dignity of our opponents.
I am disturbed by the anti-Semitism at Vassar, but sadly not surprised. This year the Miscellany News has been cataloging a campus rife with sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, rape, and sexual violence against women and the trans-gendered. What on earth has happened to this school? Who in his right mind would send their children to an institution mired in such horrors? Why has the administration of this school not resigned in disgrace? How can it allow this to continue? How can the student body allow this to continue?
You say “The most baffling part of all of this is that J Street is not even a radical Zionist organization. They’re a moderate group that urges for a two-state solution and whose foremost concern is peace in the region”
From what I have read, “J” street is funded by a pro Palestinian group and the majority of its members are part of that mindset. I’e been given the opinion that “J” street is the opposite of a Zionist organization, pushing for a Palestinian state and NOT for Israel.
I commend Mr. Horowitz on the most well-reasoned and eloquent comments I have heard or read to date about anti-Semitism at Vassar. Unfortunately, Vassar faculty continue to invite and sponsor incendiary speakers who rant and use the oldest, blatantly anti-Semitic slur against Jews, the blood libel, as Professor (I use that title loosely) Puar recently did at a lecture sponsored by several academic departments at Vassar, including the Jewish Studies. Her anti-Semitic comments were actually received with nodding approval by some members of the faculty who were present at her rant session. When no one on the faculty or in the administration denounced these comments either at this event or afterward, the exact environment was created where students, individually and collectively, could feel comfortable writing or saying “F–k Jews.” The administration and faculty are quick to denounce such slurs when aimed at other racial or ethnic groups. Why the double-standard when it comes to slurs against Jews? Why are you not acting as responsible role models?
Of course, here again a “victim”, Mr Schaffer won’t state which comments made by Ms. Puar were “anti-semitic”. We get the drift. She criticized Israel. Case close.
Simply put, one must have effective leadership in various quarters in order for a healthy environment to survive and thrive. The decay of the past few years and the continuing decline seem to suggest such leadership does not exist at Vassar. . . .
Frankly Jews at Vassar need to look out for themselves because the leadership is not on the side of being vigilant against anti-semitism. And yet the environment is not safe, and Jewish leaders face actual danger in taking on the issues at hand. . . .
I encouraged my children not to apply to Vassar, and I don’t support the college–this after more than a year of speaking truth to power and monitoring the situation. I’m so sad to talk to the people I know who are suffering there.
This is proof that Vassa students and other college students can dissect and understand a complex issue such as the Arab-Israeli conflict and not paint everything with the broad brush of anti-Israeli or Anti-Palestinian the way BDS has. Every individual is entitled to express their view – its only wrong when institutional organs promote one side over another or make it uncomfortable for those with a dissenting voice. Opinions, Dissent and Activism should be nurtured and encouraged at Vassar in an appropriate manner. This is a good start!
Most important is discerning the source of this antipathy. Read David Motadel’s “Islam & N a z i Germany’s War”. Study Mussolini’s “defender of the Muslims” rhetoric. Learn about Imperial Japan’s overtures to Muslims. Finally, study Gen. Franco’s use of Muslim troops to waste democracy in Spain. This is the source of Islamism; entities based on this fascism include the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, al Qaeda, & Boko Haram.
Note that this fascism does not represent Islam itself by any means. Most Muslims fought for the Allies. This was not always so, however. Suharto served the Imperial Japanese monsters – not surprisingly, Jew baiting is extremely strong in both Indonesia & Malaysia, in part resulting in the ethic Chinese suffering actual persecution.
A classic example of pretending to be oh so hurt and have your whole world view crashed upon by ONE blogger. Of course the truth of it comes out when Mr Horowitz then drives that train to the feet of the SJP. Shocker !!!!!!!!!!!.
“Israel’s human rights record has not been perfect”. Oh how nice and according to Mr Horowitz SJP’s criticism is full of anti-semitism. But just like other “victims” on the Miscellany he won’t tell us which of it is. Is it their criticism of Israel as an apartheid state, Mr Horowitz ? Is it their criticism of Israeli barbarism against Palestinians Mr Horowitz ? Of course specifics are not forthcoming, because the drive by smear is modus operandi of Israeli apologists. Avoid specifics, because then you’ll have to answer for Israeli apartheid etc.
And now we have a supposed definition of anti-semitism by the State Department. Ever wondered why any Jewish group hasn’t used that in any court. Because, it will be thrown out. If you have political connections, just like many Vassar Alumni have with administration, you can get the State Department to even define what a chocolate chip cookie is.
Pro Israeli groups have engaged in propping up the most racist groups in Israel. But of course you won’t hear a word about that from the “victim” crowd. And we all know why.
As an outsider reading this article and comments, I find the whole matter extremely demoralizing, certainly unacademic, certainly antisemitic and discriminatory. Its appalling to see the level of discourse and histrionics against Israel and Jews that is taking place across Western European, North American and even Australian and South African campuses. Its indicative of the most ignorant, most hateful, and generally stupid level that university faculty have fallen to; its definitely incumbent on educators to know their history, their facts and to be objective; but here the teaching of hatred and lies seems to prevail. To what end? To murdering Jews? is that the real goal, cloaked in “free speech” and anti Zionist rhetoric?
As a part-time teacher at the University of California at Irvine and a Gentile, I thank Mr Horowitz for this piece and affirm that the problem of anti-Semitism is alive at the University of California and campuses across the nation.
And thanks to whom? Thanks to the pro-Palestinian lobby on our campuses that has made the Israel-
Palestinian conflict the number one hot button issue on US campuses.
And just in the past days, a speaker named Jasbir Puar, a professor at Rutgers, spoke at Vassar and said the most outrageous and absurd things about Israeli that were reminiscent of Julius Streicher’s Nazi rag, Der Stuermer. Is it any wonder that the anti-Jewish plague has hit Vassar?
Sadly, anti-Semitism has reached new highs worldwide. In the US the focal point is on our college campuses. If you students really care so much about hate, why won’t you face it on your own campus?
This is Peter Beinart in Haaretz. Of course you won’t hear any of that from Mr. Horowitz because all that is pushed under the rug with the Israel is not perfect excuse.
“Israel’s problem is that its almost half-century-long control over millions of West Bank Palestinians who lack citizenship and the right to vote in the country that controls their lives, and live under a different legal system than their Jewish neighbors, makes it harder to legitimize Israel as a democracy. ”
read more: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.703644
It’s time for organization’s like Fairness to Israel (sic ?) to change their name to Truth About Isreal and start acknowledging the truth about Israeli apartheid, rather than using “anti-semitism” as an excuse.
Raj’s point about how terrible Israel is ignores all of the things that are wonderful about Israel. That is one of the problems with groups like SJP and BDS. A vast majority of Israelis would love to end the occupation of the West Bank. However, history in Gaza and elsewhere clearly demonstrates that a unilateral withdrawal leads to chaos and ultimately to control by radical Islamic groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad or even ISIS. Perhaps if Palestinian Jihadis were not tunneling into Israel, shooting rockets at civilians and murdering parents in front of their children, something more constructive could get accomplished?
I think that it’s very interesting that students at Vassar think that they have the right to define what national liberation means for Jews and what antisemitism means. That’s the entirety of the problem for me right there. You’re making decisions that affect others, but don’t affect you, and you’re doing it from a place of privilege.
► In referring to Jew settlers do you think we should just say settlers and leave the Jew out of it?