Posters targeted identity groups

On Oct. 18, politically charged posters slan­dering members of the Vassar community were found plastered throughout campus. Mere minutes after their discovery, the David Horow­itz Freedom Center claimed responsibility in an unsolicited statement emailed to The Miscellany News and various administrative offices. “Vassar College is the latest of several campuses targeted by the Freedom Center’s poster campaign,” read one particularly concerning excerpt, revealing that the effort was a part of a national movement to denounce sympathizers of the pro-Palestin­ian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement (BDS). Other targeted institutions ranged from the University of Chicago to San Francisco State University—all deemed “schools supporting ter­rorists” in a top-10 list published to the center’s website.

David Horowitz founded his namesake orga­nization in 1988. Throughout his time in the pub­lic eye, the pundit has championed conservative causes, primarily those concerning the Israe­li-Palestinian conflict. He frequently speaks out against BDS advocates, whose core goals include ending Israeli occupation of disputed territories and protecting the civil rights of all Palestin­ians. During a polarizing talk at San Diego State University, Horowitz accused the 11-year-old grassroots campaign of being composed of ill-in­formed activists. “They support a movement to strangle Israel that was inspired by terrorist or­ganizations…and is funded by a Hamas network,” he declared in front of students.

Horowitz’s extremist tendencies have led the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to classify him as the leader of one of the 892 hate groups in its burgeoning “hatewatch” database, deeming his brainchild anti-Muslim. In an online dossier created by the SPLC cataloguing his problem­atic actions, Horowitz was quoted saying, “The problem is when you have a religion which preaches war and violence and hate, rationality is never gonna take over.” Aside from speaking out against Islam, Horowitz is a fierce critic of President Obama, whom he accused of being rac­ist in a Twitter post, and Black Lives Matter, an organization he has publicly dubbed a hate group (Southern Poverty Law Center, “David Horow­itz”).

In an effort to influence millennials, who, ac­cording to a Pew Research poll conducted in May, support Palestine in greater numbers than in 2006, the Maccabee Task Force was born. Sup­ported by Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the Horowitz Center and other influen­tial donors, the group focuses on garnering the support of college students. In the past, they’ve hosted peace-tents on campuses to challenge pro-Palestinian events as well as cultural events and subsidized educational trips to the Jewish State. Horowitz, inspired by Maccabee’s execu­tive director David Brog, created the poster cam­paign entitled “Stop the Jew Hatred.” “What the Maccabees are doing is an important service not just to Jews but to all Americans,” he said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “It’s the one hope we have. I wish there were more” (Los Angeles Times, “How a casino tycoon is trying to combat an exploding pro-Palestinian movement on campuses,” 08.21.2016).

Last August, foreshadowing what would even­tually befall Vassar, Horowitz Center members distributed posters throughout UCLA accus­ing its student chapter of BDS of “Jew hatred” (Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “Anti-BDS group distances itself from conservative foundation’s poster campaign,” 08.23.2016).

The extreme tactics of the campaign have made it a point of contention. Moderate Jewish student groups J Street U and Jewish Voice for Peace have both publicly condemned the more radical efforts of Horowitz and his cohorts. Jerry Kang, the Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at University of California Los An­geles, called the poster campaigns of Horowitz and his cohorts “thuggish intimidation,” accusing the effort of utilizing “guilt by association, of us­ing blacklists, of ethnic slander and sensational­ized images engineered to trigger racially tinged fear.”

Members of the Vassar community also ex­pressed displeasure. “Those in our community who were singled out in these postings deserve our unconditional support,” wrote Vassar Interim President Jon Chenette in a campus-wide email a day after the posters had been taken down and destroyed. Dovetailing off of Chenette’s senti­ments was the creation of an all-campus dialogue organized by Associate Dean of Campus Life and Diversity Ed Pittman, which will take place in two separate sessions, the first on Oct. 25 and the sec­ond on Nov. 1. Pittman explained how his office supports students, saying, “Our best approach in these situations is to stand ready to support those who are impacted. It’s such a politically fueled is­sue that words and sometimes images are used to hurt, threaten and intimidate others because of their views. In Campus Life and Diversity, our goal is to support students and to offer counter opportunities for discourse.”

This is not the first time Vassar has been tar­geted by organizations such as the Horowitz Center. Instigated by the proposition and even­tual passage of the BDS resolution last spring, the Canary Foundation, an extremist website that regularly defames critics of the Israeli govern­ment, began harassing the Vassar student chapter of BDS. Members were surprised to discover that their private information had been uploaded to a virtual blacklist–the same blacklists that orches­trators of the Oct. 8 poster campaign used to pick out professors. In a phone interview, one victim, a recent alum who chose to remain anonymous, expressed his frustration with the lack of sup­port he and other victims received from Vassar’s administration in the wake of the cyber attack. After the radicalist group had publicized their so­cial media accounts, members found themselves overwhelmed with death threats.

“One of my friends was told to drown herself with bleach,” he said, referring to misogynistic messages female members were forced to en­dure. Rape threats became commonplace, of­ten punctuated with racist and sexist epithets. Fearing the safety of himself and the group, the alum, then a student contending with a brim­ming course load and the looming prospect of post grad life, reported the worst harassers to one of Vassar’s Title IX coordinators. He called the Town of Poughkeepsie Police Department at the behest of a lawyer for the college. Days passed. The police said there was nothing they could do. No arrests were made. No administrators sent emails directly denouncing the actions of Ca­nary. “The administration is willing to defend its faculty, which is great,” said the alum. “But when it comes down to it, it won’t do the same for its students.”

Thinking about the infamous VSA meeting on the resolution, during which BDS members were reported to have been laughing and showing dis­respect to those with whom they disagreed, by one attendee in an interview, he paused. “The people who were laughing were people of color,” he mused, “people who come from marginalized identities who regularly experience occupation and oppression in their everyday lives…laughter became a sign of resignation of an absurd situ­ation of people saying Palestinians were being treated fairly.”

After learning of the events of Oct. 8, an anon­ymous Jewish Vassar student said in an online interview, “I don’t support the Horowitz Cen­ter at all. They’re too right-leaning.” The senior went on to explain his desire for more peaceful discourse, all the while detailing his support for a two-state solution and his displeasure with Is­raeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. When asked about his stance on the Vassar’s chapter of BDS, he took a brief moment to think. A pregnant moment passed by. “I don’t think it’s the answer considering that its members have bullied peo­ple and excused fashionable antisemitism among their ranks,” he went on. “They deny the exis­tence of a Jewish culture, peoplehood and eth­nicity too, which some people get irked by. And often they don’t actually know that much about Israel at all when you talk to them.”

One Comment

  1. As an addendum to the article above, we who teach in Vassar’s Jewish Studies program would like to offer a statement we posted on our Facebook page in response to the posters:

    Over our college’s October break, the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a hate group as defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center, vandalized the Vassar campus with lurid and offensive posters. They did so as part of their campaign putatively against what they call “Jew Hatred on Campus.” These posters were riddled with racist imagery, listed faculty and students by name, and in some cases included artistic renditions of members of our community in a style reminiscent of “wanted” posters. Despite presenting absolutely no evidence, these posters accused our colleagues, students, and friends of serving as agents of terrorism. In short, the campaign traffics in the very hatred it claims to protest. Similar posters have been put up at other colleges and universities, targeting members of these communities. Despite our various opinions, all of us in Vassar College’s Jewish Studies Program are united in condemning all efforts to intimidate, harass, and silence our professors and students who speak out on issues of concern to them. Likewise, we stand in support of every person they name. We believe David Horowitz’s campaign comes from the same dark place as the lists of doctors posted by anti-abortion hate groups, and the “targeting” of politicians on Sarah Palin’s website. They are repugnant and dangerous and have no place in a diverse and open society.

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