VOICE is an acronym for Vassar Organizing Israel Conversations Effectively. This name is self-descriptive: We organize academic discourse about Israel/Palestine from a multitude of perspectives. The VOICE Executive Board unequivocally condemns the portion of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)’s statement which states that we “portray [ourselves] as promoting respectful dialogue on Israel/Palestine,” yet “this event will be no more than pro-Israel propaganda.” The reality is that we actually do create multifaceted dialogues. We brought Hen to campus to discuss his family’s experiences with ethnic cleansing and as Jewish refugees from Iraq and Tunisia, which is what he did. We first found out about Hen through JIMENA, the largest and most prominent advocacy organization for Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent.
VOICE does not condemn the entirety of SJP’s statement nor the entirety of their protest. SJP made valid criticisms of Hen’s Twitter presence and some of Hen’s previous statements about American activists. We wish that SJP and other protesters had decided to join us for Hen’s talk and asked him questions that challenged him on multiple issues. In the past, SJP has hosted very controversial speakers, and individual members of VOICE chose to attend those events peacefully, despite disagreements. Additionally, as a dialogue-based group, we would have appreciated input about concerns regarding Hen before the event, and we still welcome dialogue moving forward. We support students’ rights to protest and support that they came with flyers, posters and music. We condemn the chanting that occurred at the start of the event, as this did prevent Hen from continuing with his talk. Administration stepped outside to ask the protesters to quiet down, and they did not listen. This is an explicit violation of the College’s protest policy, through disturbing the speech and preventing him from speaking.
We appreciate President Bradley’s statement, which says, “Students today knowingly violated th[e]se protocols, which is unacceptable. We will follow our internal processes to address the situation.” We ask that not only the College, but also the VSA, take appropriate measures in ensuring that this type of action against discourse does not happen again. Additionally, we ask that the organizers of the protest be mandated to attend a workshop on anti-Semitism; there is precedent for this. In 2015, the VSA and members of SJP were required to attend a workshop on anti-Semitism, and white members of the VSA were required to attend a workshop on whiteness during the spring 2017 semester. VOICE believes that criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic; in fact, we actively criticize Israel in all of our meetings. That being said, there is a fine line between legitimate criticisms of Israeli policy and calling for the destruction of the state of Israel. If that line was not crossed, SJP certainly did teeter on the line.
84 percent of American Jews believe the statement “Israel has no right to exist” is anti-Semitic, according to the the American Jewish Committee, which is often considered the dean of American Jewish organizations. We understand that this is not exactly a consensus, but we ask that students who do not believe Israel should exist should, at the very minimum, think about this idea. Why do 84 percent of American Jews believe the statement “Israel has no right to exist,” is anti-Semitic? Not all of our members agree with this statement, but many of them do—that’s the nature of a dialogue group. That being said, we ask that everyone involved in the conversation about Israel/Palestine consider this idea.
VOICE also condemns any interactions that Hen or his friend may have had with protesters, including but not limited to filming or photographing students. We are deeply sorry for any pain or stress this may have caused to individuals involved in the protests, and we ask that you please reach out to a member of VOICE so that we can remedy this in any way. Additionally, the VOICE board was not contacted by Hen before his tweets about the event, which we believe do not characterize the talk appropriately.
Thank you to all of those who chose to join us, despite any pressure there may have been to not attend the talk. We appreciate you and are here to support you in any way that we can. VOICE will continue to hold meetings and events where we promote dialogue and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians alike. We have never existed as a pro-Israel group to counter SJP’s pro-Palestine activism. Since our conception, we have been a group that supports dialogue, and we will continue to do just that. We hope that members of SJP and other protesters will join us in said dialogue in the near future.
The VOICE Executive Board
[Addition: A citation was added to substantiate the statistic that 84 percent of American Jews believe the phrase “Israel has no right to exist” is anti-Semitic.]