Discourse on Israel/Palestine needed, but SJP doesn’t help

Plainly put, the Israeli government is abusing the Palestinian people. Although the Global Conflict Tracker refers to the phenomenon as a “conflict,” it is not a conflict. A conflict implies two sides of equally matched combatants. When the U.N. certifies that the Israeli military killed 183 demonstrators and wounded over 6,000 from the safety of their own territory, there is no conflict (Council on Foreign Relations, “Global Conflict Tracker: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” 11.18.2019). This is abuse. I make clear that I understand this so as not to be hastily labeled a Zionist simply because I will decry anti-Semitism and Vassar SJP’s toxic presence on campus in this article.

While Palestinians are busy trying to survive continuous slaughter, starvation and attack from the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), students in the United States actively advocate for the oppressed people. However, the Vassar chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has bastardized their alleged goal, and its members take advantage of their privileged position on campus to spread negative energy extraneous to the goal of liberation. That is, rather than engage in dialogue with willing groups such as Vassar Organizing Israel Conversations Effectively (VOICE), SJP expends effort disrupting lectures on ethnic minority groups.

A brief overview: Student group VOICE invited pro-Israel activist Hen Mazzig to campus to give a talk called “The Indigenous Jews of the Middle East: Forgotten Refugees.” Members of SJP protested the event with signs and chants, as I’m sure will be reported on in great detail by the time of this writing’s publication. Masturbatory student activism aside, I raise two issues with SJP’s actions: their choice of event to protest, and the naive statement the org subsequently released. In addition, the flagrant foul—besides the possible anti-Semitism—is the deliberate interruption of an invited speaker.

In a separate, preemptive statement posted on Nov. 14 prior to Mazzig’s talk, Vassar SJP wrote on its Facebook page, “While the stories of Mizrahi Jews and their struggle both outside and within Israel deserve attention, this event will be little more than pro-Israel propaganda.” The automatic assumption that a Jew’s presentation is going to be propaganda—even while forecasted as pertaining to an ethnic group of refugees’ experiences—is anti-Semitic, full stop. Even if the speaker was an officer in the IDF, this still assumes that a Jew will preach an inherent project of protecting Israel, rather than actually delivering upon the announced topic of his presentation. This continues Vassar SJP’s history of spreading an anti-Jewish message masquerading as activism. One needn’t look too far down a Google search to be reminded of the time when Vassar’s own SJP shared a Nazi propaganda poster equating Jews with the Ku Klux Klan and the U.S. military complex (Times of Israel, “Vassar’s SJP sort of apologizes for anti-Israel, Nazi cartoon,” 05.16.2014).

Vassar has a history of, shall we say, overzealous anti-Israel activism. However, SJP’s and President Bradley’s responses signal that the game of cat-and-mouse between anti-Zionists and Zionists on campus is about to adopt some new rules. In a second Facebook statement released on Nov. 15 following the protesting of Mazzig’s talk, the SJP doubled down on the use of the chant “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” positively associating the phrase with the murderous Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) (The New York Times, “Palestinian Groups Are Found Liable at Manhattan Terror Trial,” 02.23.2015). More importantly, the org’s statement mentioned Hamas—a group that has been designated as a terrorist organization by both the US and EU and is arguably most famous for conducting a suicide-bombing of a Passover Seder—without decrying it and even obliquely acknowledged their shared political sentiment (The Guardian, “EU court upholds Hamas terror listing,” 07.26.2017). To accept a terrorist group as an ideological ally is unacceptable. Congratulations, SJP—if you’re not Nazi sympathizers, you’re the closest thing.

While SJP has persisted somewhat unscathed through past instances of aggression, last week’s escapades indicate that the jig is up. Namely, it’s no longer on the table for student groups to disrupt invited speakers. Vassar Insider’s Andrew Solender ’20 interviewed an anonymous SJP member who argued that the protestors didn’t disrupt anything at all: “We did ‘disrupt’ by being loud, but we never entered the lecture space…and we didn’t keep anybody from going in and didn’t even have contact with the people who went in” (Vassar Insider, “SJP disruption reignites bitter campus debate over Israel,” 11.18.2019). This logic is reminiscent of one sibling waving their finger an inch from their other sibling, declaring “I’m not touching you!” Just because you were not in the room does not mean you didn’t form a threatening presence to those in that space. You disrupted. Moreover, President Bradley’s Monday statement that “Last week’s event…was unacceptable” reaffirms that your disruptive buffoonery will not be tolerated on campus (Office of the President, “Statement on Campus Speaker,” 11.18.2019).

President Bradley’s response signals that ideological comfort and safety are going to take precedent over hate speech at Vassar. That is, evidently a public talk on a displaced ethnic minority will not be transgressed, and blatant anti-Semitism is no longer fair game. Conservatives at Vassar can find their fantasies of the Petersonian campus dashed, now that hateful speech is no longer permitted to persevere in the name of “the great academic tradition of seeking the truth” (Vassar Political Review, “It’s time to stop prioritizing comfort when it comes to campus free speech,” 10.09.2019). As pertaining to the ideological conflict between Zionists and anti-Zionists on campus (as well as Jews repeatedly victimized by anti-Semitic aggression), the conflict is about to get more worrisome, though not without administrative intervention.

This development may, in fact, mean that anti-Zionists are forced to do the uncomfortable work of weighing their words and engaging in activism that carries more weight than fifteen-minute hit-and-run protests on invited speakers. It may mean transcending beyond manifesto-esque Facebook posts. SJP, it is time to respectfully take a seat at the table of public discourse on campus. You’ve got no other choice.

9 Comments

  1. @Gregory – “You’ve got no other choice”

    The last time i checked Vassar is still in America under the Constitution and principles of this great nation. I thank this nation for the free speech and the other protections it grants to enable that free speech. The founders never intended free speech to be a zone of comfort, instead the exact opposite.

    If you wish to associate “From the River to …” as an antisemitic, you’re wholly entitled to that and any other theory you believe in. I’m entitled to believe that the object outside my window at night is a round cheesecake floating in the sky. Alas Mr Gregory, Vassar like many other institutions sucks at the teat of the Federal Govt for funds directly or indirectly. That means yours and/or perhaps Ms Bradley’s vision of “idealogical comfort” is a bunch of censorship nonsense that flies directly in face of First Amendment protections. Need I remind you that the chant has never been found to be hate speech or antisemitic by any judicial in this land

    The supposed “bastardization” of ideas in the IP conflict didn’t start with nor is limited to the SJP. You seemed to have missed the entire “antisemitism” victim hood directed at faculty too, the role of alumnae in making threats, the role of secretive organizations like Canary who dox Palestinian supporters. You seemed to have missed the entire tarring and feathering of anyone and everyone who questioned Israeli policy. You seemed to have missed a lot.

    If you wish for an American institution with the passivity of a Victorian evening Party you have choices like the totally private Bob Jones University or Liberty University where they force you listen to Donald Trump and his buffoonery laden speeches. For sure there will be no masturbatory student activism in public at least, however knowing some of their histories you may be surprised what goes on in private. The rest of us chose the cacophony of a free America and don’t consider a now revealed six minute chant OUTSIDE a hall as some kind of major disruption. What next Mr Gregory, shall we ban a Palestinian Kaffiyeh or a holy kippah cap cause one side calls it an oppressive symbol. For short you’d like to institute a “victims” veto at Vassar.

    If your standard is standing outside a room and holding a placard is threatening then God save us.

    • I completely agree with Raj. Sure, SJP is a bunch of self-righteous virtue signalers who aren’t actually helping anyone; and sure, what they did and said clearly was anti-Semitic. But Hate Speech is not a legal category of speech. I’m Jewish, I go to Vassar, I don’t support SJP, but they have the right to say and do whatever they want. I don’t feel threatened by them, because they are not taking up arms against me. They didn’t stop Mazzig from speaking. Everyone got their freedom of speech. Now Vassar needs to let everyone keep it.

      If Vassar really begins enforcing speech codes, it just shows how intellectually corrupt the college has become. Words can’t hurt you, especially with more words to fight it.

      Gregory, Bradley, Vassar, listen to this. I am not a victim. Don’t make me one.

      • @Adam you say SJP “have the right to say and do whatever they want”.

        No, they don’t. Nobody has the right to DO whatever they want in a civil society without consequences.

        There are rules at Vassar about disrupting invited speakers. You willfully break those rules, you get the proscribed punishment. The disciplinary panel will assess the evidence and make a determination.

        Take a look at the violence at York University in Canada yesterday. It is a short step from SJP’s limited disruption of Mr. Mazzig’s talk to that experienced at York University (and on many other campuses). You may not be threatened by SJP Vassar, but others are.

        President Bradley is taking the mature and appropriate steps necessary to keep Vassar a civil and safe place for all of its students. I applaud her efforts.

        • @Anon, who is being threatened by SJP’s actions? Who has been harmed? All they have shown is their lack of intellectual integrity. That is the only victim of this. Mazzig, as you admit, gave his lecture.

          Don’t give me some slippery slope arguments. You cannot prove that if SJP gets away with this without disciplinary action that students will from now on no-platform speakers they don’t like. Even William Jacobson was able to speak at Vassar.

          Given the bad image that this has given SJP, they now have an incentive to engage in dialogue in order to improve it. And that could even be the punishment they receive–an obligation to engage–instead of disciplinary action.

          All disciplinary action does is tell me, as a Jew, that I am a victim of SJP’s actions. I am not a victim, nor is any other Jew on campus. Just because some Jews feel threatened by SJP, I’m sorry to say this, but they’re being irrational. Anti-Semitism is bad, but calling it out is very different than preventing it. SJP has the obligation to condemn and separate itself from anti-Semitism whenever it can, but disciplinary action is not going to make the Louis Farrakhan-ites at Vassar go away. It is not going to make SJP reflect more on the consequences of their actions before doing them, and it is not going to improve their willingness to engage. Rather, it is going to make them less willing to separate themselves from anti-Semites, because it tells them that they are martyrs, that they are in the right.

          Furthermore, selectively using Vassar’s rules about protesting to discipline a group of students sets a precedent that says that Hate Speech exists. Hate Speech does not exist. I don’t care if Vassar says it does, because the enforcement of such rules is a blatant violation of the law. Hate Speech is a category of speech created by those with power in order to prevent the speech of those who threaten their power. I don’t trust those with the power to have my best interests as a Jew in mind. Vassar needs to enforce engagement, not selective speech codes.

          • @Adam

            First you say “who is being threatened by SJP’s actions? Who has been harmed?” and later “some Jews are threatened by this”. I am happy that you are strong enough not to let antisemitic rhetoric bother you. When I was at Vassar I would have felt similarly and confronted it directly at my peril. However, having lived through the 2014-2016 debacle, and having observed the escalating consequences of an emboldened SJP at other colleges, it is clear that the slippery slope argument in this case is real.

            I agree with you that Vassar should not selectively enforce its rules. That was the point of my prior post. The rules are clear and need to be enforced consistently according to their terms.

            As to your question of “who is harmed?”: as a hiring manager at a company that regularly receives resumes from Vassar students, I can assure you that the press around Vassar SJP harms the school’s reputation and the value of your degree. It also discourages qualified Jewish students (and their parents) from choosing Vassar thereby reducing diversity of ideas on campus. Finally, as an alumnus who has donated significantly to the college, my continued donations are absolutely contingent on the administration’s appropriate handling of this type of issue.

            Do not fool yourself into thinking that because you are strong in your identity that there is no harm here.

  2. If you continue to defend the Israeli apartheid state despite its numerous war crimes and violation of international law, it really doesn’t feel appropriate to also decry SJP for their association with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which is internationally recognized as the “legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” Unless you’re willing to attach words like “murderous” to the IDF and the Israeli government, your description of the PLO is openly biased, if not racist.

    How can you take issue with SJP protesting a speaker for their explicit ties to the IDF while simultaneously arguing that SJP passing references to Hamas are disqualifying? Your arguments are steeped in respectability politics and rife with hypocrisy. Go take a history class.

    • @Liam I’m not entirely sure you read the article correctly, as the author very much states opposition to the Israeli government and its war crimes. He explicitly describes the IDF’s actions as a “slaughter.” Additionally, critiquing SJP’s activities is not a tacit approval of VOICE’s decision to bring Hen Mazzig to campus as a speaker. Further, your argument here turns on a whataboutism and posits a black and white, binary reality that does not exist. These rhetorical moves are also known as logical fallacies. Go take a logical reasoning class. And maybe a reading course while you’re at it.

      • @Anon – Not sure you read @Liams response. He’s pointing to the illogic of branding SJP due to supposed Hamas references while not holding the speaker (not the IDF) to the same standard. Of course the @Gregory presents a tacit approval of Mr Hen as a speaker. Did you read the article.

        Whats wrong with the whataboutism. Oh wait, it holds the Israelis to the same standard that the pompous priests of piety hold everyone else on this board.

  3. I take issue with the assertion that a conflict must be between “two sides of equally matched combatants.” The US Civil War was between unequal combatants. It’s rare that combatants are equally matched when it comes to international conflict.

    You assert that Israel is abusing the Palestinian people. I would call it fighting against a violent and dangerous enemy. But whatever you call it, do the Palestinians want it to stop? If so, what are they willing to compromise in order for it to stop so that they could live in peace and prosperity? Are they willing to give up their genocidal desire to destroy Israel and kill all the Jews? That would be a good start.

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