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.