“After receiving complaints from students about a recent poster that was published on Wednesday, November 3, 2021, as an advertisement for a presentation by the incoming speaker Eli Valley, the VSA and SJP reached an agreement to release this statement providing context into the events which transpired. In addition to this statement, the Senate will be passing legislation to amend and clarify the Administration’s process on the advertising for speaker events that may be controversial. We hope that these measures contribute to constructive campus dialogue around anti-Semitism and help prevent harm in the future.”
— Operations Committee, Vassar Student Association
In light of recent events, we, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), would like to apologize for the fliers that were put up around campus and shared on social media, advertising our event Drawing the Dystopia: On Non-Zionist Jewish Art and Politics, with Eli Valley. We did not put in due consideration for how the art used might be perceived by some of the Jewish students on campus. We want to recognize that we caused members of our community to feel offended and unsafe, and for that, we take full responsibility.
In this article, we hope to clarify our decision to use this image and provide some context for what the comic is about. We also hope that we can continue to have meaningful conversations on campus about anti-Semitism and anti or non-Zionist Jewish expression.
Although we recognize and apologize for the impact that the poster had on some Jewish students on campus, we maintain that it is absurd to call Eli Valley’s art, or Eli Valley himself, antisemitic. Mr. Valley is a Jewish American artist who has worked for well over a decade creating comic art exploring the most pressing issues facing the Jewish community today — from the Israel-Diaspora relationship to interdenominational tensions to the moral obligation to fight white supremacy and Neo-Nazism. Published in a wide range of Jewish and secular publications, his art engages deeply with Jewish texts, history, culture, and experience. To call his art antisemitic denudes the term of its meaning.
We also acknowledge that without sufficient context, grotesque and monstrous depictions can be misinterpreted and cause harm. So, to remedy this, we’d like to use this space to give some context. The image used comes from the cover of Eli’s book Diaspora Boy: Comics on Crisis in America and Israel, and is a depiction of the titular character “Diaspora Boy” and this character exists in relation to another, “Israel Man”. Israel Man is stylized similarly to Superman and exists to represent the way that Zionism, as a discrete cultural and political ideology, not only located in history, but into the present day, views itself in relation to the Diaspora, as represented by Diaspora Boy. Israel Man represents the ideal Jewish man in the imagination of the vast majority of the founders of Zionism: a Jewish man who is strong, domineering, and antithetical to antisemitic Jewish tropes. By contrast, Diaspora Boy represents the way that Zionist founders spoke and thought about Jews in the diaspora: sickly, weak, and monstrous, the very stereotypes that they were trying to distance themselves from.
Some, who may argue that this is not what Zionism is about or simply be unaware of Zionism’s cultural and political history, may be uncomfortable with this characterization of Zionist ideology, but we must all acknowledge what Zionism actually is in practice; the ongoing colonization of the land and people of Palestine and the current system of Apartheid, as defined by Human Rights Watch and the UN.
For those interested in learning more about the ideological underpinnings of Zionism, Eli’s book discusses them at great length, or for those interested in understanding what exactly is the Apartheid system being carried out, the Human Rights Watch report released in April goes into great detail.
We’d also like to make it clear that SJP attempted to follow all campus rules regarding “potentially controversial speakers” and had our poster approved by multiple administrators. There was a breakdown in communication between SJP and members of administration such that the message that this poster could be potentially harmful was never communicated to us in a meaningful way, and that if it had been, these images never would have been posted. Relevant administrators were under the impression that it would be communicated to SJP that this poster was potentially harmful, but this message never reached us, so we assumed that there were no problems leading up to the event. We specifically reached out to the Director of Jewish Student Life, but due to a technical oversight on our end, the message was not received.
We take accountability and apologize for the ways we have hurt people. However, we also hope that people take time to engage with the ideas surrounding the image that were further discussed at the event, and critically examine the ways that certain speech and people are surveilled, censored, and punished, while others are empowered and prioritized.
—Students for Justice in Palestine