Response to SJP’s Recent Statement

[Disclaimer: The writer of this Letter to the Editor is a fellow for CAMERA (Committee For Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis).]

Dear Vassar Community,

Recently, on Dec. 2, The Miscellany News published a joint statement by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Vassar Student Association regarding SJP’s use of antisemitic artwork to advertise an event with Eli Valley, a cartoonist known for his libelous renderings of Jewish people and the State of Israel (Miscellany News, 2021).

The first paragraph of SJP’s statement sounds convincingly contrite. SJP noted, “We did not put in due consideration for how the art used might be perceived by some of the Jewish students on campus.” Despite their insistence, this situation is not a matter of perception. The fact is that incontestably antisemitic imagery was spread on campus by a registered student organization. Their statement reads more like an attempt at justification than a genuine apology.

After the first paragraph, SJP relinquishes that previous responsibility. Instead, they allege that they followed all campus rules and claim that an unspecified technical issue prevented them from learning that administration members would believe that Valley’s cartoon could cause harm. But SJP should have reached out to Jewish affinity groups on campus to ensure the cartoon was appropriate before posting the image on social media and other platforms.

SJP’s statement then veers off into a defense of Eli Valley. They argue that Mr. Valley cannot be antisemitic because he is Jewish; however the notion that Mr. Valley is antisemitic is assessed by his actions and words, not his religion or ethnicity. Some of his most egregious offenses include depicting Jews as the bloodthirsty undead, accusing Hillel, a Jewish organization, of cannibalism, comparing Israelis and Nazis and appropriating Nazi slogans into his comics. 

His ethnicity and religion do not excuse his virulent displays of bigotry toward Jews. The cartoon SJP posted was blatantly antisemitic and characteristic of Valley’s work. For those unfamiliar with the cartoon, it is a monstrous illustration of a character dubbed “Diaspora Boy” that parallels historic examples of antisemitic tropes. Furthermore, the widely accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities,” (IHRA, 2016). Valley’s cartoon, which depicts Jews in a grotesque way, falls under this working definition, as IHRA identifies classic antisemitic symbols and imagery as antisemitic. SJP’s cartoon was striking in its similarity to antisemitic caricatures from the 1930s. Looking at both side by side is chilling. The failure of the VSA and the administration to address this incident in a timely, sufficient and serious manner exemplifies a larger issue that plagues the social fabric of Vassar’s campus: the serious problem of antisemitism.

Complacency in the face of a heart-wrenching yet teachable history is dangerous amid the rising tide of antisemitism. On college and university campuses, Jewish students have been accosted, attacked and discriminated against. A report by the AMCHA Initiative lists 192 acts “involving the public shaming, vilifying or defaming of students or staff because of their perceived association with Israel” (AMCHA, 2020). This is a 60 percent increase in 2019 from 2018. Keeping this in mind, it becomes more apparent why the cartoon yielded negative reactions from many Jews.

The final sentence of the statement makes SJP’s lack of remorse apparent; SJP implied that they apologized only because they were compelled to do so. They write, “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.” SJP’s words are intentionally ambiguous, but the implication is clear: SJP appears to be playing the victim, implying that their critics’ concerns––most notably those of Vassar’s Jewish population––are prioritized over their own. That is far from the truth. 

As a Jewish Vassar student, I hesitated to express my views on antisemitism or Israel out of fear of being ostracized or attacked by other students or faculty. I love Vassar and appreciate its outspoken support for the exchange of ideas and critical thinking, but safe spaces and shelters for Jewish students to express their opinions or fears are lacking on this campus. SJP has vilified Israel and, by extension, Jewish students. The cartoon is another example of concerning programming from SJP, which has focused on bashing Israel rather than amplifying Palestinian voices. As an organization that purports to advocate for Palestinian rights in accordance with international law, SJP seems to devote an overwhelming emphasis and double standard towards Israel, the sole guaranteed national haven for Jews. Their recently released statement illustrates this point, as they detract from the antisemitic issue at hand and discuss Valley’s art and its qualms against Zionism instead. 

Given that SJP was involved in incendiary incidents in recent years, advertising this cartoon was insensitive and tone-deaf. A quick Google search reveals overwhelming pushback from the Jewish community in response to Valley’s art. In an opinion article published in the Stanford Daily, a Stanford law student explains how Valley’s art incites the potential for violence against Jews. He notes, “The images are indefensible in any context. They are not justifiable, and they are not explainable. The sin is not against sensitivity. It is one of smearing a Jewish minority under attack here and abroad in the name of a skewed vision of a foreign conflict,” (Stanford Daily, 2019). 

Additionally, the VSA should have been more vigilant in censuring SJP, and they should have encouraged SJP to release a more genuine apology. SJP claims it did not intend to exacerbate this situation and that they are sorry for any potential harm, but their letter is disingenuous. Their efforts to contradict the very essence of the apology within the same letter signifies a lack of contrition. As a community, it is imperative we speak up when confronting the virulent antisemitism that plagues the world today. Moving forward, the VSA, administration and student body need to condemn these damaging incidents to protect the Jewish campus community. 

32 Comments

  1. A very well-written, substantive, and thoughtful letter aptly decrying the unchecked pandemic of hate at Vassar! It is truly lamentable that not a single member of the faculty or administration had the modicum of courage to take on the academically unfashionable cause of fighting antisemitism, and obvious grotesque antisemitism in this instance. For Shame! Rami Kauderer is a Maccabi but she should not have to speak alone. Jew or non-Jew, now is the time to stand up. As Eli Wiesel said- “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

  2. Remi, I am so profoundly and incredibly proud of you for writing this response. For several years there have been a significant number of alums advancing the same arguments to the administration at Vassar with little success. Often the response has been that there have been no student complaints and that the students we speak with do not seem to be intimidated or threatened on campus by SJP, BDS or faculty who sign screeds against Israel. The other response has been (and I am paraphrasing) “look at all the things we are doing to support Jewish life on campus.” Your response demonstrates that antisemitism is alive and well on the Vassar campus and needs to be taken much more seriously by the administration and the VSA. Thank you for bravely standing up. I hope your bravery encourages more students to come forward. By coming forward, students have the power to be taken seriously, to improve the climate for Jewish students so that you are not ostracized or attacked for your beliefs or for being who you are.

  3. It’s horrible to hear that Vassar doesn’t provide the safe spaces for Jewish students to state their views. Bravo for standing up for yourself, knowing that you may well be ostracized or attacked. There are many who are afraid to do what you have done, but the more students stand up to antisemitism, the harder it will be for antisemites to intimidate or bully those who do.

  4. This is not SJP’s first offense. In 2014, it put up a vile Nazi propaganda poster and then made the same “we’re sorry but not really” supposed apology. SJP can hardly claim surprise that people are offended by anti-semitic, anti-Israel artwork. It’s no excuse that Eli Valley is Jewish. In my opinion, Mr. Valley is just the latest in a series of self-hating Jews used by SJP to provide cover for blatantly anti-Jewish expressions.
    I have refrained from donating to Vassar, a school I love, since I became aware in 2013 that anti-semitism has been allowed to flourish, on campus, unchecked by the administration for the most part. I refuse to allow my contributions to be used to finance groups or individuals who would just as soon see the State of Israel and Jews perish.
    Megan Tallmer
    Class of 1973

  5. Remi. Thank you for your “courage” in speaking out on behalf of all students, alumni as well as the administration and faculty who remain silent. I put courage in quotes because it should not take “courage” at a liberal institution to publically state facts and point out the hypocrisy of an illiberal body that continues to espouse and support racist attitudes. Unfortunately, Jewish students are criticized and vilified for defending the right for the state of Israel to exist. Zionism is not racism. Racism is racism. Sovern states and people are imperfect. Let’s stamp out racism and bigotry wherever it exists. I continue to be sadden by the decay of fairness, objectivity and compassion for all people and beliefs that used to be the hallmarks of Vassar

    Alex Cooper
    ’83

  6. By vilifying Israel, SJP is NOT vilifying Jewish students. In fact there are MANY Jewish students on SJP who recognize that Judaism and Israel are not the same. Israel’s actions are not a reflection of Jewish people and critique of Israel is not a critique of Jewish people. It is unfair to classify remarks about Israel as antisemitism, and if you do so you are failing to recognize the complexity of the issue.

    • So, I guess it’s just a coincidence that the only country you choose to “vilify” in a universe full of countries that oppress, torture, murder, censor their citizens, deny women and LGBTQs their rights and are ruled by dictators or autocrats, happens to be the only Jewish state in the world? When you “vilify” Israel, you are not just criticizing particular policies of the government with which you disagree, you are questioning it’s very right to exist as a Jewish state. And that, anonymous member of the Class of 2025, is the essence of antisemitism.

    • No one said Judaism and Israel are the same thing. Please drop that straw man argument. Nevertheless, please consider that there are all of about 14.5 to 15 million Jews in the world, less than there were before the Holocaust, and that about half of them live in Israel. So Israel is not some abstraction to Jews. We all have family there. When people talk about destroying the only Jewish state in the Middle East, a place where there are many Muslim states that expelled their Jewish populations (people take Muslim states for granted because there are many of them), they may not intend to be antisemitic and in some vacuum, perhaps they wouldn’t be, but for most of us Jews, they are talking about our families, and about the place where more of us live than anywhere else and where more Holocaust survivors live than anywhere else.

      SJP is not a position to mansplain antisemitism to others. It should be apologizing, rather than using its apology to bombard us with yet more verbosity pushing its agenda.

      You clearly know little about Eli Valley, because if you did, you would know that his critique is of the American Jewish community, not just Israel. Moreover, it is generally the case that comparing people to their worst historical oppressors is a form of racism. That is why we regard it as racism when people compare things to slavery, because it cheapens peoples’ historical experiences to do that.

    • Isn’t it interesting that SJP doesn’t care about justice in saudi arabia, Qatar, Russia or China. For example, if a woman gets married in saudi arabia, her spouse becomes her legal guardian, where she can’t own property, travel, get divorced or own a business.
      Wouldn’t you think that the morality police, the saints at SJP, would take issue with that injustice? If you’re a student for justice, why limit your efforts to the jewish state, unless there are other rationales like hatred?

      Qatar spends money on terrorism every day. What do they have against citizens of the world? Why doesn’t anyone care? (I’ll give you one reason: its fashionable to attack all things Jewish.)

      See, Student, when you single out Israel and avoid commenting on any other nation’s poor actions, you appear to discriminate. When you post such a vile graphic, you lead to people who agree with you separating from your ’cause.’

      Student, what benefit did SJP bring to a single palestinian by having their name on such vile art?

      Have you considered that by singling out Israel, SJP isn’t the humanity police they want you to think they are?

      If Judaism and Israel aren’t the same, why do most palestinian protests occur at temples? Why are jewish people surrounded in restaurants; asked what their faith is and not their nationality?
      Why does SJP use anti-jewish terms including that very graphic when trying to save palestinians?

      You obviously have no clue about how hate leads to attacks and the dire straits of the issue.
      You also belittle the experiences of a fellow human being made in God’s image.

      Don’t tell us what’s unfair. It’s unfair to allow the relatives of terrorists to receive pensions from international funds.
      It’s unfair for a jewish senior citizen or teen to have been beaten to death by saintly palestinians.
      It’s unfair that 300+ jewish citizens in the US were attacked last year.

      Student, do you really think that’s a coincidence? That attitidues and displays like SJP’s don’t encourage or validate this hatred?

      What’s unfair is you’re telling me I have first amendment rights to assemble and pray as I wish and have folks like SJP post signs questioning my morals, background and efforts. What’s unfair is Jewish students second guessing the wearing of a Jewish star or having their history questioned or mis-interpreted. Psst: Zionism isn’t any more hateful than an armenian social club or history association.

      That’s what’s unfair.

      Besides, SJP would be more effective discouraging terrorist organizations from firing 4,000 missiles if they wanted to save palestinians.

  7. What a ridiculous interpretation of Eli Valley’s work. His whole point with illustrating antisemitic tropes is that those tropes are often used by Zionist Jews against Diaspora Jews. He is saying “this is how myself and many others are treated/depicted.” To characterize Valley as an antisemite for this is to perpetuate antisemitism against Diaspora Jews by telling them they are not allowed to express how they feel Jewish society/culture treats them.

    • The definition of a cartoon is a simple drawing with a direct message.
      The message here was not a subtle intertwining of art and dark and light and brushstroke textures influenced by the philosophy of the ages and free expression.
      The message was hate: We got it.

  8. Valley’s aim with Diaspora Boy is to illustrate the ways in which he believes Zionism itself subjects Jews living in the Diaspora to antisemitism. That’s why he’s paired with his counterpart, Israel Man, an aryan caricature. It is possible to disagree with this assessment of the dynamics at play without accusing your interlocutors of antisemitism, as the author’s intention is not to stereotype Jews but rather to warn of what he believes to be the consequences of Zionist ideology. You and Valley agree regarding the horrors of antisemitism; I hope in the future you’ll grant your fellow students a more careful reading of their public comments and artworks before making a public accusation as grave as antisemitism.

    • And so to advertise a program making a point about the evils of blackface and lynching would you think it fine to flood the campus with poster images of blackface and lynching? Double standard abounds only in the context of Jews.

    • If the campus were covered in posters depicting vile images of blackface and lynchings in order to advertise a program—any program, even one critical of such behaviors—I dare say the reaction would be quite different. Serious double standard here, only applying to Jews.

  9. As others have noted, this is not the first time Vassar’s SJP has had to “apologize” for posting monstruous depictions of Jews. In 2014, SJP’s Tumblr site featured a Nazi propaganda poster, replete with a villainous giant wearing a Jewish star loincloth, holding up a money bag from which a bespectacled long-nosed man dangles. SJP and other who advocate to erase the world’s only Jewish state deny that their anti-Zionism is a form of antisemitism. Hmmm. Strange coincidence, I guess, that they repeatedly find Nazi graphics to be such an apt pictorial expression of their views.

  10. Thank you for calling out this obscene, anti-Semitic incident. Can you imagine the outcry if this cartoon depicted Black, GLBTQ+ or any other group. While I am disgusted by the activities of SJP and VSA, the fact that the Vassar administration and faculty have taken no steps to condemn and punish SJP and VSA is horrible. They are ultimately responsible for the virulent anti-Semitic atmosphere on campus. No more donations to Vassar until this is meaningfully addressed.

    Valerie Samuels
    Class of 1979

  11. A real debate on these issues is needed but SJP can only self righteously rant against Israel, name call and attack! Do they really think the solution is a 1 state under Hamas? Do they really not know the history, the documented history of this region? Israel needs to change and there have been abuses but where else can Palestinians speak their minds, publish their views and get elected and share power!?! Can anyone in Gaza advocate for peace? Can anyone in Gaza demand a free press ,freedom of religion, freedom of sexual orientation!?!?? Come on take off the narrow, hate filled blinders…there must be peace, there must be open discussion !

  12. The ongoing conflict in the Middle East has come to American College Campuses including Vassar. While there is justified criticism of Israel there is also criticism that crosses the line into hate and anti Semitism. Those of us who are alums who make hiring decisions should be as willing to call out and not hire students who make anti Semitic comments, deal in anti Semitic tropes and disparage Jewish students as we are to not hire students who make hateful comments against any other group. We should to the same with those who shout down speakers they disagree with. There is a hateful bullying aspect to the debate on college campuses that as a progressive I find appalling. It’s time to call it out and take peaceful, legal and firm action.

  13. So well put and an urgently needed corrective to the anti-semitism on campus that is silencing Jewish voices. This a brave and informed student. We need more like this to return to excellence at Vassar and not knee-jerk seemingly “correct”–ill-informed voices about Israel!

  14. Thank you for presenting this issue so clearly and with great insight and thought.
    It is very sad to look at the current images side by side with the 1930’s antisemitic propaganda.
    If I could make one suggestion, the world is wide open for you Remi.
    Walk where you want to walk, turn when you want to turn. Don’t think of it as trying to find small safe spaces. Instead, take your strength, ability and education and run as far as you can and do as much as you can in the future.
    Janet Cary Stiles, M.D.

  15. Student ’25:
    Firstly, opinions can’t really have merit unless they are attached to a name and a person that’s willing to put their money where their mouth is (I assume “Student ’25” isn’t your given name?). If one doesn’t stand up publicly for his or her opinions, he/she shouldn’t expect others to respect those opinions. Secondly, and sadly, amnesty and WAPO have peddled incomplete and stilted opinions as fact for far too long. HRW is non-credible. While we shouldn’t punish you for assuming that those vaunted sources are legitimate, I can only assure you that you ought to treat much of that “information” as suspect. I can’t say that enough about SJP which has an agenda decried as non-partisan and, in fact, is deeply against the right of Israel to exist (your explanation to the contrary). Your description of SJP’s mission is blatantly wrong. You’re paying real money to attend VC and garner the benefits of a pedagogy based in curiosity and critical thinking. I recommend you dig deeper. Look at other sources. Frankly, CAMERA is really quite good and AJC is a tremendous source of factual, unvarnished information on the region and history. Head to the website of the Miryam Institute and listen to first-person accounts (I especially appreciate hearing from Arabs and Druze serving in the IDF, which is entirely volitional). The narrative of Israel as the “oppressor” and “apartheid state” is a common trope peddled by those either uneducated on the facts or willfully ignorant. That it’s easy to buy into this narrative doesn’t make it accurate. Convenience and reductionism don’t equate to fact.

  16. That Israel, admittedly imperfect, must somehow achieve an unrealistic standard of purity or perfection or cease to exist, is in and of itself anti-Semitic. That young Americans embrace this sort of split is understandable human behavior, but That Vassar students can embrace the overly simplistic split of a good vs. bad nation is truly shocking. Whither critical thinking, dialogue, compassion, humility? What happened to my beloved College?

  17. Why the disclaimer at the top of the article noting the author is a Camera fellow? The author is a Vassar Freshman. Does the Misc put a similar affiliation disclaimer on opinion pieces by other students? If so, I have not seen it.

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