Commentary Magazine


Topic: Vassar

More on SJP at Vassar College

Last week, I wrote about the Vassar chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, which quoted an anti-Semitic author, writing for an anti-Semitic publication, to this effect: “Of course, mainstream media hasbarats have been around for decades, as have ‘hasbaratchiks,’ fifth-columns in foreign governments who subvert national policies to serve Israel.” I learned about the episode from Rebecca Lesses of Mystical Politics, whose follow-up posts are also worth reading. David Schraub and Petra Marquardt Bigman have also commented.

The Vassar SJP has now issued an apology of sorts: “we did not vet the original posters of some of the content we reblogged close enough this past week, and only focused on the content.” Last week, they dismissed criticisms this way: “if the idea is alright, who cares where they [sic] come from?” But they now understand that the “sources, no matter the content, can be triggering to many in our audience.”

The Vassar SJP is therefore counting on an assumption that David Schraub’s post questioned in its very title, that one is “Innocent Until Proven Nazi.” As Schraub puts it: “Suppose Vassar SJP had posted the exact same material, only it wasn’t attributable to an avowedly white nationalist website? Would the reaction have been the same? For some of us, sure: we know anti-Semitism when we see it. But for others, it seems that the Nazi link is a crutch — without it they find it very difficult to even raise the prospect of anti-Semitism.”

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Last week, I wrote about the Vassar chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, which quoted an anti-Semitic author, writing for an anti-Semitic publication, to this effect: “Of course, mainstream media hasbarats have been around for decades, as have ‘hasbaratchiks,’ fifth-columns in foreign governments who subvert national policies to serve Israel.” I learned about the episode from Rebecca Lesses of Mystical Politics, whose follow-up posts are also worth reading. David Schraub and Petra Marquardt Bigman have also commented.

The Vassar SJP has now issued an apology of sorts: “we did not vet the original posters of some of the content we reblogged close enough this past week, and only focused on the content.” Last week, they dismissed criticisms this way: “if the idea is alright, who cares where they [sic] come from?” But they now understand that the “sources, no matter the content, can be triggering to many in our audience.”

The Vassar SJP is therefore counting on an assumption that David Schraub’s post questioned in its very title, that one is “Innocent Until Proven Nazi.” As Schraub puts it: “Suppose Vassar SJP had posted the exact same material, only it wasn’t attributable to an avowedly white nationalist website? Would the reaction have been the same? For some of us, sure: we know anti-Semitism when we see it. But for others, it seems that the Nazi link is a crutch — without it they find it very difficult to even raise the prospect of anti-Semitism.”

The Vassar SJP has backed off not even a little from the claim that the “idea is alright,” where the “idea” is that Israel’s defenders, whether on the right or the left (neither Lesses nor Schraub is on the right and the former has explicitly distanced herself from COMMENTARY) are or are deliberately in league with fifth columnists, or traitors. Indeed, the SJP, which has asserted that its apology came late “due to finals week” found time, in what it called “Communique #1” to accuse its critics of being paid agents of the Zionist conspiracy. They “know that the manufactured misrepresentation of our mission does not occur in a vacuum” and are  “aware of the watchdog organizations who pay alums and students to generate slanderous claims against pro-palestinian activists.” They “find it an appalling irony to be accused of supporting white supremacy by those who support the racist Israeli regime,” whose “agenda is comprised of policies that work towards exterminating Palestinians and African migrants.”

The apology was followed up, remarkably, by a new posting, since taken down, of a Nazi propaganda poster depicting, among other things, a big-nosed man clutching a money bag. When called on this latest misstep by Lesses, SJP Vassar saw no problem at all: “it’s from a blog showcasing various types of historical propaganda.” In other words, just as Schraub suggested, they think that they can be accused of spreading anti-Semitism only if they lift material directly from a known anti-Semitic website. The idea—here that greedy Jews are part of a monstrous America—is, once again, “alright.”

The attitude of the Vassar SJP is oddly blithe, as if they do not know they are playing with fire. But they are. Consider another post about the African-American activist Stokely Carmichael, taken from a site called Disciples of Malcolm. Carmichael is quoted to the effect that Martin Luther King was “confused” when he associated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. But King, Carmichael adds, was depending on progressive Jewish support, or the support of “Zionists who did not say they were Zionists.”

Carmichael was also wont to say “the only good Zionist is a dead Zionist.”

If SJP has a faculty adviser, this may be what we in the education biz call a “teaching moment.”

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What Is Going on at Vassar College?

Vassar has recently distinguished itself in at least two ways. First, it is one of a tiny group of colleges whose faculty supported the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israel in substantial numbers. Thirty-nine faculty members signed a letter that sang the praises of the boycott-Israel movement. Second, as I have written here before, Vassar was the venue for an open forum at which two professors were vilified for leading a trip to Israel and at which Jewish students who spoke up were heckled. William Jacobson has provided extensive coverage of the situation at Vassar and was there to speak earlier this week.

In a blog entry describing reactions to Jacobson’s speech, Jewish studies professor Rebecca Lesses draws attention to a series of posts by Vassar’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, the most shocking of which includes this language: “Of course, mainstream media hasbarats have been around for decades, as have ‘hasbaratchiks,’ fifth-columns in foreign governments who subvert national policies to serve Israel.” The author of the linked article, Greg Felton, also wrote a book entitled The Host and the Parasite: How Israel’s Fifth Column Consumed America. Lesses observes that the Occidental Quarterly, on which the SJP draws, is an anti-Semitic magazine. While I hesitate to take the word of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which she cites, for it, a look through the Occidental Quarterly, which includes an article about libertarianism as a creed advanced by Jewish intellectuals to advance Jewish “group evolutionary interests,” tends to support the charge.

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Vassar has recently distinguished itself in at least two ways. First, it is one of a tiny group of colleges whose faculty supported the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israel in substantial numbers. Thirty-nine faculty members signed a letter that sang the praises of the boycott-Israel movement. Second, as I have written here before, Vassar was the venue for an open forum at which two professors were vilified for leading a trip to Israel and at which Jewish students who spoke up were heckled. William Jacobson has provided extensive coverage of the situation at Vassar and was there to speak earlier this week.

In a blog entry describing reactions to Jacobson’s speech, Jewish studies professor Rebecca Lesses draws attention to a series of posts by Vassar’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, the most shocking of which includes this language: “Of course, mainstream media hasbarats have been around for decades, as have ‘hasbaratchiks,’ fifth-columns in foreign governments who subvert national policies to serve Israel.” The author of the linked article, Greg Felton, also wrote a book entitled The Host and the Parasite: How Israel’s Fifth Column Consumed America. Lesses observes that the Occidental Quarterly, on which the SJP draws, is an anti-Semitic magazine. While I hesitate to take the word of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which she cites, for it, a look through the Occidental Quarterly, which includes an article about libertarianism as a creed advanced by Jewish intellectuals to advance Jewish “group evolutionary interests,” tends to support the charge.

When the source of the passage they had quoted was brought to SJP’s attention on their Facebook page, they were completely unrepentant: “We at Vassar are all about the academic freedoms. If the idea is alright, who cares where they come from?”

Of course it is disappointing that the Vassar SJP believes or pretends to believe that academic freedom is a defense of their decision to cite with favor an anti-Semitic crackpot writing for an anti-Semitic publication. More shocking is their belief that “the idea is alright.” Even an undergraduate can be expected to know that when you accuse a group of being part of a “fifth column,” you are accusing them of treason and suggesting that they deserve the fate of traitors.

The SJP consists of students, and perhaps a national publication is not the place to discuss their foolishness. But the adults in the room, including the 39 who signed the pro-BDS letter, and the administrators who stood by while Jewish students were heckled at Vassar, ought to be held to account for inattention to to a campus climate in which students feel free to post and defend anti-Jewish tropes.

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