Commentary Magazine

Blood Libeling at Vassar

Last week, I reported on the appearance at Vassar College, co-sponsored by their Jewish Studies program, of Jasbir Puar, a Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at Rutgers University. As I noted then, Puar accuses Israel of deliberately maiming Palestinians, rather than killing them, out of some combination of cruelty and greed. At that time, I did not have a record of the speech, which took place last Wednesday. But members of Fairness to Israel, a group of Vassar alums and parents organized to counter the propagandizing that passes for academic discourse about Israel at Vassar, were present and recorded and transcribed Puar’s talk. Assuming the accuracy of the transcript, Puar did not disappoint.

Much of it was evidently incomprehensible. Here is a sample, a part of her description of her project “How Palestine Matters”: “How Palestine Matters situates the geopolitical that has been obliviated in the resurrection of the ecological and the geographical in emergent fields of new materialisms and anthropocene studies.”

Or: “I’m interested in forms of statecraft that are actively invested in the deliberate production of certain kinds of corporeal entities through the proliferation of prehensive technologies, especially when gendering and genreing is a function of precarity of permanent war and of occupation.”

Transcribing a recording can garble things, but this style is of a piece with Puar’s published writings.

In such a jargon-laden talk, one needs every now and again to jolt one’s audience awake. Complaining of a delay in returning the bodies of some of the Palestinians killed in the course of the recent uprisings which, Puar notes, “some are calling the third intifada,” she reports without comment that some “speculate that the bodies were mined for organs for scientific research.” Because when you merely report unfounded rumors of Israelis harvesting the organs of young people, it’s technically not blood libel, right? About this disgusting and irresponsible charge, the professors and activists said not a mumbling word. Did I mention that the Jewish Studies program co-sponsored Puar’s appearance?

Puar also renews a charge she has made elsewhere, that the Jews are hogging the privilege of being victims of genocidal violence. “The Jewish Israeli population cannot afford to hand over genocide to another population. They need the Palestinians alive in order to keep the kind of rationalization for their victimhood and their militarized economy.” This is a remarkable move. Evidently realizing that it is hard to sustain the charge of genocide against the Israelis in light of the increasing Palestinian population, Puar adds the failure to commit genocide to the list of Israel’s crimes.

Not surprisingly, Puar comes out in favor of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. But more surprisingly, she simply concedes what its proponents have usually been unwilling to concede, namely BDS is not a separate nonviolent movement but a nonviolent piece of a campaign that relies on violence. BDS is “a liberal platform and it’s the very least that we can do to sign on to BDS. But we need BDS as part of organized resistance and armed resistance in Palestine as well.”

At Vassar, whose mission is to “promote analytical, informed, and independent thinking and sound judgment” such claims, if the transcript is correct, went completely unchallenged.

Thanks to Legal Insurrection and Petra Marquardt-Bigman, whose excellent coverage of Puar’s lecture pointed me in the right direction.

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