Pushed by alumni claiming anti-Semitism, Vassar officials oppose BDS and promote ‘Israel-positive’ programs

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The battle over Israeli policies is heating up on campuses around the country, and one focus is Vassar, the liberal arts college in the Hudson Valley, New York.

Three weeks ago the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by two vocal opponents of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, Marc G. Yudof and Ken Waltzer, characterizing Vassar  as a hotbed of anti-Semitism.

Anti-Israel sentiment mixed with age-old anti-Semitism has reached a fever pitch at Vassar College. It is time that faculty and administrators take a stand against this toxic brew on behalf of academic values.

The article mentioned several anti-Israel incidents on campus, including a t-shirt reportedly sold at an off-campus Students for Justice in Palestine event featuring hijacker Leila Khaled and a recent guest lecture at which Rutgers gender scholar Jasbir Puar described the “biopolitical” aspects of the Israeli occupation, notably the stunting of children’s growth in Gaza and charges of organ-harvesting from Palestinians killed by Israeli forces.

Existence is resistance tshirt

Existence is resistance t-shirt

Though I haven’t heard the Puar lecture, both incidents surely represent vehement criticisms of Israel that are consistent with the leftwing discourse on the neverending occupation. Indeed, the WSJ authors said that Jewish Studies Program faculty at Vassar had sponsored the Puar lecture and sat quietly through it, thereby demonstrating the “spell that anti-Israel dogma, no matter its veracity, has spread over the campus.”

The article was soon picked up by other pro-Israel sites and caused a crisis at Vassar not unlike the crisis at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign in 2014 over Steven Salaita’s Gaza massacre tweets. On that occasion, the Illinois chancellor met with big Jewish donors who had been riled up by pro-Israel groups before she fired Salaita. This time, nine Vassar leaders, including its president Catharine Hill and board chairman William Plapinger, held an online call-in “webinar” attended by 900 people, aimed at calming alumni about a supposed anti-Semitic climate at the school. Anti-semitism was mentioned 12 or 13 times by my count during the call-in; but Vassar officials said they were not going to limit free speech on campus. They were just going to make sure there were a lot of pro-Israel events.

The thrust of the call was to deny the anti-Semitism charge. Vassar is a welcome place for Jewish students. They feel comfortable celebrating religious holidays on campus. But in a new climate of social media, all students are afraid to express non-left-wing positions, including on Israel/Palestine. So the school is going to do its utmost to promote “Israel positive” programming.

Several faculty on the call listed all the pro-Israel events and speakers. Mia Mask, a film professor, boasted about two forums at the campus that featured Arabs who oppose BDS, including one who said that Palestinians are responsible for the Palestinian political problem.

Vassar executives, including President Hill and deans, said they would oppose BDS. This after they said that they would not “take sides” in the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Plapinger did complain about the pro-Israel lobbying:

While I accept the validity of some of the criticism of the college, I ask you to also remember that the recent cacophony of criticism has come from a relatively small number of alumni who in some cases have distorted the facts and have been successful in enlisting concerned but not fully informed outsiders to amplify their views in publications that have not even bothered to ask the college for comment on their articles. Whatever you think, that is not how fairminded people act.

And Marc Epstein, a religious scholar at the school, was careful to describe the climate as one of “anti-Israel sentiments and anti-Zionist rhetoric.” Though Epstein added that he and his wife are both Zionists.

I found the call disturbing for a couple of reasons. The sense of the call was that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism; and while we can’t control “hateful and offensive” speech, we’re going to put on a lot of pro-Israel programming and stomp on BDS to stop this anti-Semitism. Professor Epstein did say that “actually” some Jewish students are anti-Zionists; but his was the sole reference to such a tradition during a 47-minute call. The main idea was that Jewish students are afraid to express support for Israel, but we’re going to provide them a comfort zone with lots of pro-Israel events on campus. Yes– and one official thanked alumni “donors.”

Much of the call detailed the “robust” Jewish life on campus, notably religious practices, from Shabbos dinners to learning how to wrap the Tefilin to building a Sukkot and making mezuzot (doorpost prayer scrolls). While this is a reasonable counter to the charge of anti-Semitism, the theme often seemed at odds with a liberal arts education. I wouldn’t want my kid going to a school that bragged about creches and crucifixes. (And as the Pew poll demonstrates, racism in Israel correlates with religiosity.)

Also during the call, a college dean wrote off Students for Justice in Palestine as a fringe group of just a dozen members; and said that SJP had agreed not to work with Existence is Resistance, which had supplied the t-shirts of Leila Khaled. That’s a lot of pressure on a student group.

Listen for yourself, but the call demonstrates that the battle over Israel is coming to a campus near you, and soon. Vassar is hardly alone. Progressive students are virtually of one mind on the question and feel a political urgency about doing something. Pro-Israel students tend to keep their mouths shut; and so the alumni have become the pro-Israel activists, using all the smashmouth tools of the Israel lobby. Roger Cohen echoes the theme in the New York Times, calling campus anti-Zionism an “anti-Semitism of the left.” Cohen justly lands on ugly statements from an anti-Zionist at Oberlin; but along the way he valorizes the “long Jewish presence in, and bond with, the Holy Land” as somehow justifying Zionism. And I thought Cohen was a secular.

These forces are not going to defeat BDS. The occupation is nearly 50 years old and a gall internationally; and the only way to preclude the inevitable resort by the oppressed to political terrorism (remember John Brown) is through the nonviolent BDS movement.

In the face of the administrators’ call, Vassar’s student government passed a resolution earlier this week supporting the BDS movement by 15-7. Though it failed to pass a companion resolution that would have had real consequences, boycotting Caterpillar, Ben & Jerry’s, Elbit, G4S, Ahava, Sabra Hummus, etc.

Vassar BDS reports that the school’s administration threatened to end the student association’s autonomy if it voted to boycott those goods.

The BDS Resolution, which calls for the [Vassar Student Association’s] political statement of support of the BDS movement, passed by a vote of 15 in favor and 7 opposed. The organization did not pass the concurrently submitted BDS Bylaw Amendment, which would have prevented VSA funds from being spent on products listed on the resolution because of their ties to human rights abuses. The amendment needed a 2/3 majority but failed by a vote of 12 in favor to 10 opposed.

Following a visit from the Vassar Board of Trustees last week, senior level administrators told the VSA that if it passed the BDS Bylaw Amendment, the Administration would assume control over the VSA’s $900,000 activities budget. Such an act would have altered the structure of the VSA fundamentally and starkly diminished student powers of government. The threats from the Board of Trustees and senior level administrators are a coercive tactic and represent a clear betrayal of the principle of shared governance between students and administrators central to the VSA and the functioning of the College more broadly.

 

 

 

 

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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52 Responses

  1. Keith
    March 10, 2016, 5:26 pm

    PHIL- “Indeed, the WSJ authors said that Jewish Studies Program faculty at Vassar….”

    Jewish studies appears to function as a kind of Talmud for secular Jews. And its growing popularity attests to the growing power of Zionist Jews who appear to exert massive influence over the doctrinal system and have zero tolerance for anti-Zionist dissent which is labeled as anti-Semitism and dealt with harshly.

    • hophmi
      March 11, 2016, 9:53 am

      Jewish Studies predates political Zionism. The program at Vassar is indisciplinary, meaning that it more or less gathers courses in other departments that touch on Judaism, literature, sociology, history, etc, under one roof. It’s not at all intolerant of dissent, actually; there are a lot of anti-Zionists who teach in Jewish Studies departments. You appear to know zero about this issue.

      • Keith
        March 11, 2016, 4:01 pm

        HOPHMI- “You appear to know zero about this issue.”

        When you are propagandizing, it is always difficult to know if you believe what you say. I am not referring to the low level of Judaic studies which have a long history. I am referring to the recent (post 1967 Six Day War) explosion of Jewish studies at the University level, and what that implies. Some quotes to make the point.

        “A gathering of 47 academics, including one Israeli, who represented nearly all American university faculty in the field at the time, gathered at Brandeis from September 7 to 10, 1969. It was here that the Association for Jewish Studies was founded.”

        ….

        “In 1992, the AJS published “Jewish Studies Courses at American and Canadian Universities: A Catalogue,” which listed around 4000 courses (not including those taught at seminaries such as HUC-JIR or the Jewish Theological Seminary), 410 institutions of higher learning with Jewish studies courses, 104 endowed academic positions in the field, and 1300 members in the AJS, a far cry from the first conference’s 47 attendees.” http://www.ajsnet.org/ajs.pdf

        “Since 1966 proliferation of Jewish studies throughout the North American continent has accelerated and shows no signs of abating, despite the general retrenchment currently taking place in American universities. Growth has continued not only in the number of institutions offering courses, but in the number and variety of subjects taught and in the size of Judaic faculties within universities, in the quality of the programs and in the number of students enrolled and majoring on both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Important new concentrations have developed in such state universities as Ohio State and the State University of New York, in prestigious private institutions such as Brown University, and in a number of Canadian universities. More recently, the major rabbinical seminaries have placed new emphasis on Ph.D. programs designed to train scholars to teach in secular universities.”

        ….

        “At the same time, the growing self-consciousness and self-confidence of American Jewry in recent decades created a demand for Jewish studies and a desire to take advantage of the opportunities for learning. American Jewry’s awareness of itself was nourished by the reaction to the Holocaust and the rise of the State of Israel. The trauma of the Six Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973 provided added incentives for study of the Jewish past and present, which frequently accompanied a desire for renewal of identity and identification.” https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0011_0_10154.html

        “The last quarter century has witnessed a veritable explosion in the academic field of Jewish studies. During that time, Israel solidified its place as the global center in the field, while in the United States virtually every university and college of note has established its own program, center or chair.” http://www.jewishjournal.com/david_n_myers/article/jewish_studies_flourish_in_china_20120815

      • Keith
        March 11, 2016, 6:10 pm

        HOPHMI- “The program at Vassar is indisciplinary, meaning that it more or less gathers courses in other departments that touch on Judaism, literature, sociology, history, etc, under one roof.”

        Like I said, rather than study Talmud, secular Jews (reformed too) can immerse themselves in Jewish studies, hence, it functions as a kind of Talmud for secular Jews.

        HOPHMI- “It’s not at all intolerant of dissent, actually; there are a lot of anti-Zionists who teach in Jewish Studies departments.”

        I never said that these Jewish studies programs were intolerant, I said that the Zionist Jews who are instrumental in promulgating these types of studies, which include studying the Holocaust, history of anti-Semitism, etc, are intolerant of dissent as is made abundantly clear by the WSJ op-ed and the Vassar reaction to it. The notion that “Anti-Israel sentiment mixed with age-old anti-Semitism has reached a fever pitch at Vassar College.” is ludicrous. The reality is that Judeo-Zionists resort to raw intimidation whenever they perceive that there is any opposition to their power-seeking support of Israel and Zionism. And as for your assertion that “there are a lot of anti-Zionists who teach in Jewish Studies departments.”, I find that hard to believe. Can you back that up?

  2. Krauss
    March 10, 2016, 6:32 pm

    In the battle between the progressive base and rich racists in the donor class, I’m betting on the progressive base.

  3. yonah fredman
    March 10, 2016, 7:35 pm

    And as the Pew poll demonstrates, racism in Israel correlates with religiosity. – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2016/03/pushed-by-alumni-claiming-anti-semitism-vassar-officials-oppose-bds-and-promote-israel-positive-programs/#comment-163280

    thus phil weiss connects the dots. we are anti zionism and we are anti judaism because judaism correlates to racism. so in what way are you not anti semitic. because you support jews who hate judaism? because you laugh at woody allen and empathize with kafka. if you oppose israel and oppose judaism (because it correlates to racism) then in what way are you not antisemitic.

    • oldgeezer
      March 10, 2016, 8:51 pm

      The connections are yours alone yonah. The poll does not reflect on the Jewish religion as the poll deals only with the situation in Israel which doesn’t. Keep trying to hide the vile and criminal nature of zionism behind the skirts of religion.

      • yonah fredman
        March 10, 2016, 9:03 pm

        oldgeezer- first relax on the tone.

        second. read the post by phil. i will paraphrase. statement by vassar: in order to balance the anti israel rhetoric that must be permitted given that we value free speech, we will allow many pro israel speakers. further we will also encourage sessions teaching young Jews about Judaism. retort by phil: do we really want people teaching religion? and do we want people being taught this religion which is one of the prime causal factors of the racism cited in the Pew poll?

        so this is not my connection. it is phil’s connection. if this is not clear, then you can object and i will parse the article word for word for you so that it will be clear. it is not my connection. it is phil’s connection.

      • Mooser
        March 11, 2016, 11:00 am

        “Keep trying to hide the vile and criminal nature of zionism behind the skirts of religion.”

        What do you want, “oldgeezer”? I mean, from “Yonah’s” point of view, what else is it good for? Why not throw it away on Zionism?
        Jewish religion? Heck, they’re always making more of that. I could make you a square mile of it any time you want. Land, well, not so much.
        The equation is obvious.

      • Annie Robbins
        March 11, 2016, 5:28 pm

        oldgeezer- first relax on the tone.

        yonah, just wanted to point out there was nothing particularly unrelaxed about oldgeezer’s tone. second, you didn’t address what he said or what phil said, you addressed your interpretation of it, which is actually different (than the way i read it).

        let me explain. when you quoted first phil (“as the Pew poll demonstrates, racism in Israel correlates with religiosity.”) you paraphrased it (rephrased it) incorrectly before you passed judgement on it: “phil weiss connects the dots. we are anti zionism and we are anti judaism”. and this is where old geezer is correct. you are correlating religiosity with the religion. (“anti judaism” )

        however, the definition of religiosity pertains to how people practice or worship or behave or –iow — “religiousness” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religiosity

        it is actually a very different idea than the religion itself. it occurs to me that you already know that which is why you chose, rather than reflecting off the idea that the poll found that in israel, the way the religion practiced evidenced signs of more racism. now, i am not sure that would necessarily be the fault of a religion vs the way practitioners interpreted it or applied it. and perhaps that idea more fully explains why phil wrote:

        from Shabbos dinners to learning how to wrap the Tefilin to building a Sukkot and making mezuzot (doorpost prayer scrolls). While this is a reasonable counter to the charge of anti-Semitism, the theme often seemed at odds with a liberal arts education. I wouldn’t want my kid going to a school that bragged about creches and crucifixes.

        can you hear the contrasts presented here? say between the idea of a shabbos dinner and wrapping teflilin? both involve practicing religious custom/practice. one might seem more appropriate for a liberal arts college setting, one less so. but instead of critiquing his ideas about the how religion might be practiced in a college setting, you chose to critique this idea:

        do we want people being taught this religion which is one of the prime causal factors of the racism

        but no one said the religion was one of the prime causal factors of the racism. then you say this is not my connection. it is phil’s connection. but that’s not really true. in fact, one could argue that religiosity correlates with racism in any religion — depending how it correlates. but it doesn’t mean that religion is racist or even that religiosity is necessarily racist.

        but one could argue that to the extent a religion (any religion) is merged with a politically racist ideology (such as zionism) then the way that religion is worshipped — (religiousness or religiosity) can become infused w/racism — or enhances that possibility.

    • Emory Riddle
      March 11, 2016, 9:34 am

      It’s time we stopped enabling this tiny handful of racist nutters, is it not?

    • Mooser
      March 11, 2016, 10:35 am

      ” because you laugh at woody allen and empathize with kafka.”

      Can’t the Moderaters put up a warning sign?
      “Caution, complete utter hilarity ahead, please secure coffee” or similar?

  4. oldgeezer
    March 10, 2016, 9:48 pm

    @yonah

    As usual you have confused paraphrase with the word fabricate. The connection is yours alone and the tone, if it shows has been well earned.

    • yonah fredman
      March 10, 2016, 10:08 pm

      While this is a reasonable counter to the charge of anti-Semitism, the theme often seemed at odds with a liberal arts education. I wouldn’t want my kid going to a school that bragged about creches and crucifixes. (And as the Pew poll demonstrates, racism in Israel correlates with religiosity.) – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2016/03/pushed-by-alumni-claiming-anti-semitism-vassar-officials-oppose-bds-and-promote-israel-positive-programs/#comment-163280

      and as the pew poll demonstrates racism in israel correlates with religiosity.

      the clear inference: teaching Judaism will only push these Jews to be racists.

      • oldgeezer
        March 10, 2016, 10:48 pm

        No he makes two distinct points. One concerns racism in Israel and not Judaism world wide. The other is he doesnt want his kids in a school that pushes religion. As an atheist I dont either although i am open to introducing learning minds to an overview off all religions.

        The connection you make is yours alone. Wear it with pride.

      • yonah fredman
        March 11, 2016, 12:49 am

        Old geezer- The independence of the two points might have been valid if this were a set of math axioms. But it’s not. It is a paragraph that flows
        and to me your interpretation is tone deaf. Yes Phil limits the damage by putting the thought in parentheses, but no, he is asserting another reason why the teaching of Jewish ritual is problematic, that religion and racism are correlated in Israel and therefore problematic at vassar.

        There are many jews who disdain the Jewish religion. There are also many jews who disdain jews who promote in marriage. There are also many jews who oppose zionism. The question becomes at what point can this constellation of views be called antisemitic?

        But I would put it another way: what is the minimum degree of empathy necessary in order to overcome the general hostility to all things that are labeled “continuity”.

        The process of dissolution or disappearance of the Jewish identity over the generations is an interesting one. It is not clear what “the Jews” will look like a century from now. But we would be better off if those who oppose all possible avenues towards Jewish continuity would fess up and say, the sooner the Jews realize that Judaism and Jewishness are worthy of the ashheap of history the sooner the world will be relieved of this useless artifact of the past. Because as you assert, you should own up to your views.

      • Mooser
        March 11, 2016, 10:56 am

        “the clear inference: teaching Judaism will only push these Jews to be racists.”

        Okay, then “Yonah”; what’s your excuse? If it wasn’t the “teaching Judaism”, what was it, in your case, which causes you, or rather, excuses you?

      • Mooser
        March 11, 2016, 11:22 am

        ” I wouldn’t want my kid going to a school that bragged about creches and crucifixes.”

        What the hell is that supposed to mean. You think that Christians “brag” about creches and the crucifixes”?

        Seems better than bragging about stealing a country and dispossessing the people there. And being religiously entitled to do it! Or do we have some other “brag” on which people should judge us?

      • Mooser
        March 11, 2016, 11:52 am

        ” The independence of the two points might have been valid if this were a set of math axioms. But it’s not.”

        That’s right! You want the certainty and provability of “math axioms”, well, “Yonah’s” got ’em:

        “The axioms are as follows: 1. Survival is a valid goal. 2. Jews were doomed to be slaughtered in Europe, so all actions that were mass movements to move Jews out of Europe were inherently survival oriented. 3. One such movement was the Zionist movement. 4. The Palestinian Arabs were opposed to Zionism.
        5. Strengthening the Jewish settlements in Palestine were a promotion of Zionism. In a way that opening a candy store in Tel Aviv did not strengthen Zionism, the setting up of nonurban communities throughout the land strengthened the Zionist movement.”
        – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/profile/wondering-jew/?keyword=axiom%25#sthash.6RGl9NT0.dpuf

        There’s yer “axiom’s” for ya!

      • Mooser
        March 11, 2016, 11:56 am

        “the sooner the Jews realize that Judaism and Jewishness are worthy of the ashheap of history the sooner the world will be relieved of this useless artifact of the past”

        Shorter “Yonah”: ‘Sure, we can dispense with or change our religion, Judaism. But damn it, hang on to the land. That’s real! Don’t throw it away for some stupid religion!’

      • MHughes976
        March 11, 2016, 3:41 pm

        Vassar management says, we are told, that in response to the existence of snti-Zionist movements among their students they will, to fend off accusations of anti-Semitism, promote Jewish religious ideas and practices,. Phil says that these very ideas and practices are, per Pew, currently being used to foster Zionism in its most aggressive form and means us to think, in the light of this Pew evidence, that Vassar, while claiming not to take sides, is actually taking sides with a vengeance. I would not call this argument anti-Semitic, since (if we accept Pew’s findings) it is a reasoned, not a prejudiced statement. Nor would I call it anti-Judaic, since there is really no suggestion that Judaism cannot take forms other than the ones in question. I would consider that any objective study of Judaism would include the anti-Zionist strand, which is both historic and contemporary. I understand Phil’s feeling that this strand is unlikely to play much part in a programme specifically conceived as a riposte to anti-Zionism and to BDS.
        For my own part, I really cannot conceive of the long-term success of Zionism but I also cannot conceive of a long-term future for humanity in which the Jewish religion has no role or no constructive role to play.

      • Mooser
        March 11, 2016, 3:57 pm

        “For my own part, I really cannot conceive of the long-term success of Zionism but I also cannot conceive of a long-term future for humanity in which the Jewish religion has no role or no constructive role to play.”

        With an attitude like that, you will end up subsidizing Judaism when it is no longer viable. It won’t be cheap. The price of maintaining a “long-term future for humanity” in which the “Jewish religion” does have a constructive role will be, what do you know, Zionism.

    • jonrich111
      March 11, 2016, 2:59 pm

      The implication is that Judaism is at odds with liberal arts education and is correlated with racism. All of which are problematic, flawed, and offensive assumptions.

  5. hophmi
    March 11, 2016, 9:59 am

    First of all, Phil, it’s not right-wing alumni pushing Vassar to change. Vassar has exceedingly few right-wing alums, as in, next to none. It is people who are tired of hearing about Vassar students getting harassed on campus over their views on Israel. The BDS vote at Vassar was an ugly scene. The BDS kids were laughing as Jewish students spoke about antisemitism that they had experienced on campus and about the pain the entire situation was causing the Jewish community at Vassar.

    You’re being a bit silly, Phil. Vassar is one of the most secular campuses in the country. I would have thought that you would support the campus’s presentation of Jewish life as cultural and religious, rather than as tied to Israel. The only reason one would be disturbed by the presence of Jewish cultural life at a place like Vassar would be . . . well, I’m not going to say it.

    • Mooser
      March 11, 2016, 1:18 pm

      “The only reason one would be disturbed by the presence of Jewish cultural life at a place like Vassar would be . . . well, I’m not going to say it.”

      Oh “Hophmi” there goes that modesty you are so well known for. You are too modest.
      Well, “Hophmi” you put it so perfectly, I think you should say it again:
      (Besides, with all the Vassar co-eds reading, you might get a date):

      “This analysis is nothing new. It is typical of Phil’s writing, which suggests, as it always does, the Phil has internalized anti-Jewish hatred, and like those secularist Jews in Europe who looked down upon their brethren or converted to Christianity to escape their Judaism, Phil adopts the classic tropes of the self-hater.”

      And here’s the big finish, the ‘money shot’. I always cry when I read this part, and I’ve asked my wife (when she’s not practicing baritone horn) to embroider it on a sampler:

      “Self-hatred is a disease. It is a sad disease borne of many generations of persecution, but it is a disease. And Phil is afflicted with it, as many Jews have been in the past. And it is usually the self-haters who cause the worst damage to the Jewish community, precisely because of how small it is.

      American Jewry, and the American-Israel relationship will survive the Phils of this world. American Jews, long a positive force in American society, will continue to be, far into the future, and Israel will endure, far into the future. The Phils will fall away, as they always do.”
      – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/profile/hophmi/?keyword=fall+away#sthash.1NpMn6UA.dpuf

      That’s telling him, “Hophmi”!

    • jonrich111
      March 11, 2016, 2:54 pm

      Hophmi,

      I certainly do not think BDS, anti-Zionism, or Palestine Solidarity is in any way anti-Semitic. The problem is the way that Zionism has become hegemonic in the Jewish institutional establishment, so that many Jewish students grew up being taught that support for Israel is an essential part of their Jewish identity, so being confronted with anti-Zionism on campus is painful to them. That doesn’t make it anti-Semitic.

      The presence of Jewish cultural life that is not based on Israel and Zionism is crucial. Jewish cultural events that are based on social justice and universalism are important. Zionism is not the sum total of Jewish history and identity. It is a failed ideology, and we need to move beyond it.

    • Annie Robbins
      March 11, 2016, 6:56 pm

      The BDS vote at Vassar was an ugly scene. The BDS kids were laughing as Jewish students spoke about antisemitism

      do you have a video or a link or source, if so could you link to it?

    • Annie Robbins
      March 11, 2016, 6:59 pm

      hops, curious if you listened to the 47 min phone call. if so, what did you think of it?

  6. hophmi
    March 11, 2016, 11:19 am

    As far as your comment about the correlation between religiosity and racism, c’mon man. We’re not talking about ultra-orthodox Jews who don’t read secular newspapers. We’re talking about secular kids having the opportunity to do (or not do, since the vast majority of them don’t) Jewish rituals like eat in a sukkah. All this stuff has a univeralist flavor at Vassar.

    But in a way, I’m disturbed by the school’s response as well. A nice synagogue isn’t proof that antisemitism does not exist. There are lots of nice old synagogues in Europe. They’re mostly empty today, because the Jews that used to fill them were massacred.

    • Mooser
      March 11, 2016, 12:45 pm

      “They’re mostly empty today, because the Jews that used to fill them were massacred.”

      Is that what they told you, “Hophmi”? That is the poorest excuse for not explaining the facts of life to a young man I’ve ever heard.

  7. Ossinev
    March 11, 2016, 1:36 pm

    Looking forward to hearing about Vassar executives` pro-North Korean initiatives to counter the vile anti – North Korean slanders against Kim Jong – un.

  8. jonrich111
    March 11, 2016, 2:18 pm

    A crucial task for anti-Zionists is to separate Judaism and Jewishness from Zionism and Israel. When Philip Weiss criticizes Jewish religious practice by saying it, “seemed at odds with a liberal arts education. I wouldn’t want my kid going to a school that bragged about creches and crucifixes. (And as the Pew poll demonstrates, racism in Israel correlates with religiosity),” this is incredibly problematic on many levels.

    First, it is crucial to show that anti-Zionist activism on college campuses is distinct from anti-Semitism. One way of doing that is showing that Jewish students are free to celebrate Jewish holidays and rituals. SJP is not protesting against Shabbat dinners; they are protesting Israeli human rights abuses. So we must emphasize our support for Jewish religious freedom while condemning Israeli apartheid. Second, Jews in America are a religious minority, so comparing Jewish practice to Christianity (which is religiously hegemonic) is flawed. Third, the assumption that Jewish practice is incompatible with “liberal arts education” is offensive. Fourth, linking American Jewish religious observance with Israeli ultra-orthodox religiosity is not supported by the empirical evidence. American Jewish religious practice is completely different from Israeli religious practice, specifically because religiosity in Israel is associated with Orthodoxy, whereas American Jewish religious observance on college campuses like Vassar are more in lines with Reform and Conservative practice. Totally different things.

    I offer these critiques in a constructive manner as a fellow American Jewish anti-Zionist. I think we must be spirited in our dissent against the State of Israel, but we must also always be mindful to distinguish between Zionism (settler-colonialist ideology) and Judaism (religious culture and community). The two things are separate, and it does not help the anti-Zionist cause when we allow our critique of Israel to bleed into thinly veiled condemnations of Judaism.

    • Mooser
      March 11, 2016, 3:05 pm

      “I offer these critiques in a constructive manner as a fellow American Jewish anti-Zionist. I think we must be spirited in our dissent against the State of Israel, but we must also always be mindful to distinguish between Zionism (settler-colonialist ideology) and Judaism (religious culture and community). The two things are separate”

      Really? Well, lot’s of very devout Jews and Zionists tell us different, that settler-colonialist ideology and Judaism are very involved with each other. I believe them. Devout Jews don’t lie. They say what they are doing is bound up with the Jewish religion, I as a Jew, must believe them. They are, after all, better and more observant Jews than I have ever been or will ever be. They know.

      The alternative is that they are sacrificing the Jewish religion to material and political self-interest. Observant and religious Jews don’t do that. They follow their religion.

      • YoniFalic
        March 11, 2016, 10:21 pm

        Devout Jews don’t lie.

        In the videoclip below the Lubavitcher Rebbe seems to have no problem whatsoever with lying, dishonesty, and misdirection.

        [BTW, his Hebrew accent is atrocious.]

    • Mooser
      March 11, 2016, 3:17 pm

      “Fourth, linking American Jewish religious observance with Israeli ultra-orthodox religiosity is not supported by the empirical evidence. American Jewish religious practice is completely different from Israeli religious practice, specifically because religiosity in Israel is associated with Orthodoxy, whereas American Jewish religious observance on college campuses like Vassar are more in lines with Reform and Conservative practice. Totally different things.” – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2016/03/pushed-by-alumni-claiming-anti-semitism-vassar-officials-oppose-bds-and-promote-israel-positive-programs/#comment-829552

      Sure, what really matter is how we see ourselvesnot how we affect others? That should be an easy line to sell.
      You can’t whitewash reality. And of course, those Reform and Conservative Temples play no part in Israel’s intransigence? Get real.

      • jonrich111
        March 11, 2016, 4:57 pm

        “Devout Jews don’t lie”? What does that even mean? Jews are not monolithic or homogenous. We are not uniform in our beliefs or practices. Judaism is an ancient religious tradition, and like any religion, it is a social construct that is subject to interpretation. Religious Jews are not a collective mass that all thinks and acts alike. The fact that Zionism is hegemonic in Jewish institutions in the contemporary period does not mean that Zionist ideology is an essentialized trait inherent in all Judaism. You are basically making the same argument that Zionists are making: that Jews cannot practice their religion and culture in a manner they see fit, but that they must inherently be tied to nationalism and territory. You are unwittingly reinforcing Zionist hegemony. And in doing so, you are erasing the centuries of history of Diaspora Jewish life that existed without any attempt to colonize Palestine; the radical tradition of Jewish dissent against Zionism; the Classical Reform movement that opposed the very idea that Jews are a nation; and even the sects of Orthodox Jewry who are anti-Zionist on religious grounds.

        To suggest that observant religious Jews are incapable of “sacrificing the Jewish religion to material and political self-interest” has no basis in reality. No social group exists outside of material and political conditions. No social group exists in a vacuum. Religious groups exist within the context of socio-historical-political structures and systems of power. If you decontextualize Jewishness and posit an essentialized, ontological monolithic Jewry eternally tied to Zionism and Israel, you are guilty of the exact same fallacies that Zionists are.

      • Annie Robbins
        March 11, 2016, 6:41 pm

        “Devout Jews don’t lie”? What does that even mean?

        i think this is really an important conversation because, as an outsider (non jewish) it does seem to me there’s a real battle going on within the jewish community wrt the ‘ownership’ of judaism — in terms of whether it does or does not inherently merge w/zionism. iow, lots of zionists say it does (rather emphatically so actually) and many critics of israel too (which i think is a problem) .

        here’s is how i read this statement (in it’s context):

        lot’s of very devout Jews and Zionists tell us different, that settler-colonialist ideology and Judaism are very involved with each other. I believe them. Devout Jews don’t lie. They say what they are doing is bound up with the Jewish religion, I as a Jew, must believe them

        so while i definitely realize (and believe) judaism is not inherently linked to zionism (how could it be if clearly there are many non and anti zionists who are religious jews), i also believe that for nationalist (zionist) religious jews, that their judaism — their interpretation of judaism (their religiosity) is inherently linked. why? because i think/trust they are telling the truth (as they see it) when they say it is. i believe them.

        we’ve had arguments here in the comments where people insist zionism and judaism are inherently linked. it’s my belief that this is, at it’s essence, and anti semitic position. but non the less, many religious jews believe it. and i think there’s been a real effort to cement this concept in the minds of both jews and non jews. which is what the anti zionsim = anti semitism so called “new” (but decades old) anti semitism campaign comes from.

        but to claim that all or most religious jews who believe this (that judaism is inherently linked to judaism) are lying is unrealistic. there’s nothing wrong with believing that devout jews don’t lie. it doesn’t mean i have to believe what they say — but i can believe they believe it. and i also think a lot of people who push the so called “new anti semitism” meme know it’s BS.

      • Mooser
        March 11, 2016, 7:15 pm

        The inability to take responsibility for Zionism is what makes us Jews completely impotent in dealing with it.

        “jonrich111” if you are so convinced Judaism and Zionism are separable, go tell the Zionists about it. Go get them to say it!

        “Jewry eternally tied to Zionism”

        I’m not worried about ‘eternity’. I’m worried about now!
        Screw eternity, okay.

      • Annie Robbins
        March 11, 2016, 7:38 pm

        mooser, do you really think someone cannot worship judaism without being a zionist? you don’t believe they are separable? that was sean’s position as i recall and you were all over him for is, as i recall (i thought you were one of the only people backing me in the trenches in that argument that took place repeatedly in way too many threads for what seemed like at least 6 months if not a year). what changed? or is my memory failing me — or my interpretation or something.

        he said they were inherently linked (paraphrasing) in “ancient” judaism — as i recall. and simultaneously he argued that anti zionists who were religious were so minimal they were rendered insignificant. or something. he drove me up the friggin wall.

      • Mooser
        March 11, 2016, 8:01 pm

        “mooser, do you really think someone cannot worship judaism without being a zionist? you don’t believe they are separable?”

        I used to think there might be two different things. I wanted to, I really did. I don’t know any more. I really don’t.

        But no matter how convieniently(for ourselves) we graduate these things, I find the idea that we are going to tell the world by what standards to judge us and what language to use and what not to say, and what’s real Judaism and what’s not, when people are being hurt and killed in the name of Judaism and a government which calls itself “The Jewish State” terribly entitled.

        Yup all of a sudden we’ve decided they are two different things. Good luck with that. Tell it to the Zionists. Maybe they will make an announcement which will clear it up.

        And I apologize, for the unguarded speech.

      • Annie Robbins
        March 11, 2016, 8:34 pm

        no need to apologize. but i think there’s lots of evidence of a concerted effort to co join judaism and zionism. so once you buy into it, haven’t they essentially won the argument? and it’s at the core of this bogus effort: http://antiwar.com/orig/cook.php?articleid=9745

        I find the idea that we are going to tell the world by what standards to judge us and what language to use and what not to say, and what’s real Judaism and what’s not, when people are being hurt and killed in the name of Judaism and a government which calls itself “The Jewish State” terribly entitled.

        mooser, snap out of it! it is a colonialist project. that’s what i believe and that’s what the vast majority of palestinians believe and that what the founders of the friggin state (who were secular!) believed — they were not into religion. this is a more recent phenomena — this “in the name of Judaism”. that pushes the whole idea of a holy war, which is not an advantageous concept and benefits no one. do they have a slew of religious nut cases who believe it? of course! but it’s being driven by a colonialist engine. believe me. the state has always used these fruitcakes to their benefit pushing the envelope and now they are in the heart of it, in the knesset. but you can’t buy into all that and throw the baby out w/the bathwater. judaism has been around a long time, this is a phase it is going through — think temporary please. we really don’t need zionism to be around for centuries. that i can really do without. but i don’t have a beef with judaism any more than i have a beef w/islam or christianity. i’m not a religious person but i don’t see the upside of taking on religions per se, the way people interpret them, yes. but attacking religions is not my bag. there are too many good religious people in the world.

        anyway, i can see this whole thing is distressing for you. but remember, zionism isn’t judaisms fault, it was founded by seculars — an ethnic national state — a colonialist project. keep your eye on the ball.

      • Mooser
        March 11, 2016, 8:14 pm

        “he said they were inherently linked (paraphrasing) in “ancient” judaism

        Yeah, he had all kinds of screwy ideas. I don’t know any ancient Jews.

      • Mooser
        March 11, 2016, 8:51 pm

        “zionism isn’t judaisms fault”

        Never said that, but Judaism (which really, is about as old as yesterday) sure bought into it, and was ready to take anything we could get from it. Anything from land, power all the way down to the macho cred from the IDF .
        Now, things are going sorta south and sideways, so it’s time to abdicate, time to run away from it.
        That is our right, and I think it’s a good thing to do, but a hint of honesty about the process might be helpful. I’m not sure we should expect anybody else to share in our self-granted amnesty.

      • Mooser
        March 11, 2016, 8:57 pm

        ” so once you buy into it, haven’t they essentially won the argument?”

        Who’s arguing? Please, I give them that victory, gratis. They win. They should know.
        If they think they are entitled to that victory it’s all theirs. By right of conquest!

      • ritzl
        March 12, 2016, 12:17 am

        Annie’s right. This is an important subthread.

        Mooser: “I used to think there might be two different things. I wanted to, I really did. I don’t know any more. I really don’t.

        That is so sad. You have/had a way of separating tradition, morality, and change and then recongealing them to suggest “daylight scenarios” if not a viable way forward. I know that’s almost certainly too lyrical to be meaningful but I don’t know how else to say it. In your “unguarded” moments (your best, imho) you lay bare how agonizing it must be for a caring person to be pulled apart by, well, everything, and how agonizing It must be to simultaneously not be pulled apart by it all. I believe in your tenacious pursuit of a livable personal solution to all this. I think many others would benefit from your efforts and hope you don’t give up trying to find “the” path.

        You lampoon so many (including myself) who have been pulled apart to varying degrees by this issue and have descended into simplistic, bigoted, violent, or purely fantastic modes of dealing. You have pretty much been my guide in resisting that path (such that I have). I know this is easy for me to say, but again I hope you don’t give up your struggle/search for sense.

        FWIW.

      • echinococcus
        March 12, 2016, 7:05 am

        Annie,

        do they have a slew of religious nut cases who believe it? of course! but it’s being driven by a colonialist engine.

        And the colonialist engine is being driven by people who believe in hereditary “Jewishness”, acquired in utero.

        Without that totally absurd concept, which is the single fundamental belief of both religious and irreligious Zionists, there would be no Zionism, period.

        If the religious stopped considering anyone without religion as being still bound by blood –something “normal” religions definitely don’t do– there would be no Zionism.

        If the overwhelming majority of both those who define their identity as “Jewish” and the religiously Jewish were not supporting Zionism, people would not identify Judaism with Zionism. So what are they doing to show a majority against? Nothing. Of the four cats who dissociate from Zionism, three continue to support it by making “antisemitism” their main target.

      • YoniFalic
        March 12, 2016, 9:15 am

        Religions evolve, devolve, or change as does thinking about religion.

        This lecture from Talal Asad is worth a listen.

        Thinking about Religion, Belief and Politics with Talal Asad

      • jonrich111
        March 12, 2016, 5:36 pm

        Annie Robbins, you write: “we’ve had arguments here in the comments where people insist zionism and judaism are inherently linked. it’s my belief that this is, at it’s essence, and anti semitic position. but non the less, many religious jews believe it.”

        Thank you. I agree completely. This is why I believe Zionism is itself anti-Semitic, because it hijacks Jewish tradition and collectively holds all Jews responsible for the State of Israel. In fact, the language early Zionists used was “Negating the Diaspora,” meaning that their goal was to erase Diaspora Jewish culture and identity and replace it with a new militaristic, nationalist Zionist identity.

        The reason Mooser’s statement “devout Jews don’t lie,” is so problematic for me is because no one is disputing that devout Zionist Jews actually believe — in their own minds — that Judaism and Zionism are linked. Of course they believe that. The problem is, why should we assume that devout religious Zionists have a more legitimate, authentic claim to the true essence of Judaism than anyone else does? There is no one single, monolithic interpretation of Judaism that applies to every single Jew. Religious Zionism is just that: one single interpretation of Judaism that is highly contested and not agreed with by many other Jews. I find it offensive that the many religious and secular anti-Zionist Jews are shut out of this conversation, and told that Judaism is inherently colonialist because our interpretation of it is less authentic than Zionist Jews.

        That is why Mooser, despite being an anti-Zionist, is actually reproducing Zionist hegemony and devaluing dissenting anti-Zionist Jews. Whether he intends this or not. Zionism is hegemonic, but this hegemony must be disputed and challenged. Reinforcing Zionist hegemony is part of the problem.

        There has always been Jewish opposition to Zionism: secular, religious, Reform, Orthodox, Yiddish, American, internationalist, etc. Why should the views of religious Jews who are not Zionists be erased, because religious Zionists apparently hold the authentic truth of the meaning of Judaism that we don’t?

      • jonrich111
        March 12, 2016, 6:05 pm

        Mooser, you write: “The inability to take responsibility for Zionism is what makes us Jews completely impotent in dealing with it. jonrich111 if you are so convinced Judaism and Zionism are separable, go tell the Zionists about it. Go get them to say it!”

        I am an American Jew, not a Zionist or an Israeli. So I don’t entirely feel comfortable with the idea that all Jews have a collective responsibility for Israel’s crimes. However, because Israel hijacks Judaism to carry out its colonial project, and Palestinians are suffering for this, I have a moral obligation to fight for justice. I went on the Birthright trip and realized that this is wrong. I renounce my “birthright” and do everything I can to resist. I am actually a sociologist and an activist, and much of the work I focus on with my academia and activism is on anti-colonial struggles and liberation movements. So me trying to tear down Zionism is a big part of what I do. As a Jew, an activist, and an academic.

        Keep up the struggle!

      • Keith
        March 12, 2016, 8:26 pm

        JONRICH111- “However, because Israel hijacks Judaism….”

        Hijacks? I believe that hijacking involves a forcible commandeering, hardly an accurate description of the relationship of organized American Jewry to Israel and Zionism. More like the seduction of the organized Jewish leadership into supporting a modern version of Jewish peoplehood as a means of achieving the benefits of kinship and group solidarity in an individualistic multicultural society. And no, individual Jews are not collectively responsible for Israeli crimes anymore than individual US citizens are responsible for the crimes of empire. However, it is almost inevitable that we will be tainted by the crimes of the leadership, particularly if we voted for them or otherwise actively support the system.

    • YoniFalic
      March 11, 2016, 5:16 pm

      It is more important to open up a serious discussion of the accusation of antisemitism and of the use to which bigoted “Jews” and genocide supporters or genocide advocates put this accusation.

      We progressives must explain to all Americans that the historical record of this charge from the 19th century to the present day shows that “Jewish” bigots often are completely unwilling to listen to reasonable criticism by people of good-will and respond with unreasonable accusations of antisemitism.

      Thus, antisemitism rarely has clear correlation with hostility toward “Jews”, but it is not surprising that those unreasonably accused of antisemitism might develop anger.

      It is worthwhile to look at the accusations of antisemitism against the German scholar and politician Heinrich von Treitschke. Samson Raphael Hirsch, who was the founder of German Jewish Neo-Orthodoxy, defended von Treitschke. Hirsch attacked Heinrich Graetz, who was von Treitschke’s detractor and intellectual opponent. Hirsch accused Graetz of flagrant intellectual dishonesty.

      The pattern of intellectually dishonest accusations of antisemitism continues to this day.

    • Keith
      March 12, 2016, 2:52 pm

      JONRICH111- “Christianity (which is religiously hegemonic)”

      Christianity religiously hegemonic? Please tell me you are joking.

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