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Poster questioning Zionism makes her feel ‘unsafe’, Wellesley student says

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Haaretz is reporting that Jewish donors to Wellesley College are suspending donations to the school in part because of the activities of the Students for Justice for Palestine chapter at the school in the wake of the Gaza slaughter:

Wellesley Jewish alums stop donations after Hillel firings
Grads of women’s college irked by layoff of two Jewish leaders as part of so-called ‘restructuring’ move – while anti-Israel sentiments are being fanned by a pro-Palestinian group on campus.

This is sheer alarm. Whatever the school’s reasons for firing the two Hillel staffers (budgetary, it would seem), the anger over anti-Zionist statements at the school is aimed at shutting down free speech about Israel since the massive bloodshed in Gaza.

The Wellesley controversy blew up last week with a piece in Haaretz on increasing Palestinian solidarity activism at the school that gave a megaphone to a student supporter of Israel named Jordan Hannink who said some of the pro-Palestinian messaging on campus makes her feel “unsafe.” That piece was topped by Hannink’s photograph of a poster questioning Zionism that has been controversial. Reporter Debra Nussbaum Cohen:

posters bearing the images of Palestinian children who were killed or wounded during the Gaza war appeared on dining hall walls. A large poster, likewise sponsored by the new campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, went up in the student center asking, “What does Zionism mean to you?” with lots of space for people to fill in answers. Within a week people had written “genocide,” “apartheid” and “murder” on the poster at the Boston-area college.

[Wellesley] has now joined the growing number of college campuses where often-intense anti-Israel sentiment at times bleeds into anti-Semitism, in the view of some there, in the process discomfiting large numbers of Jewish and pro-Israel students.

When Hillel-affiliated students met with SJP leaders about the poster “our goal was to promote conversation,” said Jordan Hannink, a junior, in an interview. Hannink is a peace studies major who worked in Israel last summer and is writing her thesis on the subject of peace through health care….Jewish students want to discuss the Israel-Palestine conflict, she said. “But it is an issue we want to discuss respectfully and without polarizing” the community. SJP leaders “said they were uninterested in these kinds of dialogic conversations,” Hannink said.

It is certainly the case that Palestinian solidarity groups don’t go in for dialogue with Israel lobby groups; dialogue has failed to change Palestinian conditions one iota. But the Haaretz piece blurs the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. While the poster specifically called on students not to express anti-Semitic attitudes, Hannink ignores this fact:

Hannink sent a letter to Wellesley’s president and deans saying that the Zionism poster in the student center was offensive, but they have taken no action, she said. It remains the first thing anyone sees when entering the student center. The dining hall posters are also still in place.

“I firmly believe this college is becoming increasingly anti-Semitic,” Hannink wrote in a private email to an alumna, which was shared with Haaretz by another Wellesley graduate…

“For Jewish students being at Wellesley now is quite difficult,” Hannink said.

Here is Hannnink’s latest Facebook post, which is filled with claims about a hostile learning environment because of Palestinian solidarity: 

November 9th, I sent a letter to our campus community calling for dialogue, for nuance, and respectful disagreement. No action was taken by the administration. My question to President [H. Kim] Bottomly and the administrators I met with this week- is where was this call for respectful dialogue weeks ago, when our social contract for such was broken? Where was this reminder of our responsibility when the Jewish community first expressed concern, feelings of being targeted and unsafe on campus?…
In the Jewish community, an additional question to be posited is when does anti-Israel sentiments become anti-Semitism, or at the least, bigotry? It is a question I struggle with daily… Whenever the word “Jew” or “Jewish people” is implicated next to the “effects of Zionism,” including “genocide, apartheid, ethnic cleansing,” etc. this line is crossed.
However, this is not terribly important in this conversation– because the Wellesley Handbook forbids speech or symbols that create a hostile working and learning environment. Whether or not you agree that the poster is inflammatory- the thirty members of the Jewish community on campus who have voiced that it is remains reason enough to call for the administration to act.
I am severely disappointed that this is the way that Wellesley has chosen to start this conversation- as the end result has been polarizing. As a pro-Palestinian, pro-Israel, Zionist, conscientious Jew, I have been put into the pro-Israel corner, which ignores my activist work to a different end.

I’m sure arguments between Communists and anti-Communists in the 50s were vigorous on American campuses. Ideological arguments with such large real-world consequences are. But it’s hard to see why this poster should make anyone feel unsafe. Also: two years ago Norman Finkelstein said that Zionism might as well be a hairspray, Americans don’t know what it is so let’s not argue about it. I took exception then, seeing Zionism as a root cause of the conflict; and this discussion gives me support, showing that Zionism is an ideology, albeit one with a lot of meanings, that folks need to talk about.

P.S. In 2008 Hannink posted a message on Facebook accusing Obama of loyalties to another country.

 how can any one AMERICAN vote for a presidential candidiate with false loyalties? NOBAMA 2008!!!

I’m sure she was young then, but still.

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amigo

“Any man who says he is an American but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flage here, the American flag… Whe have room but for one language here, and that is the English language… and we have room for but ONE SOLE… Read more »

a blah chick
a blah chick

The problem is that people like Hanninck take Zionism for granted. They, like me, grew up with it as the normal way to think about the Middle East. Consequently I doubt she had thought about what it means or the ramifications. I’ll wager that the average anti-Zionist has thought longer… Read more »

Annie Robbins

that’s a very smart poster by SJP. it was just last week the luntz poll mentioning zionism is not a popular word in america. people are adverse to that word:

“‘Zionism’ is now a dirty word for American opinion elite, Frank Luntz concedes “- See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2014/11/zionism-american-concedes#sthash.pRXTFLFm.dpuf

Keith

HANNINK- “Whether or not you agree that the poster is inflammatory- the thirty members of the Jewish community on campus who have voiced that it is remains reason enough to call for the administration to act.” Thirty Jews want the poster removed and it is still up? Has Abe Foxman… Read more »

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The only thing I’ll say in defense of Ms. Hannik’s opinion is that having a message board up may invite more extreme and irresponsible opinions being expressed than if it were done in a face-to-face manner. That said, is it any wonder that bad opinions about Israel may morph into… Read more »