Thursday, May 08, 2014

Vassar College Students for Justice in Palestine and Antisemitism

I've blogged before about the very nasty fight at Vassar College over the academic boycott of Israel. William Jacobson (who runs the Legal Insurrection blog) spoke recently at Vassar to a good crowd against the boycott.

People in the SJP chapter at Vassar, however, were not pleased. One tweet objected to the kind of people who came to his talk:

I followed a link from Jacobson's blogpost to the Tumblr for the Vassar SJP - SJP Vassar College - and found some very disturbing posts. While the blog claims that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism, two posts not only blurred the line between them, but stepped right over into blatant antisemitism.

One of them is a quote taken from a deeply racist and antisemitic magazine, the Occidental Quarterly:

The Southern Poverty Law Center outlines the racist and antisemitic nature of the publication:
Founded in 2001 by Chicago millionaire publishing scion William H. Regnery, the Charles Martel Society publishes The Occidental Quarterly (TOQ), a racist journal devoted to the idea that as whites become a minority "the civilization and free governments that whites have created" will be jeopardized. Its editors and advisory board members have constituted a "Who's Who" of the radical right, and its regular publication of extremists' articles has made it a favorite among academic racists in America.
If the Vassar SJP claims not to be antisemitic, why on earth are they publishing articles from the Occidental Quarterly?

Another post is a cartoon claiming that the Israelis are wreaking a Holocaust upon the people of Gaza. It's a common antisemitic theme to compare Israeli treatment of the Palestinians with the Nazi Holocaust.
What is the purpose of such comparisons? I think it's simply to cause further pain to Jews. And all it does is to demonstrates profound ignorance about what really happened during the Holocaust.

UPDATE - see next post for another example of an article from a white nationalist source on the SJP Vassar twitter feed, this time from a Tumblr blog named neonationalist. The blog's motto is "I have no white guilt."


  1. Vassar Student, not a member of SJP, Jewish. The fact that their source is the OC doesn't mean that SJP is anti-semitic, it just reflects the sad state of information in which one of the best source of anti-Israeli apartheid cartoons and arguments is, ironically, white nationalism. SJP is largely POC--they're not racist.

    Also, there's nothing ignorant or anti-semitic about comparing the Holocaust to the genocide of the Palestinians. Of course their forms are different, we're talking about completely different time periods with different technologies and global politics, but the patterns of erasure/destruction of history/mass murder share many parallels. Being Jewish, the irony that this is being committed in the name of my people is not lost on me.

    1. It should also be noted that while the majority of Jews in the United States do align themselves with Zionism, the vast majority of support for Zionism comes not from Jews but from Christians who hold particular religious and political interests in the existence of "the Jewish state." Many anti-Zionists are also anti-semites. To align all Jews with Zionism and to attack anti-Zionism as anti-semitism, however, is corrosive to free thought and, ironically (there are many levels of irony here), anti-semitic. Zionism is not and should never be equated to protecting "the Jews," and to do so is totally chauvinistic and denies the voices of Jews like myself and others (I do not stand alone here).

    2. I've seen this charge before that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians, and I simply don't understand it. Israel is not massacring Palestinians, placing them into concentration camps, preventing them from having children, or dividing husbands and wives. Israel is not destroying Palestinian culture. The total number of people who have died on both sides of the conflict since 1920 is about 115,600 - source is This is a horrible number, of course, but it comes nowhere near to what the Nazis did. About 25,000 of the deaths are Jews/Israelis and about 90,000 are Arabs/Palestinians.

      Unlike many right-wing Zionists, I do not deny that the other side of Israel's creation as a state was the Nakba of the Palestinians. Despite all of its horrors, however, the Nakba and exile of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians is also not equivalent to genocide.

      Secondly just because a majority of SJP Vassar is people of color does not mean SJP cannot engage in racist-antisemitic actions. Engaging in antisemitic behavior and speech is not limited to white people.

      I think it is odd that you are so sanguine about the fact that one of the best sources of anti-Israel arguments and cartoons is white nationalism. Doesn't that give you pause? If you are in agreement with white nationalists, perhaps you should question your beliefs. I find the arguments of white nationalists abhorrent - they are anti-Black racists, anti-Semites, anti-Immigrant, very anti-Hispanic - why take them as a source for anything? They argue that white people are superior to everyone else and that people of color, especially people of African descent, are inherently inferior to white people.

      I do not align all Jews with Zionism. It is obvious that not all Jews are Zionists, as the posts on my blog have made crystal clear, and as the comments of you and others assert. On the other hand, most Jews are, in fact, Zionists, and I think that you need to deal with that.

      From my study and reading, I have come to the conclusion that the motivations of Zionism were and are to protect Jews. This was one of the major reasons that the Zionist movement decided to support the creation of a Jewish state, rather than just advocating for the creation of a Jewish center in Palestine (ruled either by the Ottomans or the British). Political Zionism was not the only form of Zionism - Ahad Ha-Am advocated the creation of a spiritual center in Palestine as the goal of Zionism, but his views ultimately did not carry the day among the vast majority of those belonging to the Zionist movement.

    3. The comparisons between the Holocaust and Israel/Palestine have nothing to do with the number of people killed, it has entirely to do with patterns of erasure of history/agency/humanity. The comparison also comes up because of the way the Holocaust is used to defend Israeli government policy, which is disgusting policy. Here is just one source of information about how the odds are stacked against Arabs in Israel.

      Look, you probably have a giant collection of biased facts and stats you can throw at me selectively in order to reinforce your Zionist perspective, but the truth is that you don't need to know *that* much to make a judgment call about the nature of this supposed "Israel/Palestine" conflict--all you really need to look at is the power differential. Zionists love to point out the desire to "wipe Israel off the face of the map," but the truth is that only Israel could ever wipe Palestine off the face of the map. Israel has nuclear weapons, economic power and the complete support of the United States government, which is also completely amoral and imperialistic, and racist--just like Israel. What kind of REAL threat could an essentially stateless, disenfranchised group of people like the Palestinians pose to a state as powerful and brutal as Israel? Civilians get killed in suicide bombings and such, sure--the response is a rain of white phosphorus all over Gaza. Sorry, not comparable--there's a difference between fighting to survive and fighting to assert control/to obliterate opposition to control.

      This is completely consistent with the United States being the undisputed hegemon in the world, a nation that also treats its non-white citizens with hostility and constant oppression--white nationalists are jerks with terrible beliefs, to be sure, but the idea that they could ever come close to the threat that the United States government and its corporate handlers pose towards people of color, even when ostensibly LEAD by a person of color, is crazy.

      When you see the degree to which Arabs in Israel are economically/socially/politically marginalized by looking at statistics or reading anecdotes, there's your red flag--every country has its groups that are marginalized, and in every case this marginalization is propped up by appeals to civility and anti-racism. I don't have to "deal" with the fact that anyone is a Zionist anymore than you have to "deal" with the fact that white nationalists can sometimes get it right, for all the wrong reasons. I am utterly, fervently against Zionism and will speak out about it. Maybe Zionism protects some people, the way racism protects some people. It doesn't protect me, and saying that anti-Zionism is anti-semitism is saying that I need to be protected--from my own opinions, even. That's chauvinistic, no matter how you look at it.

    4. tl;dr--Israel has way more power than Palestine, is an imperial power backed by another imperial power, and poses a serious structural threat to human life. I really don't know how to handle the problem of its existence anymore than I do the existence of the US, but I'm sure as hell it doesn't have to be like this.

      tl;dr 2: Catherine "Cappy" Bond Hill, the non-Jewish President of Vassar College, by equating anti-Zionism to anti-semitism is using "the plight of the Jews" to support the Vassar alumni's imperialist pet project.

    5. Catherine Hill, the President of Vassar (I'm not stooping to the insulting nickname you're using for the president of your college) did not equate anti-Zionism with antisemitism in her statement. Her email to the college began: "I am writing to condemn a racist, anti-Semitic graphic posted to the Tumblr online site affiliated with the Vassar chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)."

      She doesn't say anything about anti-Zionism in her email. She also said nothing about the "plight of the Jews." In fact, from her email, I have no idea what she thinks about Israel or the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

    6. Anon, you write: "The comparisons between the Holocaust and Israel/Palestine have nothing to do with the number of people killed, it has entirely to do with patterns of erasure of history/agency/humanity." I'm getting the impression you don't know anything about the Holocaust when you say thinks like this. The goal of the Nazis was to exterminate the Jews of Europe (and of the Middle East as well, if they had managed to conquer that area). The goal of the Israeli government has never been to exterminate Palestinian Arabs. If it had been, a lot more Palestinians would have been killed by the Israeli army, which as you point out is much more powerful than the military force available to the Palestinians.

      It is entirely possible to condemn everything Israel has done without invoking the Holocaust. You can accuse Israeli forces in the 1948 war of expelling Arabs (true), committing atrocities against Arabs (true), destroying Arab villages (true), and of not allowing most refugees to return after the war was over (true). The charges are serious enough without mentioning the Holocaust.

      You and others liken the Palestinian experience of dispossession to the Holocaust because you want to raise people's emotions to favor your side of the argument. The Israeli government does the same thing for the same reason, for example likening Arafat to Hitler. When either side invokes the Holocaust in this context they are guilty of historical illiteracy and attempted emotional blackmail.

    7. The question of what genocide is very tangled and fraught with political considerations. The Wikipedia article on genocide is a good introduction to attempts to define it, the Genocide Convention, and recent genocide tribunals (in the cases of genocide in Bosnia and in Rwanda) -

  2. I am a Vassar alumna and Vassar parent (and an "older white person."). I see nothing anti-Semitic about the posts. How is it that Israeli politics are so untouchable?

    1. Have you read through all of my posts on what the Vassar SJP has posted on their Tumblr blog? They have posted articles and cartoons from a neo-Nazi ("neonationalist"), from a white nationalist journal (Occidental Quarterly), and to top it all off, a Nazi propaganda poster from 1944.

      I do not think that Israeli politics are untouchable. Read through my blog. I also criticize Israel, sometimes quite severely.

      What I object to in the position of the Vassar SJP is, first of all, their publishing of antisemitic material, and secondly, their complete rejection of any right of the state of Israel to exist. I've read through everything on their Tumblr blog several times, and it's clear that they oppose a two-state solution and believe that Israel should never have been founded. It's unclear to me what they think should happen, based on their own writings, but based on their invitation of speakers like Ali Abunimah, my guess is that they favor a one-state solution, which would leave Jews as a minority in an Arab-Muslim state. The record of Arab-Muslim states to their Jewish minorities in the 20th century is pretty bad - almost all of the 900,000 Jews who lived in Arab and Muslim states in 1948 were forced to flee persecution and bad treatment.