Thursday, February 11, 2016

BDS at Vassar - again

BDS has shown up again at Vassar, with a vengeance. The most recent edition of the Vassar student newspaper has published two good articles about BDS and antisemitism. The first one is from the J Street U chapter - it is a vigorous argument against BDS and for both Israeli and Palestinian rights.

The first couple of paragraphs:
J Street U Vassar would like to formally an­nounce their opposition to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) resolution pending at Vassar and reiterate its opposition to the wid­er BDS movement. We want to highlight that J Street U Vassar’s primary purpose isn’t to fight BDS, but to play a role in the larger fight to end the occupation of the West Bank and develop a two-state solution. Fighting BDS does neither of these things, but as the sole pro-Israel orga­nization on campus, we intend to be an active participant in the dialogue surrounding the res­olution. At the same time, this won’t be our sole focus for the semester, and we will continue to engage in projects to meet our goals as a pro-Is­rael, pro-Palestine, pro-two states organization. 
We believe that BDS is pat-on-the-back activ­ism. It does more to make individuals feel better about themselves than it does to tangibly support the rights of the Palestinian people. By not specif­ically targeting the movements and parties that directly perpetuate the occupation, BDS is pas­sive and doesn’t take courageous action on behalf of Palestinians. BDS is also dismissive of Israelis who are pro-Palestine, anti-racism and pro-human rights. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is extremely complex and the reductive nature of BDS doesn’t account for this complexity. Therefore it isn’t an appropriate or effective strategy to end the occu­pation and the oppression of Palestinian people. Additionally, BDS is not the end-all solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is certainly not the only way to stand in solidarity with Palestinians.
The second article is by a student named Jesse Horowitz - Antisemitism present in antizionist rhetoric.
Last Friday, Feb. 5, an email was sent out to the student body regarding antisemitic comments posted on Yik Yak. Most notably, one user commented “f*ck Jews” on a post defend­ing Israel, which prompted swift condemnation from the Administration as well as student groups such as the Vassar Jewish Union (VJU) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). 
But that wasn’t all. Later on in the same con­versation, that individual clarified that they didn’t mean f*ck all Jews, just the ones who support Is­rael, and fully embraced that this somehow made their comment acceptable. 
That same day, another commenter on Yik Yak used similar antisemitic language, engaging in statements such as “your just a retard and so are Zionists” and “Zionism is a plague of mankind. These Jews stand around throwing this is antise­mitic and that’s antisemitic” and “I’ve never met a Jew who didn’t think Israel is their home land. Jews through terrorism have kept Palestinians locked like animals in their home.” 
That same commenter insinuated that the Jews, and me personally for being a Jew, should evaluate what we “do wrong in Palestine and oth­er places.” I have photographic evidence of this entire conversation. 
It is impossible to discuss these statements while ignoring the growing anti-Zionist senti­ment on campus. But how linked are these sen­timents and what responsibility should pro-Pal­estinian organizations take incidents such as this?....

So, let’s accept, for the time being, that anti-Zi­onism is not inherently antisemitic. After all, it goes without saying that Israel’s human rights record has not been perfect, and it’s unaccept­able to completely dismiss all opposition to it as racist. However, just because criticizing Israel is not inherently antisemitic does not mean that the rhetoric of organizations such as Students for Jus­tice in Palestine (SJP), or even, for that matter, a Jewish Voice for Peace, cannot contribute to an­tisemitic viewpoints....

The activities and language of pro-Palestinian groups on campus goes above and beyond cri­tiquing Israel into demonizing opposition. For example, take SJP’s condemnation of the antisemitic statements made on Yik Yak. In it, they denied that Judaism is inextricably linked with Zionism. This is telling. While there are certainly Jews on campus who do not identify as Zionists, SJP seems to believe that they can make unfairly broad statements condemning Zionism, even liberal Zionism, as inherently racist, while ignoring that, for most people, Zionism and Juda­ism are linked. When organizations such as SJP make broad statements condemning all Zionists as racists, not only are they attempting to mar­ginalize and demonize their opposition, but they are sending a message to the community that it is okay to think less of a Jew who defends Israel’s right to exist. 
Furthermore, I take issue with SJP’s endorse­ment of bullying, vaguely antisemitic ideas such as pinkwashing. Pinkwashing Israel, a global LGBT, anti-Israel organization, defines pinkwashing as “the disingenuous invocation of LGBT rights by Israel and its supporters to divert attention away from its atrocities against the Palestinians.” 
The idea that Jewish, Israeli or LGBT rights or­ganizations are scheming to exploit LGBT rights for the purpose of distracting the public from hu­man rights violations in Palestine is reminiscent of the old and tired antisemitic beliefs of a “world­wide Jewish Zionist conspiracy.” Even if that is not pro-Palestinian activists mean to suggest, it should be obvious why such an idea could lead to an antisemitic incident. It begs the question: when an organization takes what has traditional­ly been said to marginalize Jews and replaces the word “Jew” with “Zionist” or even “Jewish Zion­ist,” does that make said statement any less prob­lematic. My answer, and I suspect the answer of most individuals, would be of course not. 
But even this I can tolerate to an extent, as long as there is a healthy opposition to these ideas. Unfortunately, pro-Palestinian student groups on campus have gone out of their way to obstruct the activities of dissenters. 
Perhaps the best example of this comes from the end of last semester, when SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace both tried to prevent J Street from attending a conference in New York be­cause some of the speakers at the event identified as liberal Zionists. While the VSA unanimously agreed to let J Street attend the conference, this incident highlights a frustration that many indi­viduals have with dialogue regarding Israel on this campus. The most baffling part of all of this is that J Street is not even a radical Zionist organi­zation. They’re a moderate group that urges for a two-state solution and whose foremost concern is peace in the region....
So what’s the takeaway? Firstly, I urge Vas­sar’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine to formally acknowledge that their language has been has been irresponsible and apologize to the Jewish community. Secondly, I ask them to take a stand in favor of free speech at Vassar and to op­pose the censorship and unfair treatment of any student organization, even those that disagree with them on a particular issue. 
Finally, I ask the student body to engage in re­spectful dialogue that does not dismiss anyone’s opinion as either inherently antisemitic or racist. We must realize that saying “f*ck Jews” is wrong the same way saying “f*ck Palestinians” would be wrong. If the state of discourse on Israel is allowed to continue, Vassar will be doomed to become an extremely hostile environment where those of certain beliefs are privileged over others. It is on the basis of a free state that we can fight for our beliefs while respecting the dignity of our opponents.
SJP masquerades as a democratic organization that is in favor of free speech, but as is obvious from Horowitz's article, SJP (and JVP) are only interested in stifling the voices of those who do not agree with them. Why on earth would they try to prevent the J Street U chapter from going to their own conference in New York? What even gives them the right to do that?
It's pretty obvious that SJP and JVP have created a poisonous atmosphere at Vassar that allows outright antisemitism to flourish. I think it would be very unpleasant to teach there - especially since the head of the Jewish Studies program is also extremely anti-Zionist and in favor of BDS.

No comments:

Post a Comment