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Vassar’s education on anti-Semitism

As published in the New York Daily News

Something important happened at Vassar College this week. President Elizabeth Bradley took a public stand against the poisonous Jew-hatred espoused by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

Here is what transpired.

The student group Vassar Organizing Israel Conversations Effectively (VOICE) invited Israeli writer, lecturer and social media activist Hen Mazzig, to relate his family’s history of expulsion from Iraq and Tunisia and resettlement in Israel. His story is a microcosm of the 850,000 stories of Jews expelled from Arab countries in the 20th century.

Prior to the event, Vassar SJP released a Facebook statement denigrating Mazzig and the host student group, demonizing Israel as an apartheid state, delegitimizing Zionism as a “settler-colonial project” and discouraging students from attending the program. Their antisemitic behavior is just the latest in a well-documented list of hate-filled conduct — conduct which helped place Vassar 15th in the most recent Algemeiner’s list of the worst campuses for Jewish students in North America.

During the event, Vassar’s SJP protestors shouted down the Israeli speaker, chanting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” forcing a 15-minute halt to Mazzig’s presentation.

Mazzig remarked on Twitter, “Tonight, as I spoke about how anti-Zionists hung my great grandfather in Iraq, anti-Zionists chanted for my death at Vassar College in NY.”

“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” refers to the Jordan River east to the Mediterranean Sea, encompassing all of modern Israel. This rallying cry, first used by the terrorist group Hamas, calls for the annihilation of Israel. It is as racist as was the “Jews will not replace us” chant by white supremacists in Charlottesville in 2017.

Bradley’s initial response was equivocal, saying, “(These ) words have been associated by some people (emphasis added) with anti-Semitism.” Mazzig retorted that no other minority would be treated this way.

Vassar SJP’s behavior is similar to other chapters. The Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism just issued a report concluding that SJP’s denial of Israel’s right to exist, its denial of Jewish history and its comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany or South African apartheid all represent blatant Jew-hatred.

In her first public communication following the Mazzig incident, Bradley emphasized the importance of pluralism and diverse opinions on campus. Unfortunately, all SJP campus chapters, including Vassar’s, pursue a policy of “anti-normalization,” rejecting dialogue with any group or individual who believes in Israel’s right to exist. On their Facebook page, Vassar’s SJP declared, “There is no two-sided conversation to be had…. Zionism is inherently racist….We refuse to offer space for even more racism and imperialism on this campus….Do not attend this talk.” In their school newspaper letter, SJP insisted, “There is no free exchange of ideas to be had.” So much for “pluralism” and “diverse opinions.”

SJP is a hate group by any reasonable standards. College administrators have no trouble identifying antisemitism on the extreme right, but too often give a pass to leftist groups like SJP.

Here’s the good news.

Four days after Bradley’s initial ambiguous comment, she changed her mind, issuing a community-wide statement which included, “Last week’s event in which students chanted at an invited speaker was unacceptable….In the days following the incident, I have spent time speaking with and learning from students, faculty, alumnae/i and experts in the field, and I now believe the use of the chant — in this way, directed at this speaker — crossed the line into anti-Semitism….On this campus, we do not tolerate anti-Semitism, hate speech or discrimination of any kind.”

What other hate groups that advocate the destruction of a country and its people are permitted on Vassar’s campus? It remains to be seen whether the college will remove its institutional funding and support for SJP.

At last, Vassar College is confronting modern Jew-hatred, sending a clear message that antisemitism will not be tolerated and there will be consequences for those who traffic in such hatred. Elizabeth Bradley sets a principled example. This is a proud and possibly historic moment for my alma mater.

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