Monday, October 10, 2016

One Vassar Student's Perspective on "Pinkwashing"

Readers might also be interested in this student letter to the editor of the Miscellany News, which was apparently also in response to Prof. Joshua Schreier's op-ed ("Bret Stephens’ ‘pinkwashing’ ignores Israeli state violence" 9/28/16):

Claims of ‘pinkwashing’ rely on toxic, antisemitic tropes

By JESSER HOROWITZ on October 5, 2016

Israel is the only safe place for homosexuals in the Middle East. In Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen, homosexual­ity is punishable by death. In Gaza, homosexu­ality is illegal. In the West Bank, homosexual­ity is legal, but being outed would be a death sentence (Washington Post, “The State of Gay Rights Around the World”, 06.14.2016).

Israeli attitudes toward homosexuality are far less than perfect. Like every country, it has its fair share of bigots. However, Israel, unlike most countries in the world, recognizes same-sex marriages performed outside the country, wel­comes LGBTQ+ people to serve in the military and allows same-sex couples to adopt children jointly. Tel Aviv is even considered one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world.

What if I told you that by giving you that se­ries of objectively truthful information, I played my part in a global Zionist conspiracy to distract the world media from Israel’s human rights vio­lations against the Palestinian people by co-opt­ing the cause of LGBTQ+ rights?

You’d probably say that I’m an idiot, an an­tisemite and that I should go back to 4chan. That’s because you are at least a semi-rational person. However, that is the philosophical basis of pinkwashing, an idea that has gained popu­larity among supporters of the BDS movement, anti-Zionists and other fervent critics of Israel.

[ . . . ]

Read the full letter here.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Laurie Josephs' Letter to the Editor of the Miscellany News responding to Prof. Joshua Schreier's "Pinkwashing" Charge against Israel

This letter in response to Prof. Joshua Schreier's "Talk Back" event and his opinion piece in the Miscellany News of Sept. 28, was published on Oct. 5.

Letter to the Editor


Although unwilling to directly debate Bret Stephens regarding Stephens’ purported “pinkwashing,” Professor Schreier offered his thoughts in a closed session “talk back” two days later and in his recent opinion piece in the Miscellany News (09.28.16: “Bret Stephens’ ‘Pinkwashing’ Ignores Israeli State Violence.”).  For those of you who find it difficult to follow Prof. Schreier’s tortured logic, here is his message in distilled form:

“Dear LGBTQ Community:  Although those of you living in the Arab Middle East and many other Muslim-dominant countries are at constant risk of imprisonment, torture and death (including by such choice means as being tossed off roofs or hanged from cranes), not to worry.  I am doing my best to convince students and future leaders of the world that it is racist even to mention such things.  Indeed, I am pushing them to focus instead on demonizing and vilifying the one nation in the Middle East where you can live openly and be true to yourselves, Israel.  And I do this because of all the horrible things that Israel does to Palestinians – you know, the big bad security fence (that almost eliminated the suicide bombings that plagued Israel in the Second Intifada) and the usurping of Palestinian water (never mind that due largely to Israeli efforts, the Palestinian water supply in the West Bank has become much more abundant and technologically advanced than it was prior to 1967).  And of course, there is that “low-octane genocide” accusation that I have been known to fling – notwithstanding that the Palestinian population continues to grow exponentially.  Nope, not to worry.  After all, who knows, someday the Arab and Muslim-dominant nations might change their homophobic ways and, if not, I am sure you don’t mind being sacrificed for the greater good of eliminating the world’s only Jewish state.”
It would indeed be funny were it not so terribly sad that at Vassar, Professor Schreier is the only faculty member teaching courses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Seven Comments on the Situation with Bret Stephens and That Professor Guy

by Michael Brenner

One of my favorite political commentators is Yoel Marcus of the left-wing Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz.  He used to publish columns called "Comments on the Situation."  This is my version.

1.  Is it possible to talk about what happens outside of the West without talking about the West?  We're myopically obsessed with ourselves, and Joshua Schreier is the most nearsighted among us.  Gay people are jailed in 21st-century Egypt, stoned in 21st-century Iran, and deported from 21st-century Bahrain, but Josh wants to talk about 19th-century French homophobia.  Sorry, Middle East LGBTQ community.  The academy has sacrificed you on the altar of post-colonial political correctness.  Rainbows require sunshine, and Joshua Schreier has focused all of his on Israel.

2.  As long as we’re talking about color, Black Lives Matter.  As my people say, Bimherah V’yameinu, may justice come speedily and in our time.   But what did Schreier mean when he compared American racial justice campaign to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?  Is the United States the subject of an intensive international campaign to demonize its people and effect its dissolution?  Israel is.  Is the United States the subject of structural discrimination at the UN, where states with human rights records inferior to its own line up to condemn it?  Iran condemns Israel as it stones gays to death.  China condemns Israel as it occupies Tibet.  Russia condemns Israel as it persecutes Muslim Chechens.  Israel faces far more opprobrium than any of these countries.  Tell me, Vassar students.  Why is that?  (Hint: It’s not just about the occupation.)

3.  By the way, does Vassar have any actual students? None of them were quoted in the Misc's coverage of Bret Stephens.  Instead, we got a long quote from some mensch who gave a beautiful Talmudic dissertation about respecting one another's strongly-held views and an even longer quote from some other guy who called Stephens a racist, misquoted him, repeated discredited BDS talking points, and suggested that people who support dialogue and a two-state solution weren't making a positive contribution.  The professor is the Talmud guy, right?  If not, he should be.

4.  Speaking of mensches, Bret Stephens seems super-nice.  Without raising his voice once, Bret called on people to respect each other's viewpoints, and even apologized for expressing concern about being disrupted.  His concern was legitimate.  SJP, with Josh Schreier's support, had chosen to preemptively slander him as a racist and had encouraged their members to attend his event.  They even pre-planned a post-Stephens whine-fest to complain about the invasion of Vassar's commune by a non-lefty Pulitzer Prize winner.  And it's not like SJP chapters across the country aren’t known for shouting down speakers and storming stages, when they aren’t forcing disinvitations or scaring speakers away, as they did at Brown, where SJP forced Janet Mock, an African-American trans speaker, to withdraw because her appearance was co-sponsored by Hillel, the Jewish students organization.

5.  Of course, I josh, and my terrible puns are always intended.  The real Bret Stephens was terrible, horrible, even.  Stephens said that the two-state solution was the best moral outcome in a conflict where both peoples have strong political and ethnic identities.  Terrible.  He encouraged grassroots, rather than top-down, activism.  Horrible.  He even encouraged people to take small gestures to help build trust between Israelis and Palestinians, and he asked us to recognize the humanity on both sides.  Despicable.  He also encouraged students to think critically and to reject those calling for Israel’s dissolution, something virtually every major BDS activist supports, or, in the case of Vassar’s SJP, regards as a desirable outcome.  Stephens also took lots of questions.  Curiously, none came from Josh Schreier.  He waited until he was among other BDSers to speak.

6.  Speaking of BDS scholars-cum-shills, can gay Palestinians in Israel be openly gay? Of course they can; sexual orientation freedom is covered by Israel's Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and by Israel Supreme Court precedent, and it’s been that way for more than 50 years.  The Israeli health system covers sexual reassignment surgery.  Do gay Palestinians living in the West Bank or Gaza have these rights?  No, because their civil rights are determined by Article 9, Section II, of Palestine's Basic Law, which, like similar legislation throughout the Middle East, does not cover sexual orientation, and it’s not because they forgot to put it in.  It’s just not safe to be gay and out in Palestine.  That’s why gay Palestinians take refuge in Israel, and no, it’s not because the Mossad signs all of them up as collaborators.  It’s because they want to survive.

7.  Speaking of gay people in the Middle East, Schreier seems to think that criticizing the lack of LGBTQ rights in the Middle East is the same as assuming that their cultures have always been this way and always will be.  Stephens didn’t say this, and neither do I.  Unfortunately, change moves in more than one direction, and the same-sex relationships that may have been tacitly accepted in the Middle East two centuries ago have given way to a culture of fear and repression today.  Again, Bimherah V’Yameinu, it should change speedily in our time.  But it sounds like we have a long way to go.  This year, the Grand Imam at Al-Azhar University, generally considered Sunni Islam’s most prestigious educational institution, called homosexuality a “moral disease” that undermines the innate quality of humanity,  But who cares about that guy?  No one takes him seriously, right?  Josh Schreier doesn’t seem to.  How could he?   The venerated clergyman did not even mention 19th-century France.

This letter in response to Prof. Joshua Schreier's "Talk Back" event on Sept. 22 and his recent opinion piece in the Miscellany news ("Bret Stephens' 'pinkwashing' ignores Israeli state violence")  appeared in the Miscellany News on Oct. 5.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Bret Stephens Interview at Vassar: "Why I Support Israel and Why You Should, Too"

      Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal columnist and news commentator, was interviewed at Vassar on Sept. 20 by Steven Cook, ’90, on the topic of “Why I Support Israel and Why You Should, Too.”  The event was funded by the Office of the President as part of the administration’s “Dialogue and Engagement Across Differences” initiative.  Cook, who is a senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of two books on the Middle East, posed a series of questions to Stephens regarding his support for Israel and his views on anti-Israel activism in the US.  The audience comprised about 70 students as well as several alumni and a few professors, college administrators and some community members.  The audience was seated around tables, and interim College president Jonathan Chennette, who introduced the event, said the seating was intended to provide the audience with the opportunity to discuss the topic with each other and formulate questions to Stephens after the interview.  What follows is a summary; a video of the entire interview can be seen at

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Reunion Panel on “Israel-Palestine” Dialogue Disappoints Alums

At Reunion 2016, the College presented what was described as a workshop, “Campus Perspectives on Israel-Palestine: Opening up the Dialogue.” The event, held early on Friday afternoon of June 10, was supposed to give alumni the opportunity to discuss the campus atmosphere with members of the faculty and administration. It appears to have been well-attended (reports ranged from 100-150 alumni attendees). However, based on feedback we received from some attendees, the event was conducted in such a way that there was minimal opportunity for alumni to obtain specific information. Rabbi Kerry Chaplin (Rose and Irving Rachlin Director for Jewish Student Life) introduced the panel, which consisted of Peter Antelyes (Director of the Jewish Studies Program), Ed Pittman (Associate Dean of Campus Life and Diversity); Chris Roellke (Dean of the College) and Sam Speers (Director of Religious and Spiritual Life and Assistant Dean for Campus Life). Each panelist spoke at length; then, with only 15 minutes remaining, the Rabbi announced that the alumni would be divided into small discussion groups. One alumna spoke out against the planned format and called upon the panel to address questions from the entire audience, whereupon the panel agreed to a very short question and answer session. 

The panelists provided no new information about the stridently anti-Israel atmosphere on campus and offered no assurances that programs and classes would embrace a balanced view of Israel. They merely repeated prior statements by the administration over the course of the past two years: people should not believe everything reported in the media; students must expect their views to be challenged; and Vassar has procedures to deal with bias. Based on reports, more than a few alumni were dissatisfied with the event and some subsequently advised President Hill (who was in attendance) it was not worthy of Vassar’s standards.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

BDS Fails in Campus-Wide Referendum!

The resolution endorsing BDS, which had been adopted by the Vassar Student Association (VSA) Council on March 6, was rejected in a campus-wide referendum last week. Voting began on April 26th and ended at noon on the 28th. Additionally, a proposed amendment to the VSA by-laws that would have forbidden reimbursement to student groups for purchases of products from companies deemed “complicit” with Israel, was defeated in a separate referendum vote. (The amendment had been voted on by the VSA along with the BDS resolution but had failed to achieve the 2/3 majority needed for adoption.)

After the VSA vote, the pro-BDS resolution and the amendment were submitted to the student body. Fewer than half the students actually voted. The tally is as follows:



Resolution Approving






Thus, in net numbers, only about 25% of the entire student body of over 2,000 supported either the BDS referendum or the amendment, despite what we were told was a virtually non-stop campaign by the student organizations promoting BDS (Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace).

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Refuting Jasbir K. Puar

Puar’s infamous Feb. 3 talk at Vassar, “Inhumanist Biopolitics: How Palestine Matters,” was so replete with distortions, mischaracterizations and outright lies that it would require an entire article to refute them – and here it is.

Friday, March 18, 2016

FTI Report on the Webinar - a discussion about current issues and tensions within our community related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

On February 25th, Vassar held a webinar to address alumni/parent concerns in the wake of the recent Wall Street Journal op-ed ("Majoring in Anti-Semitism at Vassar.")  Alums were invited to submit questions beforehand and over 930 alumni/parents listened in. 

Bill Plapinger, Chair of the Board of Trustees, led off the call with a statement extolling "the vibrant academic community at Vassar." He characterized Jasbir Puar's February 3rd talk at Vassar as an expression of a "viewpoint" that might make some students uncomfortable but said the "college cannot take sides."  

But as anyone who has monitored Vassar over the past few years knows, the college does take sides, and has done so repeatedly on many controversial social issues.  

Plapinger concluded by attacking the alumni who have been trying for the past few years to bring the problems he had just outlined to the attention of administration.  Quote:
But while I accept the validity of some of the criticism of the college, I ask you also to 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 may think, that is not how fair minded people act.  
But the Fairness to Israel anti-BDS petition, which garnered over 700 signatures and almost as many scathing comments in a period of just two weeks, tells a different story. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Vassar Student Association Passes BDS Resolution

Yesterday was a sad day for Vassar.

Last night, the 22-member VSA Council, which is Vassar's representative student government and which controls a budget of some $900,000, passed a resolution endorsing the BDS movement. The resolution passed by a vote of 15-7, despite repeated prior assurances to FTI from the administration that there was little chance of this happening. In connection with the BDS vote, the VSA took the following measures:

• Rejected, by a vote of 12-10, an amendment (which requires a 2/3 majority) to the VSA Constitution that would have denied reimbursement to Vassar student organizations for purchase of products such as Sabra Hummus and Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream; and

• Rejected (by an overwhelming majority) a J Street resolution that expressed support for the two state solution and called for the creation of a VSA committee to educate students on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Procedurally, both J Street and SJP/JVP, who sponsored the BDS Resolution and Amendment, still may petition for referenda, which would take place during student elections. To place a referendum on the ballot for a resolution that has passed (i.e., the BDS resolution), a sponsoring organization must get the signatures of 5% of the student body. For a resolution that has failed (i.e., the J Street resolution and the SJP amendment), the sponsoring organization must get the signatures of 15% of the student body.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Circling the Wagons at Vassar

This just up at Commentary by Jonathan Marks:
It has now been about a month since Jasbir Puar gave her infamous talk at Vassar College, about which I wrote here. Thanks to a strong reaction by Fairness to Israel, a Vassar alumni group, and the Academic Engagement Network (AEN), a new group devoted to combating the propagandistic treatment of the Israel-Palestinian issue on college campuses, the College is facing criticism. That criticism culminated in this Wall St. Journal op-ed, written by Mark Yudof and Kenneth Waltzer, board chair and executive director respectively of AEN. The Wall Street Journal has a circulation of 2.3 million. So Vassar, whose response had been muted, recently held a webinar, listened in on by 930 alums and parents, and featuring, among others, board chair Bill Plapinger, President Catharine Hill, and Peter Antelyes, director of Jewish Studies. The gist of their message: look over there!
Read the rest here.

Watch this space for more on the webinar shortly.