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.

Peter Beinart at Vassar

On Wednesday, March 3, J Street U sponsored a talk by Peter Beinart, Associate Professor of Journalism and Political Science at CUNY. The lecture, entitled “The Crisis of Zionism” (also the title of his 2012 book), was co-sponsored by President Hill’s Dialogue and Engagement Across Difference Fund, the Jewish Studies Program and the Religion Department.An alum who attended the event published a detailed account on Facebook, stating that Beinart, who describes himself as a "liberal Zionist," "offered an educated perspective (whether you disagree or not with his views) on the issues involving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as well as on BDS.” According to the report, Beinart "explain[ed] his views on why he believes in a two-state solution and his criticism about current Israeli leadership." He was also quite critical of the BDS mission and positions, while stating that he agreed with some boycotts of Israeli settlement products, and suggested that BDS does not have the actual needs of Palestinians on its radar. In response to a question, he also addressed "the concerns of alumni as well as the generational gap differences with millennials" by challenging both to understand each other's concerns.

On the subject of the convergence between antisemitism and anti-Zionism, the report suggests that Beinart "failed to some extent to understand that the language being used at Vassar and other campuses goes beyond anti-Zionist rhetoric and crosses quickly in antisemitism."

The attending alum indicated that students in conversation after the event wished to convey the following message:
they feel they are happy and able to be Jews at Vassar and that the BDS movement is not limiting their voice or their ability to represent their causes; that the BDS movement is a big concern to them but they are addressing it and working to combat the referendum; that there is a concern about the Jewish Studies Department where there is a strong anti-Israel bias that is in some sense driving the BDS movement on campus; that the Puar speech did create angst and concern within the Jewish community; and they would like to see more alumni engaged in personal dialogue with them on the campus.
According to the report, President Hill and a number of faculty members attended the event.

Those who are on Vassar4Israel's Facebook page can read the full report here

For a comprehensive analysis of the response to Beinart's book, see:

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Bassem Eid Criticizes BDS

Bassem Eid, founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG), spoke to an audience of 85 students and three faculty members at Vassar on February 17.  He was neither invited nor sponsored by any department, academic program or student group; instead, his appearance was made possible by the college administration and a student who is involved with CAMERA.  One faculty member, from the film department, agreed to serve as moderator.  Faculty members in the Jewish Studies program were notably uninvolved with the event and none attended.

Eid is well-known for his criticism of the Palestinian leadership.  In his speech at Vassar, he stated that poor leadership and the divisions between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas were the chief causes of the Palestinians’ problems.  He added that many Palestinians acknowledge they get better treatment in Israel-controlled areas than in Gaza and that the PA is corrupt.

According to a student who attended, several members of SJP were in the audience.  Eid did not spare their feelings.  “I don’t believe that the Students for Justice for Palestine will bring any kind of justice for the Palestinians,” he said, “because the only one who can bring justice for the Palestinians is the Palestinians themselves.”

In his writings and talks elsewhere, Eid has gone on record in opposition to BDS, and at Vassar he repeated his stance.  He said, “I don’t believe that BDS is going to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  I don’t even know one person in the PA or Gaza that knows what BDS is.”  He added that BDS undermines Palestinian economic interests, citing the loss of 500 jobs for Palestinian workers because of the closure of the SodaStream factory, which was forced to leave the West Bank, in part due to by pressure from pro-BDS groups in the West.

Asked if Israel was an “apartheid state,” Eid said, “Using that word doesn’t help me. It’s a waste of everyone’s time. Just come [to Israel] for one day, and you’ll throw out the word apartheid.”  He added, “Palestinians need to start believing in co-existence.  Palestinians can’t deny the existence of Israel and the right of Israel to exist.”

According to an FTI member who attended and provided information used in this article, the students were very receptive to Eid’s remarks and there was much applause.  When it was over, many went over to thank him.

Vassar included an article on Eid in its on-line news site.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

February BDS Blitz at Vassar

The campus has been bombarded with a veritable blizzard of events and programs advocating BDS in the run-up to the March 6 Vassar Student Association vote on whether to adopt this BDS resolution (and amendment) .  Lectures, art exhibits, film screenings, dramatic presentations, group discussions and ... pizza!  The descriptions of the events are taken from the College calendar, the SJP Facebook page and/or the JVP Facebook page.  Details after the jump:

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Jewish Studies Professor Appears to Endorse Puar's Claims in Q&A Session

In the Q&A session following Prof. Puar's lecture (see below), Prof. Joshua Schreier, professor of History and Jewish Studies at Vassar (and former Director of the Jewish Studies Program), commented on her charge of deliberate maiming as a tactic of "biopolitical control" over the Palestinians.  His "question" is produced verbatim below:

Schreier: It’s something you are talking to as well, I’m kind of curious about this incredible apparat - technological apparatus that’s kind of being deployed here to do this kind of harm, to do this kind of maiming, to do this  and the use of a kind of notion of you know of a disappearing society sometimes it’s the opposite of that.  You know? It’s a tremend - as as horrific, as effective as it is at maiming and creating and maintaining these bodies, so many bodies alive yet disabled and stunted or whatever at the same time it’s - given the kind of discourse of demographic threat and the kind of biopolitical discourse, you know, it’s very thick over there, it’s interesting at the same time how much of a tremendous failure it is.
Puar: Oh the the biopolitical control ... 
Schreier: Yeah, I mean it’s such a mammoth failure in the sense that it’s, you know, it can do all this incredible damage and yet there’s zero, obvious hegemony, there’s zero and the and the and the growth rate continues despite this incredible apparatus meant to control, stem, funnel or whatever. So I just, I don’t know, I don’t know how I can phrase that in a question but it’s puzzling.