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.

Unfortunately, it seems that the College administration continues to view alumni concerns about anti-Israel and anti-Jewish propaganda as a PR problem, rather than a serious issue that requires effective action. We have been told that, as part of its efforts to encourage alumni donations, Vassar has advised that things have improved and has cited the recent student-wide vote against the BDS resolution as proof. In our view, the narrow student vote against BDS, while preferable to the alternative, is not a sign of any meaningful or lasting change in the way Israel or its supporters are treated on campus. To the contrary, there is nothing that will prevent the hate-filled BDS campaign, Israel Apartheid week and similar events from re-occurring next year, nor have we seen anything from Jewish Studies or other Vassar programs or departments that indicates they feel a responsibility to promote fair and balanced programming about Israel. We continue to urge our members to let Vassar know that they will not be satisfied until Vassar takes their concerns seriously. The first step is for Vassar to acknowledge that the problems of antisemitism and anti-Israel bias on campus exist.