Vassar College has been rocked by a series of anti-Israel, anti-Semitic events.
Apparently the President of Vassar, Catharine Hill, has received numerous alumni complaints and concerns, because she issued a statement to alumni seeking to allay their concerns. But in the process, the President sought to shift the responsibility by blaming “online publications” and “social media” for the controversy.
I don’t know if the President included Legal Insurrection in her criticism, but please scroll through our Vassar College Tag so you can see how thoroughly we have documented all our reporting.
As background, anti-Israel activism has led to anti-Semitic incidents in 2014 and 2016. Among other things, in 2014 Jewish students who stood up at a campus-wide forumwere mocked and jeered by a raucous crowd of students and faculty, a class was picketed and a professor forced to cross a picket line of ululating students because the course involved a trip to Israel (and the West Bank), Students for Justice in Palestine posted a Nazi cartoon on social media, and pro-Israel displays were vandalized.
Just recently, a Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution campaign kick-off by SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace, followed by a faculty-sponsored event at which Israel was accused of engaging in an experiment to “stunt” Palestinian bodies, led to anti-Semitic messages on campus Yik-Yak.
Over last weekend yet another scandal arose, when SJP promoted the sale of t-shirts honoring Palestinian terrorist Leila Khalid, the first female plane hijacker. As an aside, Khalid led the Rasmea Odeh Brigade; Odeh, you will recall, is the supermarket bomber who killed two Jewish university students in 1969, and currently is awaiting a decision on appeal of her immigration fraud conviction.
The Featured Image is a catalog image of the shirt.
The terrorist t-shirt sale was first reported by Ithaca College Jewish Studies Professer Rebecca Lesses, who also was the first person to report on SJP’s 2014 publication of a Nazi cartoon. Lesses wrote at her website, Vassar College Students for Justice in Palestine lauds Leila Khaled, terrorist hijacker:
As before, in the spring of 2014, Vassar SJP just doesn’t know when to stop. This t-shirt, with the image of Leila Khaled and the caption “resistance is not terrorism,” is going to be sold at their events. by an organization called Existence is Resistance.
Leila Khaled was involved in the hijacking of two airplanes in 1969 and 1970. She is a member of the PFLP – Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The Wikipedia article on her gives information about both of the hijackings….
A fine hero for SJP at Vassar to have – an airplane hijacker who managed to avoid jail. Apparently the people in the two planes that she hijacked – TWA 840 and El Al 219 – don’t matter to them. The terrorist, not the victims, is the one they laud. They don’t appear to be able to imagine themselves as the terrified passengers, wondering what was going to happen to them when armed attackers take over their planes. No, what they like is “sweet fucking antiZionist gear.”
[Vassar Student Andrew Joung]
Existence for Resistence sells other shirts showing Palestinian terrorists armed for attack; it’s not known which other t-shirt were sold at the SJP event in addition to the Leila Khalid shirt.
Existence for Resistence also promotes the use of children in the conflict.
Vassar President Catharine Hill on Friday, February 12, 2016, issued a statement directed at alumni. The statement is available on the college website, and I encourage you to read the whole thing. Here are excerpts, with my commentary:
Because I see regularly the great vitality and positive energy of our student body, I am very concerned, and conflicted, with the fact that some of our graduates feel alienated from the college because of tensions on campus around challenging issues, notably those around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is distressing to know that these tensions have caused pain, even anger, for some of our alumnae/i for whom Vassar has for decades been a welcoming place.
Over the last few weeks, tensions on campus and among our alumnae/i around the conflict between Israel-Palestine have heightened. The most recent tensions have arisen over a pro-Palestinian, pro-BDS Movement (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) academic speaker who was invited to lecture last week by our American Studies Program, with the Jewish Studies Program and other departments and programs as co-sponsors. Some found at least parts of her talk offensive to Jews in particular, and others have found many of her writings highly objectionable. Our commitments to academic freedom and free speech demand that we not censor speakers on campus, however controversial. Censoring speakers cannot be the solution to our tensions, and jeopardizes the core academic mission of our institution.
This was a neat rhetorical trick, taking legitimate criticisms of an event sponsored by multiple faculty departments and coordinated with the BDS student groups, and portraying that criticism as an attempt at censorship.
Hill then went to blamed “online publications” and “social media” coverage, for inaccurate characterizations of the campus climate (emphasis added):
I have received many e-mails from alumnae/i deeply concerned about how the atmosphere on campus is being portrayed in online publications and through social media.  These characterizations of the college simply are not accurate.
To blame social media doesn’t seem like much of an answer given the history in the past two years. Particularly when a Jewish Vassar student recently wrote in the college newspaper about the toxic atmosphere on campus.
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.
The claim that Zionism is Racism has been repudiated even by the anti-Israel U.N. General Assembly, revoking the odious 1975 resolution, but at Vassar SJP carries signs proclaiming that discredited anti-Semitic message:
Vassar SJP Students Holding Signs
Then U.S. UN Ambassador Daniel Moynihan spoke eloquently in rebuttal of spoke of the “infamous” Zionism is Racism act. But such claim is now standard fare at Vassar, and other campuses. It is an anti-Semitic claim which seeks to deny the Jewish people the right of self-determination in the historic homeland of the Jewish people.
A Vassar alum who remains active in campus related issues emailed me the following statement in response to the President’s statement [“Cappy” is first name used by Vassar’s president]:
Cappy Hill adds insult to injury. Her disingenuous statement’s ala a politician’s non-apology apology- to anyone who was offended- as if the issue was the hypersensitivities of the recipients rather than objectively outrageous statements and actions as in the problem here.
It is not simply a matter of presenting both sides to the Israeli-Palestine situation, which is certainly a problem at Vassar. Cappy already made the commitment to bringing in differing perspectives, with little to show for it. So her reutterance of the same refrain rings hollow.
She lacks either the moral clarity or courage to bring herself to criticize what goes way beyond legitimate academic discourse to simply hate speech, defamatory falsehoods like the blood libel, and even the advocacy of violence.
It is appalling that the president of Vassar cannot condemn the outright anti-Semitism which is supported by departments and programs at the school and her failure to do so will continue to damage Vassar’s hard won reputation, lessen funds contributed to the college and deter Jewish and other applicants who learn what is happening.
Vassar was founded and long known as a great women’s school. More recently it was known as a champion of gay rights. It is a tremendous irony that many of the faculty, following a fashionable ideological trend, are now fixated upon the only country in the middle east where there are rights for women and gays. These faculty are inculcating their students with such perverse dogma and it is a natural consequence that the worst of these students are inspired to spread hate.
If Cappy Hill truly wants to help Vassar, she should act like Lawrence Summers did at Harvard, and unequivocally condemn BDS for the imbalanced, anti-Semitic strategy that it is, prior to the upcoming referendum and before this once august institution and her students suffer more.
Clearly, there is a problem at Vassar.
And social media is not to blame.