For those who watch how Israel and those Jews who refuse to despise it are treated on college campuses, Vassar has been a depressingly reliable source of bad news. Just this month, at this heart of righteous progressive thinking, a swastika was placed on a student’s door. But the more fundamental problem at Vassar has been a relentless campaign against Israel, led by Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace. This campaign has at times involved antisemitism of a not very subtle sort. At other times, it has involved merely attempts to derail and intimidate into silence any faculty member or student who take anything other than the hardest line against Israel. Here is just one example: activists apparently attempted to deny funding to Vassar’s chapter of J-Street, a liberal, anti-occupation group supportive of a two-state solution, to travel to a conference sponsored by the liberal Israeli newspaper, Haaretz because, well, Zionism is racism, or something like that.
The BDS movement in the United States seeks, as it does in other nations, to make Israel into a pariah state. How is it doing? The most recent Gallup report, which includes its 2016 results as well as some numbers from prior years, is one indication that BDS is failing here.
In 2005, when the most recent wave of boycott activity commenced, Gallup asked survey respondents: “In the Middle East situation, are your sympathies more with the Israelis or with the Palestinians? 52 percent sympathized more with Israel, 18 percent more with the Palestinians. More than ten years of relentless campaigning against Israel later, and 62 percent sympathize more with Israel, 15 percent more with the Palestinians.
Mark Yudof, former president of the University of California, and Kenneth Waltzer, professor emeritus of history at Michigan State University, responded sensibly to all this in a Wall Street Journal op-ed (behind a pay wall). They noted, correctly, that Puar’s talk was part of a history of anti-Israel activity at Vassar that has occasionally crossed the line into overt anti-Semitism. They added that the Puar lecture was a new low and that faculty members and President Catharine Bond Hill ought to “confront [the] wave of anti-Semitism with… free speech and rigorous academic inquiry.” They didn’t say Puar should have been barred from speaking, though their argument implies that sponsoring her talk was breathtakingly poor judgment. They merely called on members of Vassar’s faculty and administration to challenge Puar’s claims.
Last week, I reported on the appearance at Vassar College, co-sponsored by their Jewish Studies program, of Jasbir Puar, a Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at Rutgers University. As I noted then, Puar accuses Israel of deliberately maiming Palestinians, rather than killing them, out of some combination of cruelty and greed. At that time, I did not have a record of the speech, which took place last Wednesday. But members of Fairness to Israel, a group of Vassar alums and parents organized to counter the propagandizing that passes for academic discourse about Israel at Vassar, were present and recorded and transcribed Puar’s talk. Assuming the accuracy of the transcript, Puar did not disappoint.
Much of it was evidently incomprehensible. Here is a sample, a part of her description of her project “How Palestine Matters”: “How Palestine Matters situates the geopolitical that has been obliviated in the resurrection of the ecological and the geographical in emergent fields of new materialisms and anthropocene studies.”