Vassar College, which describes itself as “a highly selective, residential, coeducational liberal arts college,” has recently attracted a lot of attention because of the energetic activism of so-called “pro-Palestinian” groups like Vassar’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) who were apparently supported by dozens of faculty members. As I noted in a related post a few weeks ago, the anti-Zionist – and sometimes also anti-Semitic – website Mondoweiss seemed to view the activism at Vassar as a kind of bellwether indicating victory in the “BDS war on campus.” By now, Mondoweiss has published another similarly triumphant report on a Vassar event with the movement’s “rock stars” Ali Abunimah and Max Blumenthal; according to an announcement on Facebook, the event was co-sponsored by Jewish Studies and the departments of English, Political Science, Religion, Geography, and Sociology.
Before addressing subsequent developments, it is useful to recall that the first Mondoweiss report included the acknowledgement that “SJP students can be obnoxious,” though it also suggested that they should be compared to “abolitionists during slavery” who were “dedicated to a principle worth living and dying for.” However, if this comparison is at all justified, it is arguably in the sense that the goal of “pro-Palestinian” activism is the abolition of the world’s only Jewish state – and it is hardly surprising that the pursuit of this goal indeed often results in undeniably “obnoxious,” i.e. anti-Semitic, conduct.
Vassar’s SJP chapter seems eager to provide plenty of evidence for this deplorable phenomenon. As Rebecca Lesses documents in a just published blog post, SJP Vassar featured anti-Semitic material on their tumblr page. When I clicked on the link to check out the page, I discovered that additional anti-Semitic material had been posted – or, to be more precise: a cartoon suggesting that Israel can get away with any behavior due to the Holocaust was cross-posted from a site named “neonationalist.” Apparently, Vassar SJP had no qualms about featuring material from “neonationalist,” even though the page is exactly what one would expect: a “white pride” promoter sharing utterly offensive material on topics like “Nationalism,” “Racialism,” “Anti-Feminism,” and, yes, “Anti-Degeneracy.”
If this was an isolated case of supposedly left-wing “pro-Palestinian” activists and far-right reactionaries finding their lowest common denominator in their shared enthusiasm for anti-Semitic material, it would perhaps not be worth mentioning. But unfortunately, there are plenty of similar examples, as I have shown when I documented (pdf) the popularity of Max Blumenthal’s work on Israel at racist and neo-Nazi forums. In the meantime, it has become clear that in addition to the sites I mentioned, Blumenthal’s writings were also posted on the neo-Nazi forum used by the arrested suspect in last month’s fatal Overland Park, Kansas, shootings. As William Jacobson rightly emphasizes in a related blog post, this does not mean that Blumenthal should in any way be considered as responsible for the shooting; however, Jacobson is also right to argue that it is time to examine “the intersection between neo-Nazi and anti-Zionist conspiracy theories.”
Likewise, it is arguably time for colleges and universities to examine the question if the support from faculty and staff for supposedly “pro-Palestinian” activism shouldn’t be matched by support for programs that would educate students about anti-Semitism. If Mondoweiss is right to see Vassar activism as a bellwether, there can be no doubt about the urgent need for improving students’ knowledge and understanding of anti-Semitism.