An Open Letter to Vassar on Antisemitic Policies and Double Standards [updated]

An Open Letter to Vassar on Antisemitic Policies and Double Standards [updated]

Note: The following open letter by Laurie R. Josephs, Vice President and Secretary of Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF), was first published at The Algemeiner; it is updated here with an additional email message sent to Vassar’s Jewish Studies department. Some further context for the criticism is provided in a recently published Commentary post and a post at Legal Insurrection.

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To the American Studies Steering Committee,

I write to express my deep and continuing frustration, sadness, and disgust over the continued willingness of Vassar faculty to sponsor hate speech when it comes to the Jewish State. Almost two years ago, several Vassar departments and programs co-sponsored two well-known antisemites, Ali Abunimah and Max Blumenthal — the latter of whom was banned from the German parliament for his antisemitic activities. Now we learn that American Studies is sponsoring Professor Jasbir Puar, a supporter of BDS and one of the luminaries who pushes the “pinkwashing” theory — that Israel cynically pretends to respect gay rights in order to distract from its alleged abuses of Palestinians.

The description of Puar’s upcoming talk indicates that she will be spewing the vitriol that Gaza is an “experimental laboratory for the Israeli military apparatuses, infrastructural chaos and metric manipulation,” and that she will be inviting her audience to imagine what types of Israeli “fantasies” about “power, about bodies, about resistance, about politics” might be driving the Israelis. Just substitute the word “Jew” for “Israeli” and you could certainly be excused for thinking this was lifted straight out of Der Sturmer, the Nazi propaganda paper that regularly portrayed Jews as filthy manipulators driven by a mad lust for power, intent on destroying the German nation.

Yes, even hate speech is protected speech and someone like Professor Puar is free to emit such garbage. And yes, she is even free to gussy it up with pretentious jargon in a pathetic effort to make it seem as if it had some academic or intellectual basis. But Vassar’s promotion and endorsement of such antisemitic speech through sponsorship by the American Studies program is entirely unfathomable and inexcusable.

This Committee would never agree to sponsor a speaker who used scientific or academic jargon to promote homophobic or racist theories. And Vassar faculty has repeatedly shown its sensitivity to any speech that is, or could possibly be construed as, Islamophobic.

But a different standard applies when it comes to Israelis and the Jewish state. Why is that?

Laurie Josephs, ’78

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To the Jewish Studies Program:

As an alum who was very devoted and supportive of Vassar for over 35 years, I would very much appreciate having those who decided that Jewish Studies should co-sponsor Prof. Puar’s upcoming talk explain to me the following:

  • What relevance to Jewish Studies does this talk have? From the calendar description, the topic is  Puar’s assertions that Israeli soldiers deliberately maim and stunt Palestinians in order to keep down the death tolls and debilitate the Gazan population, and that Israelis fantasize about Gazan “bodies” as they embark on this “project.”  What has this to do with Jewish people?  Is there some thought that Jews inherently wish to control others by physically disabling them?  That Jews inherently fantasize about the bodies of populations they wish to control?  Doesn’t it seem to you that such talk sounds as if it were lifted straight out of Der Sturmer (the Nazi propaganda paper that regularly characterized Jews as evil plotters lusting after Aryan bodies)?
  • What vetting did any of you do before agreeing to co-sponsor this person? Was it simply sufficient that she has academic credentials?  Did any of you know that Puar has written such blatantly anti-Semitic statements as that “Israel in particular and Jewish populations in general have thoroughly hijacked the discourse of trauma through exceptionalizing Holocaust victimization”  See at page 16.  Do any of you begin to see the obscene irony of Jewish Studies co-sponsoring such a speaker?  If some department was so misguided as to sponsor a speaker who propounds theories of racial inferiority, would you expect the Africana Studies program to co-sponsor it in the name of academic freedom and solidarity with their misguided faculty colleagues?  Or might you expect the Africana Studies faculty to explain to the sponsoring department why the latter’s choice of a racist speaker was so wrong?
  • How is that despite the documented and very alarming increase in anti-Semitism in Europe, Jewish Studies has not seen fit to sponsor a speaker to address this resurgent scourge? Yes, there have been some events about the Holocaust; apparently, despite Puar’s grievances over Jews “exceptionalizing” their genocidal suffering, Vassar’s faculty has not yet ruled out acknowledging  that Jews have been victims of  at  the hands of the Nazis.  But droves of Jews are leaving France because their religion has made them unsafe, and there are regular reports of Jews being targeted in Belgium, Sweden, Germany and other European nations which were supposed to have shed the anti-Semitism that infected  that region for centuries.  How is this not a worthy  and pressing subject for a speaker?  What message are you sending by not addressing current day anti-Semitism while you co-sponsor someone like Puar?

Thank you. I would very much appreciate a candid and considered response.  Also, given your co-sponsorship of a speaker who engages in what most people would acknowledge to be lies and distortions about the Israeli military, I urge you to sponsor a speaker who has direct experience with the IDF and who wishes to dispute Puar’s claims.  There is at least one Vassar alum who I know is willing to do so.

Laurie Josephs ’78

Image credit: Facebook page for Jasbir Puar’s book “Terrorist Assemblages”.