Tuesday, April 01, 2014

BSD On-Campus Activities Reminiscent of Nazi Germany

Yes, comparisons to Nazi Germany in the 1930s can be overdone and overwrought, but in the case of the activities of the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement on American, Canadian and European universities, the comparison is apt and needs to be urgently and stridently made. Not only Israel and Zionism, but academic freedom are at risk.

BDS and other on-campus pro-Palestinian activists are the Brown Shirts of our day. Not content to debate issues with their opponents in a dignified and respectful manner (probably because they know that their charges of "apartheid" would not survive the sunlight of free and open debate), they exercise the heckler's veto. They believe that the righteousness of their cause justifies disrupting speakers and classes, and generally try to intimidate and suppress any expression of opinions contrary to their own.

If you believe I exaggerate, please read this account by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East of recent incidents at Vassar College, involving protests and disruption by Students for Jusice in Palestine ("SJP") of Vassar's International Studies 110 ("IS"), because of a planned academic trip to Israel.

The IS trip was taught and led by Vassar professor of Earth Science and Geography, Jill Schneiderman, and associate professor of Greek and Roman Studies, Rachel Friedman. Its educational purpose was to look “at issues of water rights and access to the Jordan River, as well as disparities in water distribution in Palestine and Israel.” Locations visited by students in the class included sites throughout Israeli and Palestinian Authority controlled territories and a Palestinian refugee camp in Bethlehem.

Professor Schneiderman’s teaching objective was inclusive. “I was motivated to propose and teach such a course because from my perspective as an earth scientist,” she wrote in a blog, “I understand how daily and future access to clean water in ample supply is one of the key issues about which people in the region fight. It is also a problem on which Arabs, Jews, Jordanians, Palestinians, and Israelis have worked together with integrity and compassion.”

The response of SJP was not to peacefully protest against the trip. Rather they tried to disrupt the class and intimidate the students enrolled in the course. As Scholars for Peace in the Middle East notes:

On February 6th, nine members of SJP appeared at the classroom for the IS course and formed a human barricade to impede students from entering the classroom. An SJP leaflet distributed to students described Israel as sponsoring apartheid and asserted that “the indigenous people of Palestine” did not want students going on the trip.

Professors Friedman and Schneiderman have noted that the demonstration by SJP was inappropriate because it took place at the classroom itself, misguided because it misrepresented both the purpose and substance of the course, and threatening and intimidating to students enrolled in the class because of the physical presence of the demonstrators and the ululating and heckling that accompanied the protest. When the class did finally begin, protestors continued to shout and students inside the classroom told the professor that they “felt unsafe,” “bullied,” and “harassed.”

The linked account relates how SJP is continuing to use stormtrooper tactics at Vassar. Incredibly, they are aided and abetted by the "Vassar Jewish Union" and the head of the Vassar Jewish Studies department, who support BDS. The Vassar Jewish Union recently declared itself an "open Hillel." Hillel is a national college student organization that is pro-Zionist by policy. Wall Street Journal writer Lucette Lagnado, a Vassar alumna, notes that the Vassar Jewish Union declared its independence so that it would be "no longer obliged to heed Hillel's pesky rule of banning speakers who demonize Israel or believe the Jewish state shouldn't exist." The press release annoucing the change "was replete with more clichés about needing a 'diverse range of personal and political opinions' that it argued Hillel failed to provide." So the Vassar BDS'ers apparently feel that Hillel must be open to a diversity of views on Israel's existence, but not Vassar itself.

Those who would argue that the Vassar Jewish Union has made a stand for academic freedom need to ask themselves: Do pro-Palestinian and pro-BDS organizations invite and welcome Zionist and pro-Israel speakers? Probably not. In fact, I would venture a guess that pro-Israel speakers are not even welcome at the Vassar Jewish Union.

Ms. Lagnado, concludes, "I am still waiting for the day a student or faculty member stands up to these academic hooligans at the Vassar Quad. Now that would show some 'critical thinking.'"