Monday, May 21st | 7 Sivan 5778


Be in the know!

Get our exclusive daily news briefing.

April 6, 2014 11:25 pm

Vassar College Alums Strike Back at Anti-Israel Movement on Campus

avatar by Joshua Levitt

Email a copy of "Vassar College Alums Strike Back at Anti-Israel Movement on Campus" to a friend

Vassar College. Photo: Wiki Commons.

Alumni of Vassar College, an elite, liberal arts school in Poughkeepsie, New York, struck back against the rising anti-Israel tide on campus, protesting in a widely-read letter to the campus newspaper against recent moves by a group of faculty and students to vilify the Jewish state and intimidate pro-Israel voices.

The open letter, initially signed by 66 alums, was printed by the Miscellany News, the campus newspaper of record since 1866, and quickly attracted dozens of comments from alums worldwide who agreed with the content of their protest.

In their letter, the alumni said that “faculty and student supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel have hijacked campus discourse and imposed an anti-intellectual atmosphere in which professors are ranting activists, not scholars, and students who disagree with the prevailing ‘progressive’ ideology are intimidated into a deafening silence.”

They said that their letter was “submitted on behalf of Fairness to Israel, a growing group of Vassar alumni, parents of Vassar students, and others, who are deeply concerned with this sorry state of affairs. We will vigorously support Vassar’s president in her efforts to restore sanity, tolerance and civil dialogue to campus.”

The alumni said they were responding to a letter, published a month earlier and signed by 39 school faculty, who were protesting the decision by Vassar College President Catharine Hill to condemn the December vote by the American Studies Association to approve a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, a move that was condemned by over 250 universities in the weeks following the decision.

In the faculty letter, headlined ‘Open letter in defense of academic freedom in Palestine/Israel and in the United States,’ they threw the academic freedom charges back at the school administration, saying they had to “dissent because, rather than upholding the principle of academic freedom in its most expansive sense, their condemnatory statement could have a chilling effect on the free exchange of ideas and opinions on our campus and across the broader society.”

The faculty claimed that the world was ignoring the Arab fight for “self-determination, freedom, and basic human rights” in Israel. “While Palestinians have been fighting for their freedom since their dispossession in 1948, the world has remained largely silent with regard to this humanitarian crisis.”

The alumni responded to the content of the faculty letter, which they said “constitutes propaganda against the Jewish state. Whether intended or not, it shows a blatant bias against Israel, a glaring attempt to delegitimize the Jewish state and yes, outright anti-Semitism.”

“Our group, Fairness to Israel, supports academic freedom in the true sense of the term — the freedom of all sides to present their views and the facts that support them, and to honestly and open-mindedly discuss contentious issues,” the alumni wrote. “We oppose academic freedom that is really academic brainwashing, where students are exposed only to the views of activists posing as professors, who pretend there is a ‘chilling’ of their speech when the only chilling is of voices that dissent from their anti-Israel agenda. The latter type of ‘academic freedom’ is a disgraceful misnomer unworthy of Vassar’s great traditions.”

Discourse about Israel at Vassar has also gone beyond faculty support of, and administration objection to, the ASA vote.

In February, some of the school’s Jews adopted the “Open Hillel” platform, meaning the on-campus Hillel Jewish student group would break the Hillel International guidelines, by inviting groups that espoused anti-Israel beliefs to speak to their student congregation.

The most confrontational incident happened a month later, when the International Studies 100 travel class chose to spend their Spring Break vacation on a trip to Israel.

According to coverage by the campus newspaper, the trip, led by Jill Schneiderman, Professor of Earth Science and Geography, and Rachel Friedman, Associate Professor of Greek and Roman Studies, “looked at issues of water rights and access to the Jordan River, as well as disparities in water distribution in Palestine and Israel.”

The newspaper wrote: “According to a student in the class, along with traveling around Israel, the class also took trips into the West Bank, visiting a Palestinian refugee camp in Bethlehem.”

However, the paper said, “Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) have claimed that the travel class makes Vassar complicit in supporting Israel and perpetuating oppressive policies and actions against Palestinians. Members of SJP have protested the class and organized a display in the Retreat called ‘Israel Apartheid Week.'”

Timothy Koechlin, Vassar’s Director of International Studies, said the sudden “backlash against this year’s IS trip came as a surprise to him and his colleagues.”

“The course has received a level of scrutiny and protest that, I think, no one expected,” he wrote in an emailed statement to Miscellany News. “Previous IS classes have visited countries like Cuba, Zimbabwe, Indonesia and, in 1989, the USSR, but no recent trip has generated the same level of debate.”

The protest by the SJP, which has recently been banned at Northeastern University for intimidating students, compelled the school to hold a “public forum” to discuss the Israel trip. At other campuses, including University of Michigan, similar groups have raised the specter of pressuring the university to boycott companies that do business with Israel.

But, at Vassar, rather than participate in the forum as a group, the SJP declined the invitation, it said, in an email, to prevent the forum becoming a discussion on its behavior rather than the situation in Israel, which is exactly what happened, anyway.

According to the school newspaper, one of the professors on the panel, Associate Professor of English Kiese Laymon, “expressed surprise that it was the Israel and Palestinian conflict that has captured the campus’ attention, even while local issues escape the same level of scrutiny. He wishes that more students would draw connections between injustices committed half a world away and those a few blocks down the road.”

“Personally, I’m amazed that with all sanctioned racialized terror happening in Poughkeepsie, and all the sexual assaults on and off campus, that this Israel/Palestine issue is what is getting folks excited,” Laymon wrote in an email to the Miscellany News.

Share this Story: Share On Facebook Share On Twitter Email This Article

Let your voice be heard!

Join the Algemeiner
  • gary Brandwein

    Notice that my comments have been removed . Why? Simple economic theory!

    • gary Brandwein

      Will the moderator kindly respond!

      • gary Brandwein

        I apologize. They have just popped up. GB


    So finally the Israel/Palestine issue comes to Vassar! I have read a few, not all, of the comments on this page, as of 11:40 PM on 4/23/14. To those who approach this issue from a religious perspective, I say your mind is already determined by your predetermined beliefs. Your discussion belongs in a place of worship not in the arena of public non denominational discourse. To those who quote rigid dogma and balnket statements dismissive of opposing opinions, I say you have no place in the open minded and liberal tradition of the Vassar community. Vassar cannot be open minded and liberal on all other issues but dogmatic and partisan about Israel and Palestine just as Israel cannot claim to be democratic and enlightened if they deny and prevent Palestinians living in Israeli controlled areas the same rights they fight for to provide Israeli Jews. Anti Israeli bias is not the issue. Israeli denial of Palestinian humanity IS. To oppose Israel’s inhumane treatment of Palestinians does not constitute an anti Israel bias. To claim that would be conceding that the essence of Israel is to exclude Palestinian humanity. When the old white South African regime denied Black African right to self determination, were critics of that policy labeled with anti white South African bias? I see many liberals with excellent intellectual and humanistic views and credentials have a completely blind spot when it comes to applying those credentials to this issue. To continue to defend or allow or enable Israel to maintain its horrific treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and especially Gaza is to tempt fate and invite regional if not global disaster. And not even Israel’s nuclear weapons will be able to prevent it.

    • Michael

      Stephen, you seem intelligent, painfully ignorant and uninformed, but intelligent. Take some of that intelligence and look into the PLO and Arafat’s feelings about Israel, as well as their response to any negotiations for peace. They are NOT interested in peace or discussions, solely the destruction of Israel. Additionally, these people despise democracy, western values, our way of life, as well as any culture that give women any rights at all. Israel and Jews as a whole, contain a disproportionate amount of humanitarians and philanthropists. Most Israelis would love to have peace and to move on with a normal productive life. How do you negotiate with people that don’t want you to exist? That is the impossible situation that Israel is in.

      • Stephen Najemy

        Michael, I am not ignorant, in fact I AM painfully aware that Israel has been declared the worst violator of human rights among all nations. It’s ok for you to acknowledge and admit this fact. You have obviously not dug any deeper than pro Israeli and AMERICAN press headlines on the negotiations of over 15 years ago, when Palestinians were offered 22% of the West Bank sliced and diced by Israeli settlements and roads, a cantonized and feckless Palestinian state without the ability to defend itself against a hostile neighbor with nuclear weapons and a large aggressive army. AND they would have to relinquish the right of return. It was not an offer of peace, it was a lifetime jail sentence. We’re Israel to give up its dream of Eretz Israel and offer a West Bank state without settlements, walls or roads Palestinians would accept it in a “Jerusalem minute”. Palis are tired of being bombed, arrested, killed and tormented by the government and illegal settlers of Israel. And I resent yor blanket characterization of Israel and Jews as being more deserving and better than Palestinians. Western values are just tha at ..Western. There is good and bad in both cultures. Your comments invite a racist attitude. And if Israel is in an impossible situation , imagine how many times worse the Palestinian condition is.

    • gary Brandwein

      Amazing what ignorance can do. No one speaks of the rights of Palestinian woman to control there own bodies or the lack of birth control. The question can anyone in there right mind make a viable economic case for the existence of Palestine in its present form. (This is not South Africa with enormous economic , social and scientific resources available.This the hell hole of Palestine, which could not survive unless it dominates Israel…Does the UN really have a program for a desert town with a population denser than any place on earth and with the commandment to breed or die. Makes no sense unless you intend to make war. There is no solution except education and the infusion of technology. And you think Palestine will become Swizerland.

    • gary Brandwein

      You are dreaming. There is no p;lace on earth that is democratic and enlightened for very wrong. Even Iceland that defaulted on their debts. So much for your enlightenment. Look at the banking policies of the major economies of the world. I suppose Israel is responsible for the banking crisis, for the end of Glass Segal that creates a monstrous economic disparity and an undemocratic consensus. How is that for enlightenment and democratic values. time to lay off Israel and swallow you own ‘sh-t’ Or pay $65000 a year tuition and work it off the rest of ayour life or have Daddy write a check for you West Village apartment while you sort things out. finding your own humanity has nothing to do with Israel.

  • The people who support the anti-Israel BDS movement do not know, and do not want to know the facts about the Israeli-Arab conflict. If one wants to know the truth, one should obtain the free on-line book titled, “Myths And Facts”. After one reads the book, one would be able to discuss the subject intelligently.

  • A Campus belongs to those who seek an Education within its confines. They must be allowed expression that is free but harms no one and explores the reaches of intelligence only secured by an integrity owed to truthful endeavour! History will speak for those who do not judge without knowing and who learn from what they are exposed to. If a Muslim wishes to visit a Synagogue, God will not stand in his way! A Jew can respect an Arab whose only intention is to live in peace and harmony with their neighbours!

  • kaytee

    Yeah Alumni!

  • Pastor Ed Leonard

    “I have been young, and now I am old. I have never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging for bread” Psalm 37:25

    For the last 54 years, I have walked with the Lord. For the last 50 years, I have been a Pentecostal Pastor. Thousands of people have heard me say, “It pleased the Lord to bless Israel” Numbers 24:1 AND “We who have received spiritual blessings from Israel SHOULD TURN and bless them in natural things” Romans 15 I have urged support of Israel and the Jewish people – without missionary intentions.

    The Almighty promised to bless those who bless Israel and the Jewish people. over 4,000 years of recorded history bears testimony to His keeping THAT promise.

    How foolish. How unwise. How Stupid to boycott with the BDS. The very people whom the boycotters claim to help are being damaged by loss of employment.

    Stupid. Just stupid ! BUT to the faculty supporting the BDS, I would say – “History witnesses against you that you are ILLOGICAL. How do you like that application?!”

  • Alan R Naftalis

    So where are these “concerned students & faculty” when it comes to the massive violation of human rights in Syria with over 150,000 dead and a government which uses gas against civilians? The absence of a word of against Sria tells us everything about who these folks are & the bigotry that motivates them.

    The BDS movement is not unlike the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses.Has history taught us nothing?

    Perhaps it is time for alums disgusted by this to STOP DONATING to Vasser or any school which engages in this overt bigotry

  • Sydell Gross

    what a mess! I can only assume that those including Jewish organizations who support the actions of these groups in opposition to Israel have learned nothing from past history including the rise of Hitler and the anti Semitism that proceeded it

  • m_

    Many professors at Universities are old Communists, New Leftists, Marxists, and above all anti-anti-Communists who have no trouble working against the interests of the U.S. or demonizing Israel and Jews. Before they opposed the cold war and spread lies about the United States and opposed any U.S. response to Communist aggression. Now they demonize Israel and Jews and continue to turn their collective nose up at the U.S. and the ordinary people of the U.S. who do not share their “Progressive” ideas.

    • Valerie Walker

      I completely concurr with your point of view, and with that of the fellow who suggests that disgusted alums should not donate. When I was at Vassar, the cause du jour was South Africa. We see how wonderfully resolved that situation has become. South Africa is a mess, liberated or not. Israel and the Middle East will remain a mess too, because it is hopelessly polarized. It is really a shame that mush headedness is so permanently trendy. These misguided ideals waste a lot of energy that could otherwise be directed towards creating positive change in our own communities. And the professors who instigate and approve of such protesting ought to shut up and teach, not proselytise.

      • Ellen

        I am a Vassar alum who has a big reunion year in 2016. Thus, I have been receiving communications from Vassar classmates and from Vassar urging me to come to reunion, to donate money to our class reunion gift, and to include a bequest to Vassar in my will. Having read about the current anti-Semitic activity on the part of students and faculty, my response to these entreaties is a resounding NO! I will not support Vassar with my presence and I will certainly not support it financially. Shame on Vassar for allowing hate speech and hate-filled writing and hate organizations on campus. What kind of professors is Vassar hiring and what kinds of students is Vassar admitting these days? My daughter also graduated from Vassar; rest assured that my granddaughter will NOT.

  • Wallace Edward Brand, JD Harvard, 1957

    Under International Law, the Arabs living in Palestine have no right unilaterally to secede from the State of Israel, as they would be doing if the UN redrew Israel’s boundaries to exclude East Jerusalem. Under International Law a “people” has the right to self-determination, but a preexisting state has the right of territorial integrity. Its boundaries are inviolable. See,4738 For the details, see

    • Robert Liebman

      The first link has a comma and does not work, and the second link has no comma and does work. To get the first link to work, remove the comma (and close up the space).

  • Fred

    Another enlightened institution hits the pits.
    What happens to the bastions of learning & debate ??
    Are they turning into institutions of ignorance & intolerance ? BDS is the Hitler NAZI anti Jewish laws of the 1930ties, the Nuerenberg anti Jewish Laws. Is this a continuing of NAZI doctrines in US Universities in support of the Philistine against Israel?????

  • Liberal Jews are antisemitic Jews are dhimmis.

  • Bernard Ross

    this is the fault of leftist jews who supply the anti semites with ammunition

  • Moshe

    As long as there are Jews who are living examples of lack of authentic Jewish education. Jews who vent their frustration with TV values by parroting anti-semitic canards. Jews who thus feel a need to lead the modern pogrom by bestowing legitimacy to those who would otherwise be too embarrassed to engage in it in the 21st century. That’s how long we risk losing this battle.

    Bigotry and hatred are always directly attributable to ignorance.

    So, if we failed in educating proud Jews, let’s educate the Goyim instead. They know how to call a spade a spade.

    Let Israel jettison their milquetoast “public relations campaign” and establish a Birthright program for non-jews. This will allow thinking goyim to come and see the truth for themselves. If it’s not too late.

    • pearl

      Good idea!

    • RonCo215

      For Sure, Moshe!! Like CFI, Christians for Israel!! Enough already with the self hating Jew working together with the Israel and Jew haters!!

    • Sonia Willats

      “Bigotry and hatred are always directly attributable to ignorance”. So true.

      There is another factor though – running with the crowd for approval, sp. when the crown in against ANOther. It is one of Man’s lowest instincts. How else could Hitler have persuaded a so-called civilized nation to commit such barbarities, whilst continuing, apparently, civilized life, go to ‘church’ etc.

    • Steven

      I agree with you sir. Most folk have a one sided view of the Israeli conflict that live and study in America. This boycott of Israel and antisemitism has been prophesied and will ultimate usher in the return of Messiah.

      I’m tired of secular Jews wanting to give up land for peace when the Arabs that live in the TransJordan NEVER had land of their own so Israel could never be called an ‘occupier’. It’s amazing to me that the faculty/students at Vasser don’t know this or they wont even take the time to find out the truth.

  • A.Franklin

    Students try to find ways of avoiding University study.

  • Robert B Geller

    NYU should be on that list of schools to boycott. The administration of NYU continues to support the actions of the ASA President who is a faculty member at NYU. The world already feels that the “rich Jews” control the world, so we might as well stop supporting those organizations which so strongly condemn us. It is called survival.

  • Mark Rosenberg

    As a Vassar Alum I posted the comment below to the Vassar College paper that ran the article. It is “awaiting moderation”. We’ll see if it gets posted and in what form.

    When on campus forums are held to debate the perceived audacity of a trip to Israel a line has been crossed. When at that forum even critics of Israel are taken back by the vitriol and bullying tactics of those who are so deeply anti Israel a line has been crossed. When many Jewish students at Vassar feel silenced and threatened in expressing their support of Israel a line has been crossed. When some Vassar Professors feel compelled to write a letter supporting an academic boycott of Israel in this sort of environment a line has been crossed. When terms like rich Jews are bandied about in discussions of this issue a line has been crossed. When the administration does not strongly condemn these actions a line has been crossed. That line is the singling out of Israel among all nations and those who support her or even dare travel to Israel for a double standard that is not applied to other nations to justify condemnation of the Jewish State, her people, supporters and anyone that would even travel to Israel irrespective of whether or not they support Israel.

    It is time for those of us who are opposed to these actions to organize. I note that there is a face book page for those at Vassar who support Palestine. It is time for us to also take action. I invite any of you who are interested in forming a group to further support of Israel at Vassar, academic balance at Vassar and the right of Vassar Professors and students to travel to Israel without on campus harassment to contact me at

    Mark S. Rosenberg
    Vassar College 1980
    West Hollywood, California

    • William Channon

      I fail to understand the anti-semitic philosophy at Vassar. Thankfully, this group is a minority on campus. However, that people protest against Jews and the Jewish state of Israel is the prerogative of those protesters and echoes the dreadful mistreatment
      of Jews throughout the past two thousand years and casts shame, irrational behaviour and intolerance by groups such as this one. I am a Christian and frankly their intolerance is disgusting.
      I am watching the TV series of Herman Wouk’s two volume novels “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance” . For those who have not read or watched the book and series , I suggest that they do so. One of the major threads throughout is the the dreadful treatment of Jew by the Nazis. These students and teachers are, on a vastly smaller scale, little different than Hitler’s final solution.

    • Henry Herrmann


      It is about time that enlightened individuals like your and others, work to make institutions of learning places where young minds exchange ideas, rather than venting their anti-Semitism under the cover of self- righteousness. Their actions are similar to those at the beginning of the Nazi areain Germany.

      No country is perfect, but to find fault only with Israel, when injustices exist all over the world, is just what bigoted people do.

      It is a shame that under the cover of free speech, professors and students at Vassar are allowed to continue their activities unimpeded.

      If Vassar Alumni groups would threaten Vassar to withhold future funding, that would make them sit up and listen.

  • Nina Litvak

    My children and my money will never attend Vassar. Or Oberlin, a campus so Orwellian that professors must warn students if class material contains any ideas at all that somebody might possibly find offensive, and if students choose to skip that day to protect their delicate sensibilities the professor is not allowed to penalize them for missing the class, neither is any student required to read a book for a course if – you guessed it – there’s any chance at all somebody might find it offensive. For instance, if a world history survey class happens to mention that Jews have a 3000 year history in Israel, Oberlin students have every right, in fact they are encouraged, to boycott that class.

  • Lynne T

    Seems like SJP is more concerned that Vassar students might find out that — like so much of what is claimed about I/P by BDS supportesr — Israel has not violated any agreements with respect to water supplies for Palestine, but has exceeded its Oslo commitments.

  • Yoel Nitzarim

    If more college and university student groups choose to visit Israel and the PA, they will see for themselves what the reality is here. Having taught in American school of higher education in Illinois for seventeen years before returning to Israel, I have made the observation that first-hand experience is a far better teacher than mere class discussion, reading newspapers and magazines, watching youtube videos, and listening to guest lecturers. Students are young adults who need to travel and see for themselves why the reality of a given place is so that they are able to formulate their own options based on empirical evidence. In all due respect to Professor Laymon in this article, I would suggest that in order to obtain a fresh perspective to the miscreant behavior in your college community, that students be afforded to gain a new perspective of their environment nd context in the States in consequence of sharing a trip or semester abroad to glean new insights into the relationships between young people and their hopes, dreams, and reality in a distant society and then compare/contrast those insights with the reality at home.

  • Mort Moooze

    B uy Israeli Products
    R egularly
    I nvest in Israeli Technology
    s Santify the People of Israel

    • Jay Johnson

      ^^^ Don’t you mean ‘Sanctify’?

      • Mel

        He wrote ‘Santify’: a treatment for Claustrophobia, a malady of young children who fear Santa Claus.

      • So you make a gansah megillah about a type and say nothing about the content? I support BRIS. No one can tell what you think except you’re a typo spotter.

    • William Channon


      • William Channon

        and NO Jay Johnson.

    • Steven

      I buy everything ISRAEL! One cannot curse who HASHEM has Blessed! I don’t care what they attempt to do!