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April 21, 2015 12:56 pm

Prof. Andrew Pessin is Latest Victim of Anti-Israel Thought Police

avatar by Ben Cohen / JNS.org

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JNS.org – Every time I learn about the latest antics of the anti-Israel thought police on university campuses, I find myself offering silent thanks that they are, for the moment, just thought police. Because if these kids and their faculty supporters ran a real police force, the pro-Israel students and academics they didn’t manage to arrest would be driven underground.

In case you think I’m being hyperbolic, consider the case of Andrew Pessin, a philosophy professor at Connecticut College and a pro-Israel voice on that campus. The target of a persecution campaign spearheaded by one of his own students, who just happens to be a leader of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Pessin stands accused of having “directly condoned the extermination of a people.”

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Did Pessin urge the annihilation of the Palestinians—the “people” in question? The answer is a “no” that is so resounding, you have to wonder whether the authors of the libel against Pessin have been studying how China’s ruling Communists enforced the party line during the Cultural Revolution.

Pessin’s actual words—the source of his tribulations on campus—took the form of a Facebook post he wrote on Aug. 11 last year, at the height of Israel’s war with the Hamas regime in Gaza. It was a poor post, lacking clarity as well as being clumsy in its use of an animal metaphor. “One image which essentializes the current situation in Gaza might be this,” he wrote. “You’ve got a rabid pit bull chained in a cage, regularly making mass efforts to escape.”

But where in that statement is there a call for “annihilation,” or anything that could be remotely read as one? As one commenter on the article in which this accusation was made stated, “It is a massive stretch from Pessin’s actual beliefs and actions and only goes to show the authors didn’t even consider engaging Pessin about this or giving him a chance to speak for himself—which he is entitled to.”

The “annihilation” accusation is connected to what Pessin said only in the way that secretly reading Animal Farm by candlelight is connected to membership of the CIA. The accusation against him, in other words, was preordained: by challenging left-wing orthodoxies on the Palestinian issue, Pessin was inevitably going to be accused of fantastically outrageous offenses that he never committed.

The main offense, leveled by Pessin’s one-time student Lamiya Khandaker, is that of “racism.” After reading his Facebook post a full eight months after it appeared online, Khandaker, who began her career as an SJP activist at Brooklyn Technical High School, emailed him to say that she deemed what she’d read as “racist.”

Pessin apologized and removed the post, but also clarified that his reference to a “pit bull” was directed at Hamas, and not Palestinians in general—and as the indefatigable David Bernstein pointed out on the Washington Post‘s “Volokh Conspiracy” blog, “I have seen his previous Facebook posts on the Gaza war last Summer, and they are full of criticism of Hamas, and don’t say anything nasty about Palestinians more generally, suggesting that he was, in fact, referring to Hamas.”

But Khandaker’s political agenda was always going to be more important than giving Pessin a fair hearing. She is, after all, a leader of the openly bigoted SJP, and she has posted her own share of offensive material; for example, after Turkish President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan compared Israel with Adolf Hitler, she derided his critics by declaring on her Facebook page, “Everything is antisemitic to people wtf. It’s pissing me off.” Clearly, she’s a tolerant soul.

What’s truly disgraceful is how Connecticut College has enabled the SJP-led inquisition campaign against Pessin. The History Department issued a statement condemning “speech filled with bigotry and hate particularly when that speech uses dehumanizing language and incites or celebrates violence and brutality.” The Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity also chided Pessin in a similarly worded statement. Then, at the beginning of April, the college canceled all classes so that students could attend a mandatory session on racism, during which Pessin’s post was bracketed with racist graffiti against African-Americans daubed on a bathroom wall.

At each turn, the accusations and insinuations against Pessin have grown louder and more outlandish, to the point where his principle antagonist, Khandaker, is now accusing the college of “institutional racism” by continuing to employ him. Plainly, these fanatics won’t rest until the college hands Pessin his notice, leaving him to fend for himself, with his reputation in tatters through no fault of his own.

Remember, all this hysteria was generated by an old Facebook post that was, at worst, injudiciously worded, like so much of the material that gets passed around on social media. For that reason, one has to conclude that Pessin’s post was mere cover for the real reason that he’s being treated so shamefully: that he’s a Jewish academic who supports Israel and isn’t afraid to say so.

Pessin’s experience conforms to a wider pattern observable on American campuses. We’ve seen prospective student council members who are Jewish being grilled about their views on Israel. (Imagine the outcry if a Muslim student was similarly grilled about terrorism.) At the same time, we’ve seen anti-Zionist academics inciting against the Jewish state with abandon; when someone dares to criticize them, they are then elevated to free speech martyr status.

What all this tells us is that it is no longer controversial on campus to portray an affiliation with Zionism and Israel as a thought crime. With this disturbing groupthink in place, pretty much anything that is ideologically unsound can be deemed offensive or hateful.

Khandaker herself illustrates this last point rather nicely. In her article denouncing Pessin, she complained that he offended her by also arguing, “Muslim terrorists were at the top of the totem pole as perpetrators of violence.” Ask any Arab Christian or Kurd or Yazidi what they think of that statement, and they would likely underline its truth. Indeed, many Muslims will tell you the same thing, since it is Muslims who constitute the largest proportion of the victims of Islamist violence.

But the time for a political debate is past us. Pessin, it has been reported, is now on medical leave as a result of the stresses of the past few months. The Jewish community and its leaders must now come to his aid, by urging Connecticut College to treat him with the collegial respect he deserves. Additionally, we have to be on the lookout for similar travesties at other campuses. And we need to be educating students, administrators, and those faculty members who will listen about the toxic nature of groups like SJP, emphasizing that we will no longer tolerate their manipulation of the language of liberalism and human rights to promote their rigid, antisemitic doctrines.

Because, just like the Ku Klux Klan, this here is a hate group.

Ben Cohen, senior editor of The Tower, writes a weekly column for JNS.org. His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Ha’aretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author of “Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014).

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  • Jon R.

    Jews have brought this on themselves. Whining about Pessin, who obviously views Palestinians as animals, while working to destroy those who question the Israeli reich. The Episcopal Chaplain at Yale was dismissed because he criticized Israel.

    All the hypocrites in this synagogue are perfectly happy when uppity goyim are fired. Yet, when a “talented Jew” is canned, the cry goes up: “Where does the hatred come from?”

    So disgusting!

  • Simone Miller

    What would happen if the tables were turned on MS K and she was discredited as deserved? This rabble rising against Jews in our universities must be stopped.

  • Reform School

    Khandaker herself is the poster child for summary expulsion from Brooklyn Technical High School, upon exposure.

  • CHARLES D. GELFAND

    Her statements are typical of those that believe that phony book the elders of Zion. It is Classic anti-Semitism at its worst.
    Shame at the college for not expelling her and that terrorist group she represents and belongs to.
    Where are our intelligent Christian and Jewish attorneys ?
    Where are all those intelligent Christian and you wish lawyers? Why are they suing her and her anti-somatic Palestinian group into oblivion

  • Monty Pogoda

    Ben Cohen is to be congratulated for writing this article. Khandaker is to be damned together with all other anti-semites.

  • Dr Lawrence Kanter

    What can I do to help Prof Pessin? The world is sometimes turned upside down. That which is good is deemed bad and vice versa. If one criticizes ‘radical Islam’ which is unabashedly racist and undemocratic and defends Israel which is not you become the racist! Logic must be brought to the forefront.

    • BH in Iowa

      Not even criticizing…. simply telling the truth about Islam makes one a thought criminal.

  • The hypocrisy and hatred is beyond belief. Wake up America.

  • I said in 1994 to US friends, scholars at Universities, that Jews will encounter problems of classical anti-Semitism when USA are dis-constructing already….and reopened to ethnic nationalists turmoils.
    Dems believe kindly that US Constitution will work for ever !
    A Constitution is worth what its Citizen are….
    US Jews and d Democracy (Left or Right winged) are in danger.

  • George Orwell would be saddened to know that 1984 has morphed into 2016 on way to many college and university campuses.

    Is it not I me for “fair-minded” individuals to re-take what was once an open free environment of individual exploration of how to think critically.?

  • Fred

    I marvel at the proliferation of hate groups on campuses, where one would think that these campuses would promote freedom justice and better thinking but alas it is not so. The biases of student with their own agendas are taking over the curriculum & campuses. Hate is good to counter it a problem.

  • steven L

    Don’t count on the liberal Jews.

  • Leo Toystory

    Pessin should SUE the student and SJP for defamation – of which they have pretty much already proven themselves guilty. Jews are the canary in the coal mine on college campuses; as they are silenced so shall be every other group which does not conform to the dictates of the nauseating pseudo-intellectual leftist putrefaction called “faculty.”

  • Prof Pessin should have simply quoted the wise and prescient Winston Churchill who in 1899 in The River War said ” Islam in a man is as dangerous as rabies in a dog”.

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