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January 21, 2016 7:33 am

Pessin Affair Exposes Connecticut College Antisemitism

avatar by Noah Beck

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Andrew Pessin. Photo: Facebook.

Andrew Pessin. Photo: Facebook.

A pro-Israel professor won’t be on campus at Connecticut College when classes start Monday, missing the second straight semester since his 2014 Facebook post criticizing Hamas led to death threats and ostracism.

Andrew Pessin “requested and received a sabbatical for the Spring semester to continue his studies in Jewish philosophy and Israel studies,” Connecticut College spokeswoman Pamela Serfes said in an email last week. “He has been and continues to be a valued member of the Connecticut College faculty.”

The vague and misleading response glosses over the intensity of the campaign against Pessin — he first took a medical leave last spring as a smear campaign against him was at full throat. The controversy exposed an administration unwilling to enforce its own honor code to protect a professor against anti-Israel activists and a student journalist responsible for covering the very controversy she had joined.

It started with an August 2014 Facebook post written as Israel and Hamas fought their latest war, in which Pessin referred to “a rabid pit bull chained in a cage, regularly making mass efforts to escape.”

It wasn’t until March that the comment suddenly resurfaced to ignite a campus firestorm. On March 2three editorials condemning Pessin were published in the print and online editions of Connecticut College’s student newspaper, College Voice. The op-eds, which started on the front page and covered all of page three and part of page four, accused Pessin of racism and comparing Palestinians to rabid dogs.

Not so, the professor insisted. He was referring to the Hamas terrorists who govern the territory, but the Voice reportedly didn’t bother to give him a chance to present his side.

Pessin, a heretofore popular philosophy professor, stood accused of peddling “hate speech.”

“I feel unsafe,” Lamiya Khandaker wrote, not really explaining how a Facebook post from the previous summer that originally went unnoticed suddenly threatened her security. She did note that she contacted Pessin, who repeatedly tried to explain that she misunderstood his comments.

Khandaker is an activist with Students for Justice in Palestine, an aggressively anti-Israel organization active on campuses nationwide.

Two other students, Michael Fratt and Katilyn Garbe, co-authored an article falsely alleging that “Pessin directly condoned the extermination of a people.”

Ayla Zuraw-Friedland, the Voice‘s editor-in-chief, reportedly authored an anti-Pessin petition, thereby actively participating in the very controversy covered by her newspaper.

The College Voice also posted antisemitic reader comments, which still can be seen. For example, one commenter wrote: “your universities and colleges are owned by Aipac..the zionists who control America and its foreign policy, apart from its banks, media and movie business.” Another wrote that “student senators have been bullied by Zionist ideologues and moneychangers” and calls Pessin “an unapologetically racist bigot who likes the perks of being buddies with Israeli colonists who torture, maim and kill unarmed Palestinianns (sic) with impunity.”

In April, George Mason University law professor David Bernstein uncovered evidence that Pessin’s Facebook post had clearly referred to Hamas all along and wrote in the Washington Post that “the whole controversy [looked like it had been] ginned up to score anti-Israel political points.”

Pessin’s isolation and vulnerability were undoubtedly intensified by the school’s small size: only about 1,900 students attend this private, liberal arts college located in New London.

Pessin declined to comment for this story. His wife Gabriella Rothman, however, expressed the frustration of seeing a witch hunt waged against her husband, and the disappointment in the lack of support from colleagues and the university community.

As the controversy erupted, school officials “pressured him not to speak or tell anyone that his post was being misunderstood out of context,” she said. “I believe because it was trying to appease the students.” A bias complaint filed against him remained active, but officials wouldn’t tell Pessin what consequences he might face from it.

“He was worried his job was on the line,” she said. “So he did what they told him to do.”

The couple contacted the FBI and local law enforcement about the death threats, “and for two months we literally felt under siege,” Rothman said.

Making matters worse, some of Pessin’s “closest friends at the college joined the mob of condemnations in a heartbeat, even though they knew that the post was about Hamas. Not one of them stood up and said to the mob, wait a minute, this post is not racist or hate speech. Not one stood up and said, let’s not rush to judgment, let’s wait to hear his side of the story.”

Pessin went on medical leave before the Spring semester ended. He has not taught since.

Exacerbating the harm to Pessin, the administration chose to host statements from scores of academic departments, school officials, student associations, and other college affiliates, condemning Pessin on the official Connecticut College website. As of Wednesday, no other issue or speech in the university community is similarly scrutinized or condemned on the school’s official web site. Such selective outrage highlights the antisemitic climate on campus – in this case, directly enabled by the administration – and the dangers of the ironically mistitled “Office of the Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion,” which hosts the anti-Pessin statements.

The administration has apparently taken no disciplinary action against any of the students who, in their efforts to defame Pessin, likely violated Connecticut College’s Honor Code, which requires students to act “with integrity, civility, and the utmost respect for the dignity of all human beings.”

Apparently, the school chose to honor a student who (as originally reported by Daniel Greenfield) “accused Israel of ‘genocide,” scoffed at antisemitism “and even claimed that ‘Starbucks supports occupation and Apartheid,'” and whose anti-Pessin writing arguably violated the school’s honor code. Instead, the administration appears to have awarded the “Scholar Activist Award” to none other than Lamiya Khandaker – the driving force behind the campaign against Pessin and one of the most vocal anti-Israel activists on campus. This fact was discovered from Lamiya Khandaker’s LinkedIn profile.

School officials refused to confirm or deny granting the award. What are they hiding? Maybe it’s time for the administration to admit the basic policy underlying their conduct throughout the Pessin affair: anti-Israel voices are to be encouraged, while pro-Israel voices are to be condemned and silenced. They seem to have won: Pessin is silent and nobody knows when he’ll be back on campus.

Noah Beck is the author of The Last Israelis, an apocalyptic novel about Iranian nukes and other geopolitical issues in the Middle East.

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  • stevenl

    Every passing day, the visible part of the iceberg becomes larger and more exposed. Climate changes hopefully will do the rest!

  • Barbara

    The professor should sue Connecticut College. See what Steve Salaita got out of Illinois in a settlement although he made anti- Israel slurs.

  • Bruce

    I’m at a loss to understand how ” Institutes of Higher Learning and Intelligence allow anti-semitism to be fomented in student newspapers?
    It’s time to hold administrators and educators accountable.

    • stevenl

      Never heard of malignant ideology and antisemitism!
      Communism and socialism, two supposedly humanistic ideologies are fundamentally antisemitic! Islamism a 3rd one.
      What about LIVE and LET live.

  • Julie Greenblatt

    Time to come home…

  • Wm. J. Levy

    Where are all the rich, powerful Jews able to protect this professor and to instill fear into those anti-Jews on campus.

    Is this 1930 all over again and why are Jews allowing themselves to be victimized

    For too long Jews have fought for everyone else’s rights ecepte their own. They’ve even died for blacks in MS in 1964.

    Have any blacks or Chriustians ever died for Jews?

    Stop being so pathetically weak and be strong.

    Jews don’t know their 6,000 year heritage and only know about the Holocaust. Why would any Jew want to be a Jew if that’s all there was to their religion.

    What makes an idiot like Mark Zuckerberg declare to the world that “I;m n longer a Jew. I’m an Agnostic, give 100 million dollars to Newark, NJ to help the blacks there and they promptly lost all his money. Only a Jew would do that and he deserved what he got.

    Break some heads. Break some bones and make the haters fear us.

    • stevenl

      The liberals support passively or actively what is going on in Ct.
      Antisemitism is back in the future.

  • Etan Ben-Ami

    I think this affair makes the case for a new, revised JDL: one which is just as militant as Kahane’s organization, but without the taint (however deserved or undeserved) of racism, pre-emptive violence, or terrorism. We need to create the certain expectation of harsh, disruptive consequences for individual or institutional antisemitism. It’s time to make antisemites fear Jews.

  • BenRa

    The school is now a 3rd tier institution that no longer attracts the high achievers it once did when it was an all female college. Probably very few Jews attend. And they probably have some wealthy Arab students who help foot the bills. Check out Harvard, Oxford etc… They love Arab money. But they r way more important to report on when it comes to BDS.

  • a yid

    Where are we as a country in America when a Jewish professor gets a death threat and has to take a sabbatical– and the nation is not up in arms?

    • stevenl

      The left is drifting to the far left/socialism! The rest is easy to understand.

  • Noam Goldstein

    Good luck to these “awarded students” when they leave their imaginary “safe spaces” from liberal colleges.

  • Louis Dumo

    Why do people refer to the West Bank as “occupied?” People don’t refer to the northern Japanese island seized by Russia at the end of WWII as occupied! People don’t refer to Crimea as “occupied. Why are the Jews the only ones who appear to be capable of “occupation”? Why isn’t Chinese control of Tibet called an “occupation”? Just axing.

  • If he had been talking about Palestinians and not just Hamas then these rabid dogs would have just proven his point of view

  • Jay

    Why doesn’t the Jewish Community (those who support Israel) provide both moral and physical protection to professors who support Israel. They shouldn’t have to be afraid to go to work.

    Where is the Jewish Defense League (JDL)???

  • brenrod

    Perhaps the school got a grant from the arabs, its the fashion trend

    • Robert Davis

      And more than encouragement from the WH.

    • stevenl

      US Academia has received $billions from the lands of the sands! That is where the ME studies got their funding from and many leftists Jews peopled these positions.

  • Myron Slater

    We know where the college stands, they are certainly antisemitic, don’t forget, the state is WASP.

    • Robert Davis

      WASP is nothing, hussein obanana is much much WORSE!

    • Steve Loeb

      FYI its the State where Jewish Senator Joe Lieberman was elected multiple times. Just sayin’

    • Adrian Durlester

      This Jew living in CT begs to differ.

  • Jeffrey Zucker

    Prof. Pessin ought to take a prolonged medical leave and sue the college for every penny that they have. Close down this pile of antisemitic ruble and see if a new school can arise Phoenix style from the ruins.

    • ZG

      Where are the rich, smart Jewish lawyers and organizations? Ultimately the antisemites will come for them!!!

      • Robert Davis

        You have no long to wait until WE come after you. TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT.

      • a yid

        i agree that more forceful action needs to be taken. this man should not have to take a leave of absence.

    • James Marbach

      Lamiya Khandaker should be pursued, harried, and made to REALLY feel a fear for her life and the lives she holds dear. She should be made to feel how Israelis feel every day, thanks to the VERMIN, the subhumans,the so-called “Palestinians” (might as well be Klingons, for all the reality that name is)subject them to. Right now, she has nothing to lose. Let’s take that away from her and her cadre of animals.

  • Rick Faircloth

    Noah, too afraid to show your face rather than use a generic avatar? What a coward…

    • Yohan Anthony Sunanda

      You’re a hypocrite for asking Noah to show his face when you don’t, Rick.