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March 2, 2016 6:05 am

Going Against the Anti-Israel Grain at Vassar

avatar by Tatiana Becker

Vassar College. Photo: Wiki Commons.

Vassar College. Photo: Wiki Commons.

Vassar has been in the news a lot lately — and not in a good way.

A recent Wall Street Journal column entitled “Majoring in Anti-Semitism at Vassar” criticized the college for fostering anti-Jewish bigotry. Vassar’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter came under fire in the Washington Free Beacon for selling t-shirts that feature a Palestinian terrorist and laud violence. In early February, Vassar hosted a lecture by Rutgers Professor Jasbir Puar who spread the lie that Israel harvests the organs of Palestinians, a modern-day blood libel. This led to a New York Daily News editorial that was titled “Hatred on the Hudson.”

Vassar boasts that its 2019 class will be “the most selective and diverse in the college’s history.” Yet its current crop of students and faculty are making headlines for their intolerance toward the most important kind of diversity in an academic institution — diversity of viewpoint. Intellectual narrowness — not to mention bigotry — on a college campus violates the most basic function of education, which is to expand knowledge and analytic thinking. Even if the anti-Israel academics at Vassar were correct in all their hostile beliefs about the Jewish State, it is still a serious disservice to deny students exposure to alternative opinions, depriving them of the chance to weigh multiple sides of complex issues.

This has been the situation for years when the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is concerned. Since 2014, according to Vassar alumna Ziva Dahl, “Vassar has sponsored, through its academic departments, 14 grossly anti-Israel events, two that could be considered neutral and zero events or programs that could be considered pro-Israel.”

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That is why the recent appearance at Vassar by Bassem Eid, the Palestinian human rights activist who vehemently opposes the boycott movement against Israel, is noteworthy. But getting Eid onto the campus was no small feat. Jason Storch, a pre-med junior at Vassar and CAMERA fellow, spent countless hours battling red tape (and resistance to ideas rarely heard on the campus) to get Vassar to sponsor the event.

Every single Vassar student group Storch approached to co-sponsor Eid’s appearance refused to be affiliated with a Palestinian who criticizes the Palestinian Authority and Hamas for ill-treatment of Palestinians, and opposes economic warfare against Israel. Had the college administration not ultimately stepped in to sponsor the event — motivated likely by negative media and alumni attention — students would never have had a chance to hear Eid’s message.

When Eid finally did address the Vassar audience — consisting of 81 students, faculty, and the college president — the room was tense and suspicious. Seeing a Palestinian who supports Israel was eye-opening for many attendees.

Eid also pulled no punches. Addressing members of SJP, he spoke bluntly: “I don’t believe that the Students for Justice for Palestine will bring any kind of justice for the Palestinians because the only one who can bring justice for the Palestinians is the Palestinians themselves.” To those who support BDS, he said, “I don’t believe that the BDS is going to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I don’t even know one person in the PA or Gaza that knows what BDS is.”

Answering a question about whether Israel is an apartheid state, he responded: “Using that word doesn’t help me. It’s a waste of everyone’s time. Just come [to Israel] for one day, and you’ll throw out the word apartheid.”  When asked about better methods for achieving peace, he said, “Palestinians need to start believing in co-existence. Palestinians can’t deny the existence of Israel and the right of Israel to exist.”

Afterwards, Vassar’s Miscellany News reported that Eid’s appearance caused a stir in the pro-BDS camp. The writer quoted an anonymous source who said: “I thought that the bringing of [a] Palestinian activist that advocated against BDS was tokenization of his identity to validate certain specific groups on campus and their politics.”

Translation: Bassem Eid violated the group-think, anti-Israel politics at Vassar and said troubling things normally excluded from discussion. (What could be more disturbing than to hear a Palestinian Muslim tell SJP members their campaigns hurt Palestinians — and that Israel is a good country?)

Perhaps Bassem Eid’s civil and informative appearance at Vassar after years of mindless Israel-bashing at the school will prompt more interest in diversity of thought at the once venerable institution. And just maybe the Vassar community will invite more speakers, long excluded by the school, to provide new perspectives for students.

Tatiana-Rose Becker is campus coordinator for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). 

*CAMERA is currently organizing a speaking tour by Bassem Eid across the United States.

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