Non-Jewish Pro-Israel Vassar Professor Says ‘Anti-Jewish Atmosphere’ on Campus ‘Starting to Have Long-Term Effects’
Anti-Jewish speech and sentiment are very real and have been growing on campus, a non-Jewish faculty member at Vassar College stated in an article in The Forward this week, asserting that “it is starting to have long-term effects.”
Michaela Pohl, professor of Russian History at Vassar since 1999, wrote Monday, “The atmosphere at Vassar College … is troubled. I am not Jewish, but even I have experienced an increase in hostility and strained silences among students and colleagues.”
I have been called a “f—king fascist,” “Zionist” and “idiot” for speaking out against Vassar’s Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) resolution and speaking up for Israel and for U.S. policy. I have seen Jewish students profiled and singled out at a BDS meeting. I have felt the icy silence that reigns in some departments.
She said that though the individuals responsible for this climate claim to be motivated by their passion for freedom and human rights, there has been “total apathy with respect to human rights in Russia or any of the other states” she teaches about, including minimal or no audiences at all for lectures and events she has organized, and campus disinterest in anti-gay legislation passed in Russia.
Referring to last month’s controversial lecture by Rutgers professor Jasbir Puar, which many believed contained an antisemitic “blood libel” — as reported by The Algemeiner — Pohl commented:
Academics who suggest that Israel is harvesting organs … earn [approving] tweets and clicks — and deal in hate speech … It is speech that angers and mobilizes and that relishes its effects but denies that the effect was ever the intention.
Pohl’s impressions echo those reported by students earlier this month with respect to the Vassar Student Association’s (VSA) passing of a BDS resolution.
Jason Storch, a junior, last week published an op-ed entitled, “Mob Mentality at Vassar BDS Vote Typical of School’s Israel Climate,” in which he wrote:
In my three years at Vassar College, I have been told … that supporting Israel is tantamount to supporting oppression. I have watched Jewish friends bullied into silence by aggressive anti-Israel activists who call the Jews racists. I have seen many antisemitic comments from fellow students on social media … But nothing prepared me for the mob mentality that prevailed here on March 6 …
Storch said that few anti-BDS students attended the meeting because they were “afraid of pro-BDS students who have, over the past two years, pursued an aggressive campaign of intimidation at Vassar.” At the meeting the pro-BDS students made angry denunciations of Israel and jeered and mocked the handful of students who spoke against the resolution, including laughing at a Jewish student who was crying from “how the BDS campaign had invoked every anxiety nightmare she had ever had.”
Storch’s description of the meeting was also reflected in tweets from student government members, including:
Numbers in this room were not indicative of the numbers on campus. People who were anti-BDS did not feel comfortable in this space.
As a VSA member, I feel very complicit in the antisemitism that took place today.
It was really frustrating to not be able to do anything about the hateful tones and laughter that occurred in this room tonight.
Problems for Jewish and pro-Israel community members at Vassar date back at least to 2014, according to the prominent blog Legal Insurrection, which has been documenting events at the college since then. In the spring of 2014, controversy erupted when campus anti-Israel activists demanded a boycott of a course-related trip to study water issues in Israel and the West Bank simply because the trip included Israel in its itinerary. Their protest generated a campus Open Forum to discuss the “ethics” of the trip, an event which the two professors targeted by the protest characterized by the words, as reported by The Algemeiner, “fury,” “frenzy” and “rage.”
“A climate of fear has descended upon campus,” they subsequently wrote in the school newspaper.
As for the “long-term effects” Pohl mentioned in the piece, she pointed to the phenomenon of “students look[ing] down at their desks when I say things about Jewish emancipation [in Russia] or when I get embarrassed silences in class while discussing Jewish history.”