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September 4, 2018 5:21 pm

Vassar College Condemns ‘Provocative’ Disorientation Guide That Urged Students to ‘Slap a Zionist’

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Thompson Memorial Library at Vassar College. Photo: Jim Mills.

The president of Vassar College has condemned a “Disorientation Guide” published by students that endorsed physical attacks against Zionist peers, calling it “provocative of violence and anti-Semitism.”

The guide — sent on Friday in an email to some 400 students, and first reported on by the blog Legal Insurrection — was authored by a self-described “group of radical students” who said they aim to expose “the white supremacist, cisheteropatriachal, capitalist values that govern the college.”

In a section outlining some recommended actions to confront Vassar — which they alternatively called a “MONSTER of a college,” “a corporation,” “a bourgeois invention,” “part of a sustained colonial project,” and “evil” — they encouraged students to “Slap a zionist <3 (s/o to students at Loyola in Chicago + of course Ahed Tamimi for taking the lead here).”

Tamimi, a Palestinian activist living in the West Bank town of Nabi Saleh, recently completed a term in an Israeli prison after she was filmed by her mother while kicking and slapping two unresponsive Israeli soldiers.

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The guide also made multiple references to attempts by the anti-Zionist campus groups Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace to advance the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel at Vassar, including by unsuccessfully lobbying for the removal of Sabra hummus in 2015 and launching a school-wide referendum on BDS that failed to pass in 2016.

Its authors included a detailed post-mortem of the latter effort, and praised its supporters for showcasing “some of the most impressive organizing this campus has seen.”

“The campus found itself overwhelmed by the campaign, you couldn’t walk around without seeing students wearing ‘Free Palestine’ buttons, reading posters for upcoming events, or running into a student draped in an Israeli flag,” they noted.

The authors accused those who opposed the campaign of using “racist, islamophobic, and frankly, anti-Semitic attacks in a desperate attempt to shore up support for Israel,” pointing to posters that were found on campus that accused some BDS activists of supporting “Hamas terrorists,” as well as to the publication of individual profiles by the anonymous online blacklist Canary Mission, which opposes the BDS campaign.

They made no mention of complaints shared by members of the campus community who accused BDS activists of launching “an aggressive campaign of intimidation,” and who were reportedly mocked when raising concerns over antisemitism.

The guide identified three major obstacles that ultimately contributed to the BDS referendum’s failure, among them the campus group J Street U, which advocates for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“J-Street mobilized Zionist sympathy by portraying BDS as unnecessarily divisive and uncivil,” its authors noted. “We successfully convinced the activist milieu and the VSA [Vassar Student Association] that this was ridiculous. … However, we failed to convince many outside the activist milieu or VSA. We should’ve focused harderon more small public facing events that attract non-political students.”

They described the administration as their “second enemy,” accusing it of launching “a full on counter-BDS campaign,” as well as “the overwhelmingly Zionist bloc within the alumni.”

The “third enemy was outsiders,” they added. “Here we could do nothing more than damage control.”

They argued, however, that what ultimately “devastated” their struggle “was the inability to carry on militant BDS organizing beyond this campaign.”

“While a handful of organizers graduated, it was intra-organizational strife that drove apart Vassar SJP,” the guide’s authors observed. “Allowing egos to proceed unchecked, bad identity politics to command attention, or for coalition members to act without accountability to the collective, these are practices that need to be taught in Vassar activist circles.”

They claimed the school’s Board of Trustees remained “scared of future BDS campaigns,” and said they were “open to the possibility of running another BDS Campaign, or any other international solidarity effort, and encourage folks to absolutely not be scared of bringing about another all campus conversation that draws lines and potentially isolates people.”

The guide was condemned by Vassar President Elizabeth Bradley in a campus-wide email sent on Sunday, with the college acknowledging in a separate statement on Monday that it targeted “many groups … including Zionists.”

“We have taken swift action, immediately condemning the behaviors this document advocates, and launching an investigation into who was behind it,” the school said. “By Saturday morning we had identified the students believed to be responsible for its creation and distribution and began the student conduct process.”

“We have also worked to stop its distribution on our campus through electronic and print means,” the statement continued. “We will continue to be vigilant to address these issues decisively and in a way that reinforces our deeply held values of community, respect, and engaged pluralism.”

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