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Vassar President Criticizes Antisemitic Protests Against Israeli Speaker

avatar by Ariel Behar


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

An organized effort to silence a speech at Vassar College by Israeli activist Hen Mazzig last week “crossed the line into anti-Semitism” and could lead to disciplinary action, President Elizabeth H. Bradley said in a statement this week.

Members of Vassar’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter broke their promise to keep their protest against Mazzig’s talk peaceful. When Mazzig tried to speak, he was shouted down by chants, including, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

That chant, Bradley wrote, “crossed the line into anti-Semitism” because it “can be understood to be calling for the eradication of the State of Israel and is highly intimidating to Israelis and Jews, and directed it to an Israeli speaker discussing his perspective on Indigenous Jews.”

But SJP members defended their attempt to silence Mazzig, in part because he “attacked Linda Sarsour and Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, as well as other supporters of BDS, specifically targeting SJPs across the country with insults and false information.”

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Sarsour and Omar each have records of antisemitism, from Sarsour’s blood libel blaming Jews for police shootings of unarmed black people in America, to Omar’s series of statements invoking antisemitic canards about Jewish power, loyalty, and money.

The protesters’ chants stopped after a while, and Mazzig was able to complete his talk, the Vassar SJP chapter said. “Although we do not believe that Zionism should have a platform, especially not one funded by our student government, we did not prevent anyone from attending the talk or stop [Hen] Mazzig from speaking.”

But on the day of the speech, SJP said its commitment to a boycott of all things related to Israel meant it had to “refuse to offer space for even more racism and imperialism on this campus. None of us will be free until Palestine is free, and challenging Zionism wherever it emerges on campus is one of the best ways to show our solidarity.”

Vassar’s SJP is no stranger to controversy.

In 2016, the chapter sold t-shirts featuring convicted Palestinian terrorist Leila Khaled with the phrase “resistance is not terrorism.” In 2014, the group posted a Nazi cartoon on its Tumblr page.

In 2016, The Algemeiner rated Vassar College the second worst college for Jewish students to attend, due to its anti-Israel and antisemitic activity.

President Bradley’s strong statement acknowledging the inherent antisemitism in SJP’s message is a refreshing and welcome response.

A version of this article was originally published by The Investigative Project on Terrorism.

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