Anti-Israel sentiment mixed with age-old anti-Semitism has reached a fever pitch at Vassar College. It is time that faculty and administrators take a stand against this toxic brew on behalf of academic values.
The campus of this private liberal-arts college in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., has experienced more than its share of anti-Israel activity. In the spring of 2014, the boycott of a course in the International Studies Program—because it involved a trip to Israel—included heckling students and picketing the class. During the fall of 2015, attempts were made to boycott Sabra hummus because the maker of this popular food is partly owned by an Israeli food company.
The most recent incident was a talk on Feb. 3 by Jasbir Puar, a Rutgers associate professor of women's and gender studies. The address, "Inhumanist Biopolitics: How Palestine Matters," was sponsored by eight Vassar departments and programs, including Jewish Studies and American Studies.
Ms. Puar began by exhorting the students to support a boycott of Israel as part of "armed" resistance. As reported by several in attendance at the speech—the professor introducing her requested that it not be recorded—Ms. Puar passed on vicious lies that Israel had "mined for organs for scientific research" from dead Palestinians—updating the medieval blood libel against Jews—and accused Israelis of attempting to give Palestinians the "bare minimum for survival" as part of a medical "experiment."
When asked, she agreed with a questioner that Israeli treatment of Palestinians amounted to genocide but objected to the term itself, which she said was too "tethered to the Holocaust."
Ms. Puar's speech was co-sponsored by the Jewish Studies Program, yet faculty members of the program remained silent in the audience during the event. This is a testament to the spell that anti-Israel dogma, no matter its veracity, has spread over the campus.
Wild charges against Israel have often been aired on U.S. campuses over the past several years, and their moral perversity pointed out. But Ms. Puar's calumnies reached a new low. She spoke of Jews deliberately starving Palestinians, "stunting" and "maiming" a population. The false accusation that a people, some of whose members were experimented on at Auschwitz, are today experimenting on others is a disgrace.
Yet characterizing Israel and Zionism in ways that anti-Semites formerly characterized Jews has become a stock in trade among anti-Israeli activists on college campuses. And it exposes the real motivation of those who profess to criticize only the Israeli government's policies with regard to the West Bank, not Jews themselves.
Now there is a resolution before the Vassar student union, in part seeking a boycott of Ben & Jerry's, on the grounds that the company—founded by two Jews—sells ice-cream "transported on Jewish-only roads to be sold in Jewish-only settlements." This is part of a broader divest-from-Israel resolution to be voted on this spring, which also includes other U.S. companies.
These events are transforming a prestigious institution into a parody ripe for ridicule—a place embarrassing to prominent alumni and worrisome for prospective Jewish students.
In January 2014, Vassar President Catharine Bond Hill forthrightly rejected the boycotts of Israel that were being proposed by a variety of academic associations. This time her response—posting a letter in the alumni magazine defending the college's reputation and stating that some may have found Ms. Puar's talk "objectionable"—is too tepid.
She did add that Vassar will organize a series of lectures with different viewpoints on Israel. But we think her letter should be addressed to students and faculty—and that hatred of Israel and Jews should not implicitly be characterized as merely another perspective to be debated.
We respectfully call upon her to again to speak out—and be joined as well by other professors hitherto silent in the face of such venom. Faculty and administrators, including the Jewish Studies department, together need to confront this wave of anti-Semitism with the primary tools at their disposal: free speech and rigorous academic inquiry. This is what a university is for, after all.
Mr. Yudof, former president of the University of California, is chairman of the Academic Engagement Network, where Mr. Waltzer, professor of history emeritus at Michigan State University, is the executive director. AEN opposes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel and promotes freedom of speech on college campuses.