There has been an "increase in hostility" at Vassar College due to tensions over anti-Israel activism that has often devolved into anti-Semitism, a Vassar professor wrote in the Forward on Monday.
Michaela Pohl, a professor of Russian history who is not Jewish, noted that student activists single out Israel for criticism while remaining silent about serious assaults on freedom elsewhere in the world.
Many at Vassar are passionate about speaking out for freedom of conscience and against threats in public, but none inquired after a Russian writer whom I admired and had met was murdered. Nobody from Vassar attended the memorial I organized. Vassar students have shown total apathy with respect to human rights in Russia or any of the other states that I teach about in the Caucasus and Central Asia. The two Russian-Chechen wars in Chechnya cost between 150,000 and 160,000 lives, but only tiny audiences attended lectures on Chechnya. Nobody on campus got worked up in 2014, when Russian units invaded Ukraine. On the contrary, a pro-annexation and vocally pro-Putin speaker came to campus a year later. Many students shrug off concerns about anti-gay legislation in Russia as a "Western construction."
In contrast, the campus discourse around boycotting Israel has been "random, facetious and, yes, anti-Semitic."
Pohl recalled that the anti-Israel group Students for Justice in Palestine used an old Nazi propaganda poster to demonize Israel and the United States in 2014. She also described how pro-Palestinian students intimidated students who opposed a BDS resolution.
The campaign for a BDS resolution at Vassar has continued to flood the campus with broad condemnations of the U.S. and Israel as imperialist, racist and genocidal. Countless declarations that students "must struggle against Israel"; making the Vassar Student Association debate this issue while pro-Palestinian students heckled, laughed and ridiculed those who opposed BDS; and the refrain that all this is not anti-Semitic — all this amounts to a mass intellectual trolling campaign.
This has led to an environment in which "students look down at their desks when I say things about Jewish emancipation or when I get embarrassed silences in class while discussing Jewish history. Anti-Jewish speech off and on campus is very real, and it is starting to have long-term effects.
Pohl criticized "academics who suggest that Israel is harvesting organs," noting that they are earning "tweets and clicks—and deal[ing] in hate speech." This was an apparent reference to Jasbir Puar, a Rutgers professor who made such charges at a talk at Vassar last month.
Petra Marquardt-Bigman reported for The Tower two weeks ago that Puar and her defenders claimed that the charge was backed up by solid research. Puar also claimed that she was exercising academic freedom, though she threatened to sue anyone who would publish a recording of her talk. Earlier this week, she doubled down on her claim, saying that she "unequivocally" stands by her "research and scholarship."
A study published earlier this month by the AMCHA Initiative found a strong correlation between anti-Israel boycott activity and the occurrence of anti-Semitic incidents on American college campuses.