Saturday, February 27, 2016

Thank you. We applaud your accomplishments

Students for Justice in Palestine
Box 147
Vassar College
124 Raymond Avenue
Poughkeepsie, NY 12604

Dear SJP members,
We enjoyed having the opportunity to meet with you and to learn of your commendable efforts on campus and in the broader community to bring the light of knowledge to the struggle for peace with justice for Palestinians and Israelis.

From hosting the Economic Activism exhibition created by the American Friends Service Committee, to inviting distinguished professors and authors to share their perspectives, to Hip Hop music and Dabke dances, you’ve educated, entertained and opened spaces for the learning experiences that help us all grow.

Thank you.  We applaud your accomplishments and look forward to the benefits that accrue to us all through your creative work for Human Rights.  Kudos also to Vassar’s administration for its steadfast commitment to free speech and for fostering open discourse...values so vital in today’s world.


Paul and Katja Rehm

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions at Vassar Collegw

Students for Justice in Palestine 
Vassar College - Box 747
124 Raymond Ave.
Poughkeepsie, NY 12604

To the Vassar College Administration,

I want to commend two campus groups that have been particularly effective in bridging the college/community divide, Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace.

Members of both Vassar groups attended a meeting of our organization, the Middle East Crisis Response in Woodstock. Moreover, they have helped MECR educate the larger community about human rights in the Middle East. 

The more MECR works with these students, the more we are impressed by their organizational skills as well as their dedication. Advocating for Palestinian rights has not always been easy on many campuses, but these students have persevered. Their campaign this spring to bring attention to boycott, divestment and sanctions is one of the best I have seen. 

Vassar College's dedication to the free expression of ideas has most certainly enriched our wider community, and for that I sincerely thank you.


Fred Nagel

Friday, February 19, 2016

Academic Engagement Network, a rightwing Zionist organization

President Hill,

A am a retired Vassar College administrator (Career Services) and I attended Dr. Puar's recent presentation.

I did not hear the inflammatory things that the Wall Street Journal claims. She did refer to the purposeful restrictions on food imports to Gaza (well substantiated by numerous reports). She also referred to the controversy surrounding organs taken from Palestinians without consent, a charge that also has a great deal of documentation <>

I didn't hear any demand not be be recorded. She did say that "academic courtesy" includes being asked for permission to record a talk. Not the same thing, of course.

The authors of the Wall Street Journal article work for the Academic Engagement Network, a rightwing Zionist organization that hires retired academics to shut down campus debate on Palestinian rights.

This from a December Haaretz article: "NEW YORK – Enlisting faculty members at American colleges and universities as allies in the fraught battle against the BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) movement is the main objective of a new organization [Academic Engagement Network] that is being launched on Wednesday."

The Academic Engagement Network has received tens of millions from from Sheldon Adelson, billionaire ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

I don't think Vassar can afford to be intimidated by extremist groups like this. As a career counselor at Vassar, many of the employers I dealt with commented on Vassar's reputation for bright and motivated student who were able to apply critical thought to solving problems. I think that shutting down critical analysis of the Israel/Palestinian conflict on campus would eventually hurt Vassar's reputation with employers.

But Vassar does not exist merely to get its graduates good jobs. Curtailing this debate on campus would also be intellectually indefensible.

Fred Nagel

Recent charges of anti-semitism leveled at Professor Jasbir Puar

Dear President Hill,

I am writing to you regarding the recent charges of anti-semitism leveled at Professor Jasbir Puar who was brought to Vassar by the Jewish Studies Department and supported by Vassar Jewish Voice for Peace.

As you probably know,  there is a well financed  campaign of intimidation  that has permeated college campuses across the nation. It is committed to  silencing all voices which are critical of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights. It is  also designed to stop  the burgeoning  boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS)  which is attempting to  non-violently change the policies of the Israeli government. There is a conscious, calculated,  and concerted  effort by Zionist factions to equate criticism of Israel’s government  with criticism of Jews.  This is simply not the case. In my own personal experience a large percentage of people who are critical of Israel and supportive of Palestinian human rights are, in fact, Jewish (and I include myself as a Jew who is critical of Israel).

Mr. Fred Nagel, a former Vassar administrator,  attended Dr. Puar’s talk and heard nothing anti-semitic in her remarks. I have had the privilege of knowing and working with Mr. Nagel  for many years. I have found his ability for dispassionate observation to be  extraordinary. Mr.  Nagel is a longtime local activist who is reliable, reasonable, and rational. His judgement  and integrity have always been beyond reproach.  

I am hopeful that Vassar will not succumb to these efforts to silence  voices which are critical of Israeli  governmental policies.  Certainly,  the university is a place where academic freedom and  open discourse should be encouraged and not restricted because of pressure, threats, and intimidation by right wing interest groups.   

Thank you for taking my thoughts into consideration.


Eli Kassirer

New Paltz,  NY

Monday, February 8, 2016


Above photo: Destruction of Gaza from Wikimedia.
Not long ago I was standing in a veritable war zone amid the tear gas, rubber coated bullets and stun grenades looking at the little yellow flowers I was unfamiliar with and thinking about how the western main stream media portrays this particular conflict in the usual fairly unbalanced thought-bytes and the only lives that are ever considered are the human ones: some humans matter more than others but the rest of flora and fauna has, essentially, no representation in the media and apparently doesn’t matter at all.
We all know how important the environment is – ever since the word came to be in use – and, as a culture of refugees, colonialists, conquistadors and anything but the indigenous, we are indoctrinated in a culture of denial and disconnect from nature (the environment outside of your skin) and our minds and the language we think with does not contain the right sequences of words to express or question not only human rights and equality in the eyes of international law and human rights law (if that’s your thing), in the eyes of god (if that’s your thing), through a lens of your indigenous roots on Earth (regardless of where you’re from and all of the defining characteristics of your identity), but we never consider the impact of human conflict on the environment.
Trying to unravel the entangling alliances between state parties is as angrifying as actually understanding the often dubious relationships, based on economic and military power, which wreak havoc on innocent people the world over. I’m specifically avoiding examples because there are so many to choose from I don’t want to single out one perpetrator over another and draw a chorus of “what about the others’ “. Besides that’s not my point.
My point is that all of that is somewhat irrelevant – the behavior is basically universal in that people are making, selling, buying, and using weapons to kill innocent people and it’s generally not sanctioned by the respective civil societies of the nation-states doing the killing. The underlying issue, which gains absolutely no attention in the press, in social media, from political pundits and the politicians themselves, is the simple set of questions everyone should be asking themselves with their morning coffee, afternoon cocktail, dinner and a joint, is “Who’s making all of these weapons? Who’s selling all of these weapons? Who’s using all of these weapons? And why are they being made, sold, bought, used and not regulated in any consistent fashion, let alone produced at all – when they have only one purpose?”
I’m not gonna answer that simple set of questions. I have my own thoughts and beliefs about why this is taking place. The once in a while that I can bear to think about it I just ask myself “why isn’t everyone talking about this and trying to do something about the way these forms of commerce take place?”
Generally, energy flows where attention goes so let us all put some form of attention to this issue. It can be in the form of prayer, mediation, poetry, music, dance, food, letters and phone calls and general lobbying of government officials and weapons manufacturers, letters to editors, peace journalists can participate in focusing their attention on this matter as well. Of course, there are more than one hundred and ninety-eight methods of non-violent armed resistance according to one Gene Sharp (If you’re reading this you know how to use a search engine). I can’t do all 198, but I try a few here and there in a way that doesn’t interfere too much with my white male American middle aged middle classed privilege. I’m asking you do something too. Few are guilty, all are responsible.
 -Adam Roufberg is a scientist and educator and has recently completed and MAS in Peace Studies and Conflict Transformation focusing on how the arts can be used as a playground for establishing relationships based on common characteristics of our human identities and constructing a new narrative based on a hunger for learning about our differences in a way that promotes mutual understanding, appreciation and enjoyment.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Dear Kevin Cahill Assemblyman

Dear Kevin Cahill Assemblyman

I am writing to you in favor of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (freedom of speech), and freedom of religion.
I am Jewish. However I have never chosen the State of Israel to represent me as a Jew. I don't agree with its Zionist and anti- Palestinian policies. Israel has disobeyed several United Nations rulings regarding the West Bank and has broken Geneva Accords
that the U.S. is signatory to regarding the occupation of land conquered in war. I am first an American Citizen before anything.

The U.S constitution guarantees me the right of free assembly and public expression of my views. In S 6378A/A9036 the government would take away my right as an American citizen to criticize the misbehavior of a foreign power(_Israel_) And to organize against their lawlessness in the form of BDS or any other way I would like to organize within my constitutional  rights.I am a Jew. I don't hate myself for being a Jew. But I hold in bad respect the behavior of the State of Israel. It Doesn't represent all Jews and has no right to.
Therefore I ask you to vote against and organize against A9036.  
 Gregor Sirotof

Friday, February 5, 2016

Need help in getting groups to sign on

First, big thanks to everyone who moved this process along so quickly!! The letter that will go to the members of the NY State Assembly is ready to be sent out much more broadly.

Below is a draft memo for you all to use. Our hope is that all of the groups already involved in our campaign to defeat this terrible legislation will sign on. And we need to go much further. Each of you and your groups can help us get this letter out far and wide. We would like to have a large list of groups signing on to this letter - and we will be in a much stronger position if that list is broad. We need groups from all around the states. We want groups from many constituencies and different communities. 

Please feel free to edit the memo, or to write your own. Either way, make sure to include the link and the date we would like to get the sign-ons.

We still do not know what the time line for this bill is in the Assembly. Things could start to move quickly, or it might drag out. But we need to move very quickly on this letter! Please do not delay getting this out to folks.

Thanks everyone.


Dear Friends,

We are writing to encourage your organization to join the growing list of organizations across NY state opposing legislation that creates unconstitutional blacklists. The bill is explained in the letter we will be sending to the members of the NY State Assembly. (The text of the letter is below and it is included in the link.)
Current signers of the letter include: Center for Constitutional Rights, Palestine Legal, National Lawyers Guild - NYC, United Church of Christ Palestine Israel Network, Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Jewish Voice for Peace - New York City Chapter, Jewish Voice for Peace - Ithaca Chapter, Jewish Voice for Peace - Albany Chapter, Jewish Voice for Peace - Westchester Chapter, Jewish Voice for Peace - Rochester Chapter, JEWS SAY NO!, Jewish Voice for Peace - National, US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, US Palestinian Community Network, American Studies Association, American Muslims for Palestine - New York, Muslim American Society - New York, American Association of University Professors - NYU Chapter, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, Adalah-NY: the New York Campai gn for the Boycott of Israel, Brooklyn For Peace, CODEPINK New York, Concerned Families of Westchester, WESPAC Foundation, Committee for Open Discussion of Zionism, Syracuse Peace Council.

We are inviting a wide range of groups from around NY State to sign on, including yours! Please fill out the form to sign on at:                                                                                        

Please respond as quickly as possible and feel free to share this with others. When we send the letter to the assembly members we want to have the fullest list possible. 

Thank you.


We are writing to strongly oppose A9036, currently in the Governmental Operations Committee of the NY Assembly, as well as any similar legislation that creates unconstitutional blacklists. We share deep concerns about unconstitutional attacks on boycotts, a form of protected political speech.  We call on you to stop this legislation, and oppose any similar efforts.
This legislation mandates that New York State create a blacklist of individuals and entities that exercise their constitutional right to utilize boycott as a form of free speech. Under this bill, individuals and entities that boycott a country (or companies based in that country) from a selective list of “allied nations” will be ineligible to contract with the state. The legislation also calls for the state to divest its holdings from any corporation that boycotts an “allied nation.” *
The proposed legislation runs counter to the US Supreme Court decision in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., which concluded that boycotts constitute a political form of expression that “occupies the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values.”
If passed, this legislation would require that New York utilize the power of the state to:
  • Punish those advocating for a boycott of Turkey because it uses U.S. weapons to commit human rights abuses against Kurds, or for advocating for a boycott of Colombia because it uses U.S. weapons to commit atrocities against its citizens.
  • Bar United Methodist Churches from contracting with the state to run homeless shelters and soup kitchens because the church supports the boycott of Israeli settlement goods.
  • Punish those advocating for a boycott of Israel because it uses U.S. weapons to inflict systemic human rights abuses against Palestinians. It would prevent New York from investing in corporations that have severed their complicity with Israel’s oppression of Palestinians in response to boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns.
Should it become law, the bill would put a chill on speech, and deter constitutionally protected speech by intimidating people from engaging in actions for fear of being blacklisted. This bill was passed in the NY State Senate the first week of the session with virtually no debate and it must be stopped now.
We are also concerned about A8220/S6806; a bill just as unconstitutional. This legislation blacklists and bars state funds to individuals and entities that have taken any action to boycott Israeli policies. We believe A8220 is just as dangerous as A9036. No legislation should restrict the rights of New Yorkers to engage in efforts to bring sanctions against a nation engaged in human rights violations.
We ask you to act in accordance with this state’s history of defending free speech and the rights of New Yorkers to engage in peaceful efforts to change policies.
We urge you to make sure A9036 does not pass in the Assembly. We are counting on you to defend free speech and reject this new version of McCarthyism.
signed by organizations
*The definition of “allied nation” in this bill is: any country that is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, any country that is a signatory of the Southeast Asia Treaty of 1954, any country, other than Venezuela, that is a signatory of the Rio Treaty of 1947, Ireland, Israel, Japan, and The Republic of Korea.