Sunday, March 27, 2016

A little Murdock on the Hudson?

I went to Dr. Puar's presentation and 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). I didn't hear any request not be be recorded.

Others who attended Dr. Puar's presentation refute WSJ charges as well. In fact, the charges are based on unsubstantiated claims of antiSemitism, presented as the truth but missing a recording or transcript of what was actually said.

Dr. Puar was brought into Vassar by the Jewish Studies Dept. and supported by Vassar Jewish Voice for Peace, something that should have been included in your article.

The authors of the WSJ article both work for Academic Engagement Network. From Haaretz, Israel's most prestigious newspaper: "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." In effect, the authors are being paid to shut down debate on college campuses.

The WSJ has become a typical Rupert Murdock publication, with writers being paid to distribute pro Israel propaganda, and articles full of rightwing, unsubstantiated charges. A world class college like Vassar cannot afford being intimidated by these tactics. The question is why a local newspaper like the Hudson Valley News prints unsubstantiated charges of antiSemitism. A little Murdock on the Hudson?

Fred Nagel

Joel Tyner has always worked for human rights

I am writing to state my objection to the scandalous article published in the Hudson Valley News 3/16/16: 'County Legislator Under Fire for Posing with Radical Vassar College Group."  

County Legislator Joel Tyner as well as Vassar's Students for Justice in Palestine are not anti-semitic radical thinkers, as falsely labeled in this column, but people deeply devoted to principles of justice.  Like Joel Tyner, I am in accord with Jewish Voice for Peace that works to achieve a lasting peace for Palestinians and Jewish Israelis based on equality, human rights and freedom.  I have visited Jewish relatives in Jerusalem and  Tel Aviv as well as Christian and Muslim Palestinian families in Israel and the West Bank.  I have witnessed three different governing systems there:  one for Jewish Israelis, one for Palestinian Israelis and one for Palestinians in the West Bank (and Gaza) - or what has been known since '67 as 'The Occupied Territories' - now disappearing from Zionist parlance to claim these Palestinian lands as 'Judea and Sumaria' of old.  

A vicious system of apartheid enforced by IDF military rule reigns in the 'Occupied Territories' while Palestinians in Israel suffer third-class degradations and treatment.  The only people who live under a so-called 'democracy' in Israel are Jewish. Not only are there American individuals who speak out against this system like Joel Tyner and groups like Vassar's SJP but also Jewish Israeli individuals and groups that express outrage at their government that deprives diverse people in their state of dignity and human rights. 

County Legislator Joel Tyner has always worked for human rights for citizens of our county and our country.  When our country gives billions of dollars including military aid to Israel, we as U.S. citizens turn a blind eye to anti-democratic practices and instead support the ongoing violent oppression of the Palestinian people.  Hurrah for Joel Tyner for his stand!  

Jane Toby
Catskill, New York

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Haaretz looks for anti-Semitism at Vassar

Peter Beinart | 

Vassar, according to one conservative website, is among the ten most anti-Semitic colleges in America. Last month, an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal declared that, “Anti-Israel sentiment mixed with age-old anti-Semitism has reached a fever pitch” there. So it was with some anxiety that I travelled last week to the 155-year old former women’s college at the invitation of the local chapter of J Street U.

I went looking for anti-Semitism. What I found was more interesting.

I asked roughly a dozen Jewish students whether they thought anti-Semitism was prevalent on campus. They all said no, but admitted that they sometimes feel uncomfortable. When I asked what made them uncomfortable, they cited the intensely anti-Zionist climate. (At Vassar, J Street represents the right edge of the Israel debate).

Last December, for instance, the Vassar Student Council delayed approving a J Street U request for funds to attend the HaaretzQ conference in New York because some anti-Israel activists argued that even the left-leaning Haaretz, being a Zionist newspaper, supports a racist ideology. This February, a Rutgers Professor named Jasbir Puar gave a speech on campus in which she repeated absurd and incendiary claims that in late 2015 Israel had kept the bodies of dead Palestinians so they could be “mined for organs for scientific research.”

For establishment Jewish organizations, this kind of anti-Zionism is prima facie evidence of bigotry. As former Anti-Defamation League head Abe Foxman declared in 2014, “Anti-Zionism 99 percent of the time is a euphemism for anti-Semitism.”

But the J Street U students I interviewed disagreed. Many admitted that they found the anti-Zionist atmosphere on campus disquieting, which wasn’t surprising given that many either had Israeli parents, had attended Jewish day school or had participated in Zionist youth movements. But they were reluctant to equate Vassar’s anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. One big reason: Many of the loudest anti-Zionists at Vassar are other Jews.

At Vassar, the movement to boycott Israel is not led by Palestinian or even Arab or Muslim students. It is led by a group of left-wing activists, several of whom are Jewish. One of the most prominent BDS student activists sits on the board of Vassar’s Jewish Student Union.

This isn’t unique to Vassar. Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, told me that in recent years he has seen striking growth in the number of Jewish students involved in the BDS movement.

According to its media coordinator, Naomi Dann, Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports BDS, has established 14 new campus chapters in the last two years. Jews don’t dominate the BDS movement on America’s campuses but they have become an indispensable part of it. Which helps explain why the Jewish students I talked to at Vassar described the campus struggle over Zionism less as an anti-Semitic assault than an intra-Jewish civil war.

The intra-Jewish debate over Israel at Vassar looks very different than the debate among older American Jews. Older American Jews are divided too, sometimes bitterly. But what divides them is the propriety of publicly criticizing Israel, not Zionism itself. Older American Jews largely take Zionism for granted, as did their parents, because they believe the lesson of the Holocaust is that the world needs a Jewish state of refuge in case parts of the Diaspora ever become unsafe again.

American Jewish millennials, however, have never seen any large-scale migration by Jews fleeing anti-Semitic persecution. Even the Soviet and Ethiopian exoduses of the 1980s occurred before they were born. They have grown up taking for granted that the vast majority of Diaspora Jews live in liberal democracies where they enjoy equality under the law. And they themselves have generally experienced little anti-Semitism. So when they grow alienated from Israel’s policies, they are more willing to challenge the very notion of a state created along religious and ethnic lines. A 2007 study by the Bronfman philanthropies found that American Jews under the age of 35 were 27 points less likely than American Jews over the age of 65 to declare themselves “comfortable with the idea of a Jewish State.”

To be sure, there are still plenty of young American Jews who agree with AIPAC, especially in the Orthodox community. But since Orthodox Jews tend to cluster in a few campuses, that leaves plenty of secular, liberal arts colleges like Vassar where the intra-Jewish debate isn’t about the legitimacy of criticizing Israel. It’s about the legitimacy of a Jewish state.

To the degree that establishment Jewish leaders acknowledge this rising Jewish anti-Zionism, they chalk it up to self-hatred. But when you talk to Jewish students in the BDS movement, as I have at campuses across the country, you quickly discover that being Jewish is precious to them. What they consider precious, however, is their conception of Jewish ethical ideals, ideals that they conflate with their left-wing politics. What they generally lack is the tribal allegiance that might make them compromise those ideals in the name of Jewish solidarity. The liberal Zionists at a place like Vassar are torn between Jewishness as universal morality and Jewishness as communal loyalty. The anti-Zionists see the latter as something to disdain.

The millions of dollars currently being spent to fight BDS will prove useless against these kids. They will prove useless because the Israeli government and the American Jewish establishment see anti-Zionism as merely a political challenge. But what the rising generation of Jewish anti-Zionists really pose is an intellectual challenge, an intellectual challenge that American Jews haven’t faced since the days when Jewish intellectuals like Hannah Arendt, Judah Magnes and Henrietta Szold championed a bi-national state.

There are answers to this challenge. They can be found in books like Chaim Gans' A Just Zionism and Alexander Yakobson and Amnon Rubenstein’s Israel and the Family of Nations. But formulating the answers requires taking anti-Zionist arguments seriously. And that’s difficult for an American Jewish establishment that, while financially and politically strong, is intellectually weak.

The American Jewish establishment does not want to rebut anti-Zionist arguments. It would rather call them anti-Semitic and thus shut the entire discussion down. But, as I saw at Vassar, the debate is coming, not only within the United States at large, but within American Jewry. It’s going to make a lot of people uncomfortable. Yet the longer American Jewish leaders evade it, the more likely they’ll ultimately lose.

Peter Beinart

Haaretz Columnist

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The frenzy of sanctimonious criticism of Trump

To the Editor:

All the fuss about Donald Trump’s violence laced rhetoric towards protesters seems misplaced.  Violence towards dissenters and protesters is a long and time honored tradition in America.  Women suffragettes were attacked,   labor organizers and strikers  were attacked,  civil rights protesters were beaten and  murdered, the Chicago  police brutalized protesters at the Democratic convention,   NYC  police harassed and beat Occupy Wall St.  protesters. 

We have a long history of violence directed at protesters.  Even former Presidential candidate John McCain seemed delighted when tiny Medea Benjamin was dragged from his hearing when she  protested the appearance of  Henry Kissinger (considered by  many to be a war criminal).  

So  Trump’s advocacy for violent removal of demonstrators is right in keeping with a long standing  tradition of American hostility and brutality towards  those who engage in protest.

I suspect that the media is in such a frenzy of sanctimonious criticism of Trump not because of the violence he is advocating,  but because he  represents a threat to  establishment interests.  This establishment includes corporate media,  casino capitalists,  and the financial backers  of both  parties.  Yes,  Trump is scary!  But not only to individual citizens,  he is very scary to all those who make obscene  profits by manipulating the system through lobbyists, money,  preferential  laws,  and  trade agreements.    Were Trump to really end the true “waste, fraud, and abuse” and rampant corporate welfare he would do so at his own peril.  Despite disagreeing with much of what Trump represents I do have concerns for his safety.  

Eli Kassirer

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

‘Anti-zionism’ and ‘anti-semitism'

In local conversations, I have been particularly concerned about the meanings of ‘anti-zionism’ and ‘anti-semitism.’  Are they one and the same?  Are there distinctions between them? A child in the 1940’s, I was raised in a New York Jewish family under the horrific shadow and unimaginable abuses of ‘anti-semitism.’  Today, a woman in my 70’s, I am again being confronted with abuses of ‘anti-semitism’ and labels by people who equate criticism of Israel and of US policies towards Israel as both ‘anti-zionist’ and ‘anti-semitic.’  

I wonder if there is a discussion group concerned with this topic or if there are people who would like to form one.  I definitely need to.  To begin a conversation regarding this possibility, I see that Lillian Rosengarten, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, whose recently published book Survival and Conscience: From the Shadows of Nazi Germany to the Jewish Boat to Gaza (Just World Books), will be speaking at The Inquiring Minds in Saugerties, Saturday night March 12 at 7 pm.  

Born in Nazi Germany, Lillian Rosengarten went there to talk about her book and  was featured in the Jerusalem Post at the time.  I hope that amongst the audience at the Inquiring Minds, there will be people who want to inquire more deeply into this topic. 

Jane Tob