Vassar College Jewish Studies sponsors demonization of Israel…again

Click photo to download. Caption: Rockefeller Hall at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Credit: Noteremote via Wikimedia Commons.
Click photo to download. Caption: Rockefeller Hall at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Credit: Noteremote via Wikimedia Commons.

By Ziva Dahl/

Remember Fleetwood Mac’s 1987 song, “Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies”? Eight academic departments recently invited Jasbir Puar to Vassar College, and she told students lots of lies. They were neither sweet, nor little.

Puar’s talk last month was titled “Inhumanist Biopolitics: How Palestine Matters.” Rutgers University’s associate professor of women’s and gender studies has been busy telling lies, presenting a version of this lecture at venues ranging from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to Santa Barbara, Calif. Her incendiary, unbalanced hate speech masquerades as scholarship. In typical post-colonialist fashion, she ignores the facts and twists reality in favor of delusional fantasies to promote her spurious agenda. Disguised behind a plethora of pseudo-intellectual jargon, she presents bigotry all too reminiscent of 1930s Europe to demonize Jews.

I was there, listening to her reading from her computer in a monotone voice. Her lack of emotion contrasted sharply with the hatred she expressed. Let me give you a taste of her slanderous distortions and demonizing lies about Israel.

With no documentation or specific evidence, Puar asserted that Israel’s ultimate goals are ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, stealing of Palestinian land, and entrenchment and expansion of suffocating Israeli power. Israel’s “settler occupation” (her term), which she calls the “second Nakba” (“catastrophe” in Arabic), is all about using “asphyxiating” biopolitical control over body and environment to suppress the Palestinian people. To this end, she claims Israel uses scientifically executed “maiming” and “stunting.”

“Maiming” means shooting to intentionally cripple, shattering knees, and hitting vital organs (an obvious contradiction) to minimize death statistics and ensure that Palestinian workers can be profitable without threatening the occupier.

“Stunting” is used to permanently debilitate and disable the Palestinians. This is achieved through population poisoning with uranium, lead, and phosphorus, as well as “calorie starvation” in children. Through Israel’s actions, Puar claimed, it is creating physical, psychological, and cognitive injuries by controlling infrastructure, water, electricity, and land, restricting mobility and limiting telecommunications. Her personal observation is that 95 percent of Palestinians are permanently disabled.

Even congenital disabilities are blamed on the Israelis and, incredibly, Puar held Israel totally responsible for the collapse (via “remote home control”) of essential services in Hamas-controlled Gaza, which she called an “open-air prison.”

Puar’s libelous accusations included Israelis killing Palestinians to harvest their organs, a version of the age-old anti-Semitic “blood libel,” experimentation on Palestinian children, “field assassinations” of 120 Palestinians ages 12-16 in a four-month span, and the intentional bombing of Palestinian hospitals and nursing homes. She labeled Israel an “apartheid state” that uses its world-renowned reproductive technology to control population demographics by collecting genetic data to identify who is Jewish, and specifically targeting Palestinian procreative organs. Paradoxically, she bragged that the Palestinian birthrate is triple that of the Jewish Israelis.

Puar concluded that Israel is imposing a collective punishment on the helpless Palestinians through psychic, bodily, and mobility impairments, all elements of biopolitics. She described the end goal as not just ethnic cleansing, but also the “cannibalism of a culture.”

When asked whether Israelis were creating a slow-motion genocide, she agreed that Palestinians are dying a slow death, but insisted that the term “genocide” remains “tethered to the Holocaust” and its use is not allowed since Jews have thoroughly hijacked discourse regarding trauma and victimhood.

She supported Vassar’s current BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) student government resolution, and after students stopped applauding, she advocated organized armed resistance against Israel.

This lecture was hate speech, pure and simple, demonizing the Jewish nation like Goebbels and Hitler, perpetuating the anti-Semitic “blood libel,” and blaming Israel for all the evil in the world. Shades of Der Sturmer or “Mein Kampf.”

About  hundred students sat in rapt attention, many nodding approvingly and, by their questions, indicated agreement with her message.  Far worse was the utter silence of the half dozen Vassar faculty members present. Not one stood up to challenge the baseless lies and unadulterated exaggerations within Puar’s hour-long diatribe.  Not one.  Behind me sat Peter Antelyes, director of Jewish Studies, and Joshua Schreier, the former head.  When I asked Schreier whether he believed Puar’s outlandish accusations, he responded, “You prove to me that anything she said wasn’t true.” I was stunned.

How could Vassar’s American Studies, Africana Studies, International Studies, and Women’s Studies programs, as well as the English, Political Science, and Religion departments, sponsor such a lecture—especially since Puar already spoke at Vassar in 2012? And how could they do so without also offering an opposing view? These academics’ sponsorship was an endorsement of hate speech against Jews, setting an example for students to follow.

But “the most unkindest cut of all” is the sponsorship by Vassar’s Jewish Studies program.  Surely one would think that Jewish Studies faculty, familiar with the 2,000-year history of persecution of Jews, would recognize blatant anti-Semitism. Is it too much to expect them to have the moral integrity and principles to refuse to sponsor this rank anti-Semitism and to debunk the demonizing lies? Have their brains been hopelessly addled by their ideological obsession with the post-colonialist view of Israel as a foreign Western colonial power victimizing  “indigenous” Palestinians? Would the Africana Studies program endorse the views of a Klansman or the Women’s Studies program host a misogynist?

This is not the first time that Vassar Jewish Studies has supported anti-Semitic speech. The program in 2013 sponsored philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler, who advocated the elimination of Israel via the BDS movement. The program also sponsored talks by Max Blumenthal (who has been banished from the German parliament for anti-Semitic rants), Ali Abunimah (in 2014) promoting ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Middle East, and Sa’ed Atshan (in 2015) demonizing Israel as “apartheid.”

How can I sum up my thoughts on the Jasbir Puar event and its sponsors at Vassar? George Orwell in his 1945 “Notes on Nationalism” observed, “One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.”

Ziva Dahl is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center. She has a Master of Arts degree in public law and government from Columbia University and a A.B. in political science from Vassar College. 

Editor’s note: This article was originally published by the New York Observer.

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