The Kvetch-Up: Robots may be the future of Israel activism

Welcome back to our weekly news round-up, where we try our long-winded best to summarize the Jewish news of the week. If you read something here that you want to say something about, get in touch:

Yesterday, the Vassar Student Association voted to pass a resolution that called for it to politically support the BDS movement. The VSA failed to pass a BDS amendment that would have required the Student Activities Fund to no longer make purchases from 11 companies that “profit from or explicitly support” the occupation, including Ben & Jerry’s, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola.

The BDS Resolution and Amendment were put forward by the college chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace. J Street U put forward an Anti-Occupation Resolution, which condemned the occupation and called to allow students to individually decide how to pursue related activism.

J Street U members objected to the BDS resolution based on what they saw as potential to stifle opposing views: “I think in a lot of ways, what [SJP does] is to try and amplify their own voices as opposed to hearing a lot of people’s perspectives,” said Josh Schwartz, a J Street U member.

In a meeting between the VSA and Vassar’s president, Catharine Bond Hill, Hill told the board members that if the amendment passed, the administration could defund the VSA. In a statement issued March 3, Hill wrote, “Vassar does not support the BDS movement nor the use of college resources for the boycott of any goods or organizations as called for by BDS.”

Thirty-eight members of Vassar’s faculty signed a statement of full support for the student vote and disagreement with the administration’s threat to defund the VSA.

Allegations of anti-Semitism at Oberlin College have received a boost from a rhetoric and composition professor’s anti-Semitic Facebook posts. The Tower, an online magazine published by The Israel Project, posted screenshots of Facebook posts by professor Dr. Joy Karega that can be described, in the mildest of terms, as anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

Oberlin’s communications staff wrote in a Feb. 26 statement that “the statements posted on social media by Dr. Joy Karega, assistant professor of rhetoric and composition, are hers alone and do not represent the views of Oberlin College.”

Marvin Krislov, Oberlin’s president, wrote in his student paper column last Tuesday that Karega’s posts “affected me on a very personal level” as a practicing Jew, relative of Holocaust victims, and student of history. He also wrote that academic freedom can be “difficult and at times painful”, and that the Oberlin community will address Karega’s posts “by honoring the essence of liberal arts education at Oberlin by interrogating assertions with facts and deep, critical thinking from multiple viewpoints.”

Krislov has met with Jewish Federation of Cleveland, AJC Cleveland, the Anti-Defamation League Cleveland Region and the Cleveland Hillel Foundation to discuss Karega’s posts and “the potential implications of a professor’s personal views on classroom activity and student intimidation.”

Oberlin has already been facing allegations of anti-Semitism on campus over its growing BDS movement. More than 200 alumni and students signed an open letter in January calling on the administration to thoroughly investigate and document acts of anti-Semitism and create a plan of action to deal with the “current crisis.”We believe that pro-BDS individuals at Oberlin are exploiting the concept of free speech by promoting hate speech and by inciting acts of anti-Semitism,” they wrote — words that could apply to their issue with BDS, or to the outcry over Karega’s posts.

Open Hillel has accused StandWithUs of using a robot to intimidate students at a panel on Palestinians in Israel at Brown University. The robot, which wore a suit and tie, had an iPad for a head, which displayed an employee of StandWithUs who asked students why they were at the event, Open Hillel said. New Voices will have more information on this story later.

At Towson University, the ramping up of Islamophobia in politics has led to an increase in interfaith efforts and sentiment. Not only did local nonprofit Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies change its name to the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies, but local organizations and student groups have “buckled down” to host more interfaith events.

J Street U Tufts hosted Breaking the Silence’s Avner Gvaryahu last week to speak about his experience in the IDF. Gvaryahu is the organization’s director of public outreach, and addressed the morality of the occupation (which is to say the lack thereof), the work of gathering soldier testimonies, and the political crisis Israel faces as “one political voice” tells people that to support Israel is to support the occupation. Gvaryahu also spoke about how at the end of his service, he and his fellow soldiers thought back to the Palestinians they’d met: “We were trying to remember faces of Palestinians … We entered dozens of homes, we couldn’t remember faces.”

Students in the Gateway Hall residence at the University of Missouri-Columbia must have been thrilled to see a poster that said “Hitler rules” on a bulletin board in the residence. This is the second anti-Semitic incident during this school year — and the third in a calendar year. In October of last year, someone drew a swastika in feces on the wall of a residence bathroom.

We wrote last week that CUNY has launched an investigation into reports of anti-Semitism on its campuses, following incidents documented in a letter written by the Zionist Organization of America. ZOA has explicitly called for SJP to be banned from CUNY campuses. Jewish Voice for Peace’s campus coordinator Ben Lorber has written a letter to the chairperson and chancellor of CUNY urging them to protect SJP’s constitutional rights, and taking issue with several more parts of ZOA’s allegations: “The letter sent to CUNY by the ZOA fails to mention that, since 2004, five Title VI complaints filed by the ZOA and other anti-Palestinian organizations alleging anti-Semitism on college campuses due to anti-Israel activity have been dismissed by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR).”


Future and Jonah Hill went on SNL, where the two performed Future’s song with Canadian Jewish angel Drake, “Jumpman.” Watch on NBC.

See you next week.

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  1. The Kvetch-Up: Why are people still surprised that anti-BDS campaigns don’t work? | New Voices: The National Jewish Student Magazine - March 14, 2016

    […] can’t win on its response to allegations of anti-Semitism on its campuses. After the Zionist Organization of America released a Feb. 24 letter detailing anti-Semitic […]

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