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May 19, 2014

Vassar College President To Investigate Anti-Israel Student Group Activity

In response to a series of anti-Semitic posts published on social media accounts affiliated with Vassar’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter, Catharine Hill, the President of Vassar College, announced that “the college is initiating a full investigation and action on the matter” and that she will be asking the Vassar Student Association (VSA) to review SJP’s pre-organization status; the group is a “preliminary organization” on campus.vassar-sjp

Anti-Semitic and racist messages allegedly disseminated by the Vassar chapter of SJP included an article that was reposted from The Occidental Quarterly, a racist print publication that in its own words, hopes to “defend the racial group that created and sustains our civilization.” Another post that appeared on Vassar SJP’s Tumblr page was of a cartoon that used offensive Holocaust imagery to condemn alleged Israeli policies. It depicted a so-called “Holocaust” in Gaza, with a pile of human skulls topped with a sign that read “Gaza.”

On May 13, a day before Hill’s statement, Vassar SJP posted a statement on its Facebook page claiming that, “Up until this point, the social media platforms (tumblr and twitter) associated with SJP Vassar’s name have been managed by one person and the SJP general body was not involved in decisions made about what was being posted.” The group also condemned hate speech and apologized for the offensive posts.

Concern over Vassar SJP’s activity first began in February when the group organized a protest outside of an International Studies class, whose professor co-led a trip to Israel to explore water issues as part of the course. The protest reportedly lasted for at least 30 minutes, as students enrolled in the course attempted to enter the classroom. 

As the students tried to make their way into the classroom, the protesters called on them to drop the class because of the organized trip to Israel. They also handed out flyers, which apart from calling for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns against Israel, also claimed that “The simple act of entering and moving within the state of Israel is a freedom denied to over 5 million Palestinian refugees who were ethnically cleansed from their homes…The indigenous people of Palestine do NOT want you to come.” 

Hill’s statement is an important step toward ensuring that Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus are made to feel comfortable and that blatant anti-Semitism and hostile rhetoric will not be tolerated on campus.

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