ISRAEL ON CAMPUS REDUX: Hate Speech and the Fig Leaf of Academic Freedom

Statement by Vassar College President and Dean of the Faculty Regarding Academic Boycotts

January 2, 2014

Statement by Vassar College President and Dean of the Faculty

Regarding Academic Boycotts

Recently several academic associations, including the American Studies Association, have called for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Vassar College is firmly committed to academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas. We are opposed to boycotts of scholars and academic institutions anywhere in the world, and we strongly reject the call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. We endorse the statements opposing the boycott issued by the American Association of University Professors, the Executive Committee of the Association of American Universities, and the President of the American Council on Education.

Vassar’s commitment to academic freedom not only leads us to reject the call for a boycott, it helps ensure that our faculty and students may pursue their academic interests wherever they may lead, engage in unconstrained discussions, and express their views freely.

Catharine Hill, President and Professor of Economics
Jonathan Chenette, Dean of Faculty and Professor of Music

Posted Thursday, January 2, 2014


You may send this letter electronically by going to At the top click on to “Directory” and enter Catharine Hill’s name.  You will be directed to the college President’s page.  Click on to the contact/e-mail button, enter your name, e-mail address, and paste the letter into the text box, then send.


Alternatively, you may copy and paste the following letter on to your stationery (or write one of your own) and send by mail to:

Professor Catharine Bond Hill

Vassar College Office of the President

124 Raymond Avenue, Box 0001

Poughkeepsie, New York 12604


Dear President Hill:

I recently heard our congregation’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Jonathan Lubliner, Vassar class of ‘85, deliver a Sabbath sermon in which he described several instances of ugly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity on campus this past semester.  It was disturbing to learn that bigotry and intolerance have reared their ugly heads at one of America’s most prestigious colleges.

I applaud the courage you and the Dean of the Faculty, Professor Jonathan Chenette, demonstrated this past January in condemning the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israeli institutions, and am heartened by the news that Vassar College is currently reviewing the campus status of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) following its publication of a 1944 Dutch Nazi poster as commentary on Israel.

The conflict between Jews and Arabs in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza is multi-faceted and complex.  It involves the legitimate needs and hopes of Palestinians, even as it includes a strong historical and religious connection between Jews, Judaism and the land of Israel, one demonstrated by several thousand years of Jewish history and embedded in the classical texts of Judaism.

To acknowledge the latter is not tantamount to a dismissal of the real hardships Palestinian face, or the ethical dilemma Israel must confront should the status quo continue.  For the SJP, however, it would seem that the reverse does not hold true.  Sadly, with the support of some faculty and the silence of many others, the demonization of Israel by the SJP utterly lacks civility, balance, or a willingness to admit the inconvenient truth of any evidence favorable to Israel, or the incontrovertible fact that the idea of Israel as the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people is central to the liturgy, religious texts, observance, history and theology of Judaism.  Instead, propaganda hides behind a fig leaf of academic freedom, while a snarling wolf of hate speech masquerades in the sheep clothing of social conscience.  Surely Vassar’s proud 150-year history as a bastion of rigorous scholarship deserves better than this!

It is my hope that the review of SJP’s status on campus will not be quietly dropped once the unpleasant fallout from the national media fades.  I urge you as President, as well as the faculty and the administration of Vassar College, to formally require SJP, as a prerequisite of its continued presence on campus, to pledge the cessation of its campaign of demonization, intimidation and harassment of those with whom it disagrees.  Should the SJP find its calling can only be fulfilled through ad hominem attacks on those who believe in the right of the Jewish State simply to exist, then surely it deserves no place on a college campus that prides itself on its inclusivity and tolerance of diverse viewpoints.


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