Anti-Semitism at Bard College

October 14, 2019 • 8:45 am

UPDATE:  There have now appeared three letters from Bard academics, with links on the page of Ungar-Sargon’s essay. They all contend that she misrepresented the situation in serious ways. I haven’t yet absorbed all the letters, but stay tuned and I will clarify matters (assuming they need clarification) tomorrow.

UPDATE 2: There are now four letters and a new article in Jewish Currents taking issue with many of Ungar-Sargon’s claims. She hasn’t answered them. I’ve written a new post on the issue here.


Like Batya Ungar-Sargon, author of the piece below at The Forward (she’s the opinion editor at that paper), I don’t think criticism of Israel makes one an anti-Semite. Adhering to the BDS program puts you pretty close to being one, but, as Ungar-Sargon reports, when Palestinian sympathizers disrupt a panel on anti-Semitism—not on Israel—discussed by three Jews, and academics in the audience applaud the disruption, well, that’s anti-Semitism in my book—and Ungar-Sargon’s, too.

The backstory is that Ungar-Sargon was invited to sit on three panels on racism and anti-Semitism at Bard College‘s Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities.  Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which I consider an anti-Semitic organization, decided to disrupt one of her sessions. Ungar-Sargon wasn’t opposed to non-disruptive pushback, but told the students that another of her panels would be more appropriate for a protest. That’s because the students planned to protest a panel on anti-Semitism discussed by three Jewish people, which didn’t have Israel as its subject. And disrupt the SJP did, with the tacit cooperation of Bard officials:

When the conference began Thursday morning, I was warned that protesters from the Bard chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine planned to interrupt my panel with Wisse and Mor. I was surprised they were not targeting the one on Zionism, but the one on anti-Semitism, the only panel of about 20 over the course of the two-day program where three Jews would be discussing the topic.

“But we’re not even talking about Israel,” I said to the conference organizers. “How does that make sense?”

My concern was met with an explanation of the College’s policy towards protesters. The center’s leadership, and the two Bard College deans attending the conference, seemed to have no particular plan to handle what was fixing to become an ugly disruption of Jews trying to discuss anti-Semitism. Berkowitz told us that there would be added security, but the security officers were not allowed to remove the students.

As the protesters started to gather in the lobby, I approached them. I told them that I respected their passion and commitment to what they thought was right, but asked why they had picked this panel.

“Come to my panel tomorrow,” I said. “Come protest my comments on Zionism. I’ll be talking about the occupation. Bring your signs.”

I told them I’d reserve the first and second audience-questions for members of their group, but that protesting the all-Jewish anti-Semitism panel was undercutting their work.

“Don’t you see that?” I asked. Didn’t they see that protesting Jews over Israel when they are not even talking about Israel is racist? Didn’t they understand that saying we were responsible for the behavior of the Israeli Jews just because we shared their ethnicity was racist? That making every conversation with Jews about Israel is racist?”

“The conversation about anti-Semitism is already inherently about Israel,” one of the students archly explained, repeating a deeply anti-Semitic trope that has been voiced across the spectrum from David Duke to Louis Farrakhan to Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters. Right-wing anti-Semites see any accusation of anti-Semitism as a Jewish conspiracy to take away the rights of whites, while left-wing anti-Semites sees the same accusation as an attempt to silence Palestinians.

And here is an appropriate place to insert a cartoon from reader From Pliny the in Between’s site Far Corner Cafe:

The article recounts what happened next: the protestors interrupted the speakers and disrupted the talk by chanting. Some of the fellow speakers in the audience applauded the disruption. Nobody protested the disruption, though later some of the protestors were escorted out. Then there was an after party at which French philosopher Etienne Balibar told Ungar-Sargon that the protest was “wonderful”.

“Why are you silencing Palestinians?” he demanded. “There should have been a Palestinian discussing anti-Semitism. They have many thoughts about it!”

I left the party. How could I drink with people like that? And back at my hotel, I realized that it would be pointless to participate in Friday’s program. There is no debate possible when people think anti-Semitism is not only acceptable, but commendable.

So when I was introduced the next morning, I pulled out a new set of remarks.

There should have been a Palestinian discussing anti-Semitism? Seriously, that’s like insisting on having a white supremacist sitting on a panel of African-Americans discussing anti-black racism, or an anti-Palestinian Jew sitting on a panel discussing Islamophobia. Nobody would even think to countenance these things, or to countenance white disruption of a panel of black people discussing racism. But of course Jews are okay to disrupt. Remember, the panel wasn’t about Israel at all; it was about anti-Semitism, and Ungar-Sargon isn’t an Israeli. To conflate all Jews with Israel’s policies, and then go after Jews on those bogus grounds, is anti-Semitism pure and simple.

Ungar-Sargon made her 5-minute “new set of remarks”, which you can hear at the link below, at the beginning of the next day’s panel, and, after chastising the audience for its cowardice and complicity in the disruption, walked off the stage. Watch the video below before it disappears. It’s an eloquent and remarkable combination of anger, passion, and persistence.  (Click on the screenshot, and then on the video.)

Ungar-Sargon finishes up with a few thoughts:

There is no debate possible when people think that your very humanity is up for debate, something my fellow conference goers no doubt accept as obviously true when it comes to anti-Black racism or anti-Muslim racism. And yet somehow, when it comes to anti-Jewish racism — holding one Jew accountable for the actions of another simply because they are Jewish — no one bats an eye.

. . . This is not a declaration against open, raucous, difficult debate. I am proud to publish what I believe to be the widest spectrum of voices, on the subject of Israel and many others, of any Opinion report in the nation. My hosting of these varied viewpoints was, ironically, one of the crimes listed on the handout the protesters distributed about me, none of which had anything to do with Israel but rather focused on my criticism of anti-Semitism on the left.

But showcasing dissenting viewpoints is the most important thing I do. As an Opinion Editor, I have three main mandates: to raise up the voices of those disenfranchised by current power structures; to represent the breadth of legitimate points of view from across ideologies and politics; and to challenge my own, my readers’ — and my writers’ — points of view in good faith.

But as I know all too well, the most important factor in hosting the full gamut of legitimate opinion is knowing where the red lines are. And if you think allowing Jews to be protested for being Jews does not represent a red line, I have nothing more to say to you, and nothing I want to hear.

I applaud Ungar-Sargon for taking this stand, and especially for calling out her fellow academics for what appears to be Left-wing Jew hatred, something that’s increasingly common. Bard College should apologize to her and issue a statement that disruption of talks like this will not be tolerated. I am not asking for Bard to stifle dissent or even declare that anti-Semitism is “against Bard College’s values”; I am asking Bard to help stop these endless disruptions of talks, whatever they’re about). And Ungar-Sargon’s fellow conference participants, who applaud anti-Semitism since it’s fashionable on the Left, should be ashamed of themselves.

h/t: Eli

34 thoughts on “Anti-Semitism at Bard College

  1. The screen shot isn’t linking to anything for me. I searched on YouTube and didn’t find it, but did find a video in which she talks about the experience. In any case, doublethink continues to be the hallmark of our time.

  2. The academics who applauded all this must be really blinded by ideology and that one person who said something so ridiculous about Palestinians commenting on anti-semitism! Good grief! The most generous spin I can put on it is that that person was simply ignorant about the term “anti-semitism” but if that is the case, that person should not be an academic if he is so impaired in understanding terms and history.

    1. I was thinking they were trying to argue that Palestinians are Semites(I don’t know enough to know if this is true or not). And that therefore they should be included in debates about anti-Semitism.

      Which is a specious, bad faith argument. Anti-Semitism has an accepted definition, and it doesn’t include prejudice against Palestinians. That’s just Trumpian language-is-what-I-say-it-is nonsense.

      1. Interesting. I hadn’t thought that. I think actually, taking your argument further, they are arguing that Jew=Israeli so a Palestinian should discuss Israel because it’s really a discussion about Israel and Palestine. Faulty logic to be sure.

        1. I’m sure that’s what he was thinking, to use that word in its most liberal sense. And yes, antisemitism (I prefer it used as one word) refers specifically and only to hatred of Jews. The argument that Arabs are semites, so they can’t be antisemitic is specious in the extreme. Anyway, “semitic” refers to a Near Eastern language group and not definable ethnicity. perhaps it’s time to abandon the use of “antisemitic” and replace it with “anti-Jewish”, or even “Judeophobia.”

          1. I just take words and use them how they’ve come to be through the warping of the populus. Sure, it stings my brain a little but it happens a lot, Caucasian, Asian (to refer only to Japanese, Chinese, Koreans), etc. They all sting a little but I just put up with it and use the word.

  3. Nasty, lazy, indefensible bullshit.

    ‘There should be a Palestinian there’…in a talk about anti-Semitism? Why?

    Give any special interest group latitude to do what they want and they will push and push. That’s what is happening here. No-one is pushing back.

    There is not enough of an onus on some of these student groups to rationally defend their position. Make that a priority instead of just pointing to your identity as an argument.

    1. Palestinians could have been in there. They could have been in the audience listening to what the panel had to say and then raised objections in the Q&A.

      Another opportunity wasted.

  4. The rise of AntiSemitism in academic circles is bewildering. The reasoning seems to be that Palestinians are perceived as the most oppressed people in the world and therefore they can never be criticized. Palestinians are good. Israelis, and by extension all Jews, are bad. It’s the illogical all or nothing thinking that drives me crazy.

    1. “The rise of AntiSemitism in academic circles is bewildering.”

      Arab nations have been pouring billions of dollars into US universities (and not just Middle East Studies departments)and think tanks for decades.

      Just sayin’.

  5. A characteristic of ideologues, whether on the Left or the Right, is to see the world in terms of the oppressed and the oppressors. Their lives are dedicated to the cause; the battle is between good and bad; there is nothing in between. Such was the case here. Ungar-Sargon will not receive an apology from the academics she criticized.

    Often at first the ideologues are dismissed as a small group on the political fringe, likely to go nowhere. Such dismissals can turn out to be a big mistake. The French, Russian, and Chinese Revolutions achieved ultimate victory due to the agitation of ideologues over many decades. They overthrew corrupt and tyrannical governments only for themselves to become even worse oppressors. The American abolitionists before the Civil War were ideologues by any definition. They achieved their goals as well, although due to the unique nature of American society, they did not take over the government.

    The common thread among ideologues is that they never give up, whether they are fighting for Palestine (which, of course, encompasses a deep anti-Semitism) or right-wing evangelical religion in the United States. I do not know to what extent Jews understand the mind of the ideologue (they should have learned lessons from the Nazis), but it is of paramount necessity to understand that compromise with the ideologues is impossible; consequently their goal must be to contain the spread of the poisonous ideology to those not yet infected. This is a difficult take, but it must be undertaken – the survival of Israel and the prevention of yet another widespread wave of anti-Semitism is at stake.

  6. Thank you for making this available jerry. I recommended bari weiss’ concise and very readable book,”how to fight anti-semitism” again in this space. After a moving chapter on her motivation to write the book, she provides a chapter on a history of anti-semitism, followed by three chapters dealing respectively with anti-semitism from the right, left, and radical islam. She concludes with a chapter reflecting the book’s title: how to fight it. I personaly found the chapter on anti-semitism from the left most illuminating and very well written.

  7. While not exclusive to them, SJWs and Wokiees cannot distinguish between people and beliefs. Blind to their own prejudices, they are perfectly happy to damn an entire group for the perceived attitudes and actions of some of its members.

    1. An important point, I think — you see it also in their inability to distinguish criticism of Islamic doctrine and practice from hatred of Muslims.

  8. What makes it even more absurd is that Ungar-Sargon is a strong supporter of Palestinian rights, and trenchant critic of some Israeli policies. The fact that protesters aren’t interested in either listening to or even talking to her is revealing of how clueless and ignorant this form of antisemitism is.

    This is the only other thing I’ve read by her–
    “A Palestinian in Israeli Military Court”

    — and she strongly criticises the Israeli military for its suppression of genuinely peaceful protest in the West Bank. She argues that peaceful protest would constitute a greater threat long term the occupation of the West Bank, than violent attacks. She also says she considers the BDS under ‘passive resistance’.

    (I think she’s wrong to praise it on that count — outside Israel ‘passive resistance’ is hardly a virtue, and above all the campaign is misguided: it’s poorly conceived, fudges the definition of ‘occupation’ to the point where for many it refers to the whole of Israel, fails to target enough Israeli businesses for it to be effective and thus merely hurts small businesses including those that employ Palestinians, isolates would be allies to their cause within Israel and groups them in the with ‘Zio-Nazis’, has failed to distance itself from terrorism and terrorists, fails to consider Israel’s right to military security, has achieved absolutely nothing towards improving the situation for Palestinians, and merely inflames hatred towards Jews instead — which is really what it’s all about.)

  9. From Ungar-Sargon’s piece in The Forward:

    Not one of our fellow conference speakers got up and exercised their free speech rights to call the protest what it was. Not one came over to us after to express shock and horror that three Jews would be denounced for Israel’s actions while attempting to discuss anti-Semitism in America.

    Seems the banality of evil was on full display at the Hannah Arendt Center.

    1. Fuck, I passed right by the fact that this took place at a building called the Hannah Arendt Center. How ironic. Banality of evil, indeed.

      1. Mebbe so, Beej, but I’m sure you didn’t miss the connection of the college with the band fronted by that nice Jewish boy from Passaic. 🙂

  10. Just watched the video, and boy was it worth it. She really gave it to the academics who supported or didn’t speak up during the protests. An excellent statement.

  11. Bard’s exciting student groups include the Anti-Capitalism Feminist Coalition, where the beneficiaries of Bard’s cost ($54,680/year for tuition and fees) contend against the evils of the capitalist system. Maybe this explains why the College’s most notable alumni, Chevy Chase and Christopher Guest, came to specialize in comedy.

  12. Reader Cate called to my attention the new letters on the Forward page, so I’ve put this update at the top of my post. I’ll peruse the letters and offer any needed revisions in a separate post tomorrow (or maybe a day later to see if Ungar-Sargon replies. My update:

    UPDATE: There have now appeared three letters from Bard academics, with links on the page of Ungar-Sargon’s essay. They all contend that she misrepresented the situation in serious ways. I haven’t yet absorbed all the letters, but stay tuned and I will clarify matters (assuming they need clarification) tomorrow.

  13. All I can say is that it appears many in the audience for these panels seem to be ignorant and confused. She’s calling for a just recognition of Jewish rights while the world seems to be focused on Palestinian rights. Where the hell is the rational position?

  14. I couldn’t agree with this more. I attended Arizona State University which is a very traditionally red state and saw this kind of thing all the time. It’s anti-Israel. Anti-God.

Leave a Reply