Thursday, April 03, 2014

Vassar College’s Recent Controversy Involving Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the International Studies (IS) Travel Class to Israel

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), a grass roots organization of over 30,000 academic members, expresses its great concern with recent events at Vassar College, growing out of a student and faculty response to the “International Studies 110” class (IS) which traveled over Spring break to Israel.

The IS trip was taught and led by Vassar professor of Earth Science and Geography, Jill Schneiderman, and associate professor of Greek and Roman Studies, Rachel Friedman. Its educational purpose was to look “at issues of water rights and access to the Jordan River, as well as disparities in water distribution in Palestine and Israel.” Locations visited by students in the class included sites throughout Israeli and Palestinian Authority controlled territories and a Palestinian refugee camp in Bethlehem.

Professor Schneiderman’s teaching objective was inclusive. “I was motivated to propose and teach such a course because from my perspective as an earth scientist,” she wrote in a blog, “I understand how daily and future access to clean water in ample supply is one of the key issues about which people in the region fight. It is also a problem on which Arabs, Jews, Jordanians, Palestinians, and Israelis have worked together with integrity and compassion.”

For 25 years IS trips had been offered without dispute. Only this year did the issue of the propriety of visiting a specific country—in this case, Israel—become a topic of discussion and condemnation—led by Vassar’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

SJP is very clear in its opposition to the Jewish state, and they regularly vilify Israel, Zionism, and supporters of Israel; SJP previously constructed a mock security wall on Vassar’s campus.

SPME is very concerned that through SJP’s response to the IS course—and the subsequent the meeting held by Vassar’s Committee on Inclusion and Excellence on March 3rd to discuss guidelines for activism at the school in the context of the trip—SJP has created a climate of fear and intimidation that has enveloped the Vassar campus, particularly for Jewish students and faculty, and others who might support Israel.

On February 6th, nine members of SJP appeared at the classroom for the IS course and formed a human barricade to impede students from entering the classroom. An SJP leaflet distributed to students described Israel as sponsoring apartheid and asserted that “the indigenous people of Palestine” did not want students going on the trip.

Professors Friedman and Schneiderman have noted that the demonstration by SJP was inappropriate because it took place at the classroom itself, misguided because it misrepresented both the purpose and substance of the course, and threatening and intimidating to students enrolled in the class because of the physical presence of the demonstrators and the ululating and heckling that accompanied the protest. When the class did finally begin, protestors continued to shout and students inside the classroom told the professor that they “felt unsafe,” “bullied,” and “harassed.”

SPME believes protestors do not have the right to “occupy” classroom spaces and to physically insert themselves between students and faculty in teaching situations at any time.

SPME is also troubled by the fact that the SJP’s interference with the conduct and teaching of the course was met, not with sanctions from the administration, but in fact with another opportunity to further denigrate Israel and Israelis in a school-wide public panel held on March 3 by Vassar’s Committee on Inclusion and Excellence to discuss guidelines for activism at the school. In fact, that meeting was arranged primarily because SJP members had complained to the administration.

SPME is also concerned that this March 3rd meeting, called an “Open Forum on the Ethics of Student Activism and Protest at Vassar,” which some 200 people attended, was arranged by the administration solely for the purpose of giving SJP members and their supporters on campus additional opportunities to demonize and attempt to delegitimize Israel—in the context of the IS trip—and to repeat misinformation and slanders, rather than to seriously examine the events that took place. The few pro-Israel speakers at the meeting were heckled with finger snapping and made to feel unwelcomed in the discussion, leading Professor Schneiderman to feel that “last night was knocked off-center by a belligerent academic community dedicated to vilifying anyone who dares set foot in Israel,” as she expressed in a blog posting.

“Vassar’s Committee on Inclusion and Excellence may have had good intentions in opening up dialogue about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict,” said Dr. Richard L. Cravatts, president of SPME, “but it appears that the meeting to do so was called, not to facilitate an academic discussion of an area of concern, but as a way of assuaging the SJP’s disingenuous complaints about the supposed racism they experienced for having their radicalism questioned by the targets of their invective.”

SPME feels that the Vassar administration enabled an unjust and inappropriate violation of healthy academic debate, both by giving SJP and other anti-Israel individuals a platform for their corrosive rhetorical attacks and by not insuring that the March 3rd meeting did not further contribute to a climate of intimidation, harassment, and incivility for Jewish students and other supports of Israel.

SPME calls on the administration of Vassar College to address the very clear radicalism and hatred embodied in the tactics of Students for Justice in Palestine, as well as the developing hostile environment towards Jewish supporters of Israel manifesting itself on the Vassar campus, in an unambiguous, public, and forceful way, just as universities immediately have done when hate speech or acts of racism or prejudice have been directed at other minority groups on campus. Responsible leadership needs to address the intimidating environment that has developed, including when Jewish students and other supporters of Israel are targeted for scorn or enmity for their actual or perceived support of Israel, or for the views about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the Middle East they may express.

Most importantly, we call on the Vassar administration to ensure that all students are able to attend classes and participate in academic activities without fear of violence, victimization by hate speech, or threats of harm.

Via email

Now TWELVE schools in Britain are being investigated by Ofsted amid claims hard-line Muslims are trying to indoctrinate pupils

Extremist Muslims are trying to indoctrinate pupils at a dozen state schools in Birmingham, it has been claimed.

Local MP Khalid Mahmood warned of the risk posed by religious radicals as it emerged that education authorities had widened their investigation into the allegations to include more than 12 different schools.

In some schools non-Muslim teachers are reported to have been sidelined by Islamic extremists, who have allegedly imposed halal food in canteens and abolished sex education classes.

The claims first came to light last month, when a letter referring to a 'Trojan Horse' plot to take over Birmingham schools was leaked to the Press, although its authenticity is unclear.

Park View Academy was downgraded from 'outstanding' to 'inadequate' after allegedly being infiltrated by extremists, while the non-Muslim headmaster of Saltley School claims he was forced out of his job.

Education Secretary Michael Gove is believed to have taken a personal interest in the investigation, which includes both faith schools and secular establishments.

A source told the Sunday Times: 'Michael Gove has ordered an all-embracing investigation and has asked a number of department officials to drop everything and just focus on this.

'They will be going through financial records and interviewing staff members at more than 12 schools in Birmingham.'

Mr Mahmood, the MP for Perry Barr in Birmingham, has called for a thorough investigation into the scandal.

He said that some of the schools were run by members of the ultra-conservative Salafi sect, who may be 'trying to import their views into classrooms and the day-to-day running of the school'.

Mr Mahmood added: 'The majority of kids are Sunni mainstream Muslims. It is an attempt at indoctrination.

'These are state schools, not Islamic. I am very concerned at the way non-Muslim staff have been dealt with and the effect on the children.'

The Labour MP, who chairs the Tackling Terrorism All-Party Parliamentary Group, welcomed the intervention by the Department for Education and Ofsted.

He suggested that education officials had previously steered clear of getting involved in disputes with Muslim schools for fear of being dubbed racist.

'Council officers were in a difficult position where they either went along with it or were portrayed as anti-Islamic,' Mr Mahmood said.


University of Texas to Bring Back Yiddish

The University of Texas at Austin will offer Yiddish language courses for the first time in 10 years, the Daily Texan reports. Yiddish had been taught at the university since the 1970s, but courses stopped being offered when the last Yiddish professor, Itzik Gottesman, left the university 10 years ago. Now Gottesman is back with on campus, and Yiddish classes for will resume in the fall semester.

“I taught Yiddish at UT in the 1990s, and the classes had wonderful registration,” Gottesman said. “A number of students have gone on to work with Yiddish as part of their research in history, linguistics and Jewish studies, and I expect there to be a great interest in Yiddish again.”

Gottesman wil also teach Jewish Studies classes in addition to the Yiddish courses, and anticipates solid enrollment levels.


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