Recently, Miscellany News published a joint statement by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Vassar Student Association regarding SJP’s use of antisemitic artwork to advertise an event with Eli Valley, a notorious cartoonist known for his libelous renderings of Jewish people and the State of Israel.
Students for Justice in Palestine insists their statement is an apology and noted, “We did not put in due consideration for how the art used might be perceived by some of the Jewish students on campus.” The organization claims to take full responsibility for causing harm to the campus community. Despite their insistence, this situation is not a matter of “perception.” The fact is: incontestably antisemitic imagery was spread on campus by a registered student organization, no less. Furthermore, their statement reads more like an attempt at justification than a genuine apology.
SJP then argues that Mr. Valley cannot be antisemitic because he is Jewish. This is a preposterous claim. Eli Valley is antisemitic because he depicts Jews as the bloodthirsty undead, draws comparisons between Israelis and Nazis, and contemporizes terms used in the persecution of Jews. His ethnicity and religion do not excuse his virulent displays of bigotry toward Jews.
The cartoon by Mr. Valley shared by Students for Justice in Palestine is characteristic of Valley’s work. It is a monstrous and grotesque illustration of a Jew that parallels historical examples of European antisemitic imagery. Furthermore, the widely accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism identifies classic antisemitic symbols and imagery such as those featured in Mr.Valley’s work as profoundly heinous and incontrovertibly bigoted.
Furthermore, the proliferation of conspiracy theories and libels against Jews and “Zionists,” a term used interchangeably with Jews, does not come without consequences. In May, two people dining outdoors in Los Angeles were violently attacked by a mob of violent pro-Palestinian protestors solely because they identified as Jewish. Jewish students have also been accosted, attacked, and discriminated against on college and university campuses. At Vassar in 2019, Students for Justice in Palestine disrupted an event highlighting the history of Jews in the Middle East with activist Hen Mazzig, harassing attendees to the event and shouting “from the river to the sea,” a chant calling for the elimination of the world’s only Jewish state.
A report by the AMCHA Initiative in 2019 reveals this to be a widespread issue across North American, listing 192 “acts involving the public shaming, vilifying or defaming of students or staff because of their perceived association with Israel,” a 60 % increase in 2019 from 2018. (AMCHA, 2020)
The final sentence of the statement makes SJP’s lack of remorse apparent; SJP implied that they apologized only because they were compelled to do so. They write, “We also hope that people take time to engage with the ideas surrounding the image that was further discussed at the event, and critically examine the ways that certain speech and people are surveilled, censored and punished, while others are empowered and prioritized.” (emphasis added). SJP’s words are intentionally ambiguous, but the implication is clear: SJP appears to be playing the victim, implying that their critics’ concerns –– most notably those of Vassar’s Jewish population –– are prioritized over their own. That is far from the truth.
Left unchecked, Students for Justice in Palestine will continue to vilify Israel and spread bigotry against Jewish students. The failure of the VSA and the administration to identify the problem exemplifies a significant issue that plagues Vassar’s campus: Jew-hatred, so long as it can be passed off as a “matter of perception”.
Remi Kauderer is a 2021-2022 Fellow for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting & Analysis at Vassar College.
A modified version of this article was published on December 6th in The Miscellany News, the campus paper at Vassar College.