Stop Anti-Semitism at The New School
Stop Anti-Semitism at The New School
Dear President Van Zandt:
We write as members and supporters of the Zioness Movement, a new initiative that empowers progressive and feminist Zionists who wish to engage in movements to advance civil rights, social justice and equality for all.
We are deeply troubled that the New School’s Department of Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism has chosen to host and sponsor an event on Nov. 28, called "Antisemitism and the Struggle for Justice," that has the sole purpose of excluding Jewish and Zionist voices from the left. The gross misrepresentation of Zionism espoused by these panelists, and their explicit endorsement of anti-Semitism couched as anti-Zionism, strongly correlates with a horrifying increase in anti-Semitism today. In fact, anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. have increased 67 percent in 2017 compared to 2016—a trend that is felt acutely on college campuses.
Academic institutions have a duty to the public to advance nuanced and difficult conversations, and anti-Semitism is a critical societal issue. While criticism of Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic, it frequently manifests as anti-Semitic. Zionism, a movement of self-determination for the Jewish people, does not take a position on the specific politics or policies of a foreign government thousands of miles away. Even if it did, it is totally unacceptable to hold all Zionists accountable for specific policies of the Israeli government. The New School’s event seems to be calculated to excuse the anti-Semitism that often colors criticism of Israel, while giving a platform to panelists who are complicit in explicitly anti-Semitic campaigns and who voice support for notoriously anti-Semitic individuals.
We have three primary concerns:
First, we are alarmed by the inclusion of an individual who is neither Jewish nor a scholar on anti-Semitism, and, ironically, has perpetuated anti-Semitic tropes and worked to demonize Jewish Zionists nationwide. Linda Sarsour has no authority on anti-Semitism, either as a scholar of Jewish history or through lived experience as a Jewish person. While there are nuances of anti-Semitism and its relationship with anti-Zionism, Sarsour has frequently demonstrated—at best—a failure to understand them: her comments are regularly perceived as anti-Semitic to Jews and Zionists on the left and the right. Further, she has praised Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, a well-known anti-Semite.
Second, one of The New School’s co-sponsors of this event, an organization which calls itself “Jewish Voice for Peace,” has ties to anti-Semitic individuals and is known for regularly excusing anti-Semitic behavior. Most recently, JVP publicly supported the Chicago Dyke March’s decision to remove two lesbians from their parade for carrying a pride flag with a Magen David, a historic symbol of Judaism and the Jewish people.
Third, and most importantly, this panel appears to conflate legitimate criticism of Israel—like legitimate criticism of any other state—with the belief that Israel should not exist as a state and should be replaced. Israel was founded as a refuge and homeland for the Jewish people. Political and social action to end the existence of the Jewish State of Israel—and Israel alone—is overtly and often explicitly anti-Semitic. Yet, the panelists invited to The New School work to whitewash this type of activism and deny its unequivocally anti-Semitic nature and intent. Lionizing them as experts on anti-Semitism is simply perverse.
These panelists actively work to prevent Zionists from engaging on the left, despite Israel’s leftist roots. Lina Morales has publicly posted on social media that she aims to, “drive a wedge between Zionists and the left, between Zionists and the queer community, between Zionists and poc communities.” Rebecca Vilkomerson has said JVP’s role is to drive a wedge between Judaism and Zionism. Linda Sarsour has said “nothing is creepier than Zionism,” and declared that Zionists cannot be feminists.
By removing a contingent of passionate activists from social justice causes, these individuals are not only hurting Jews and Zionists, they are working against the marginalized communities who need the support of the many, not the few. It is counterproductive for any proclaimed progressive activist to demonize members of the progressive left, denying our humanity and desire for our own liberation while blocking us from participating in the other important issues of our time.
Instead of opening a dialogue on the topic of the very real fears faced by millions of Jews around the world, or a dialogue on criticizing certain Israeli policies without perpetuating anti-Semitism, this panel will bolster a narrative within the progressive student community that they do not need to question anti-Semitic elements within the context of anti-Zionism. It will reiterate the profoundly disturbing message that, in order to fight for civil rights and social justice, one must denigrate the Jewish state and deny the humanity of anyone who supports its existence. We fear that this will not “address” anti-Semitism but will, in fact, excuse and exacerbate it. The institutionalization of the positions espoused by these panelists — through The New School’s official sponsorship of this noxious event — is itself systemic anti-Semitism.
We assume that advancing anti-Semitism is not the goal of The New School, its academics, faculty members, or administrators, and thus urge you to reevaluate the ethics of offering your institution as a venue for this panel as it is currently composed. There are a variety of ways to address this important conversation in a scholarly and nuanced way — without having a panel on anti-Semitism that is itself perceived as anti-Semitic, and without impinging on academic freedom — and we would be thrilled to be a part of that dialogue.
We are grateful for your consideration of our perspective — which is widely shared by the Jewish community on the left and right — and remain available to answer any questions you may have. The New School has a rich history of providing a haven for scholars fleeing the Holocaust. We are grateful for The New School’s longstanding partnership with members and institutions of the Jewish community in New York and around the world.
We hope to work with you to ensure that this legacy is not compromised by events like the one scheduled for November 28th.