November 19, 2019

SJP Protests Bard University Panel on Anti-Semitism

Photo from Wikipedia.

Bard College’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter protested an anti-Semitism panel taking place at the New York liberal arts college on Oct. 10. The panel featured Forward opinion editor Batya Ungar-Sargon, Harvard Yiddish literature Professor Ruth Wisse and Bard Hannah Arendt Center Associate Fellow Shany Mor.

In an Oct. 12 column in the Forward, Ungar-Sargon wrote that organizers of the Oct. 10-11 Racism and Anti-Semitism conference warned her that morning that student protesters were planning to interrupt her “Who Needs Anti-Semitism?” panel during the conference. 

“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,” Ungar-Sargon wrote, adding that she was told that “security officers were not allowed to remove the students.”

Ungar-Sargon proceeded to mention that she spoke to the protesters before the panel, encouraging them to protest her Oct. 11 panel “Racism and Zionism: Black and Jewish Relations” instead of the anti-Semitism panel. A protester replied, “The conversation about anti-Semitism is already inherently about Israel,” which Ungar-Sargon argued is “a deeply anti-Semitic trope that has been voiced across the spectrum from David Duke to Louis Farrakhan to Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters.”

Ungar-Sargon then claimed that one of the speakers scheduled to be on her Zionism panel started “egging on” the protesters.

During the panel, around 20 protesters held signs that read, “Zionism = Racism,” among others, and interrupted the panel with chanting. The protesters were eventually forced to leave when “they chanted so loudly that we couldn’t proceed,” according to Ungar-Sargon; she was irked that the protesters “were applauded by several of our fellow conference speakers in the audience” and claims that at a party afterward one of the speakers accused her of “silencing Palestinians.” 

While conference organizer Roger Berkowitz and the Bard deans apologized to Ungar-Sargon afterward, she didn’t like that “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.”

The following day, Ungar-Sargon criticized the college during the Zionism panel and left the panel when she concluded her remarks.

“The next time someone says, ‘What have you done to help Jews as anti-Semitism has spiked across the nation, as Jews have been murdered at their place of worship and Orthodox Jews get beaten to a pulp day after day in Brooklyn,’ you can say, ‘I sat idly by as Jews were protested for trying to talk about anti-Semitism,” Ungar-Sargon said. “I allowed a Jewish woman to be held accountable — because of her ethnicity — for the actions of a country halfway around the world where she can’t even vote. I egged the protest on, in fact. And then I went to a party.’”

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt praised Ungar-Sargon in an Oct. 13 tweet.

“Bravo @bungarsargon for sharing how she encountered ugly #antiSemitism at @BardCollege — at a panel on anti-Semitism no less,” Greenblatt tweeted. “It’s a case study on the very real issues facing Jewish students on college campuses today and shows how hate manifests on the far Left.”

The American Jewish Committee tweeted, “We are heading toward a great reckoning in U.S. higher education. Will all universities step up to stomp out antisemitism? Or will Jews be forced out of general American academia?”

Berkowitz disputed Ungar-Sargon’s account of what transpired during the protest, writing in a Letter to the Editor published in the Forward on Oct. 14 that he and other conference organizers attempted to dissuade the protesters from disrupting the panel, warning them that they would be removed if they did so.

“I communicated all of this to Wisse, as well as Ungar-Sargon, well ahead of the talk,” Berkowitz wrote. “Neither gave any indication that our plan was unacceptable.”

He argued that Ungar-Sargon implied in her column and on Twitter that she was “silenced,” which he said was false, pointing to the full video of the panel. Berkowitz also argued that the protesters weren’t being anti-Semitic, they were voicing a political disagreement.

“In her speech at the conference before leaving, Ungar-Sargon accused me and other conference goers of sitting ‘idly by as Jews were protested for trying to talk about anti-Semitism,’” Berkowitz wrote. “This is flatly not so.”

SJP Bard wrote in an Oct. 13 Facebook post that they “successfully disrupted” the anti-Semitism panel, saying that they “specifically targeted a panel that featured hardline [Z]ionist professor Ruth Wisse as the main speaker.”