December 10, 2019

Vassar College President Says ‘From the River to the Sea’ Chants During Hen Mazzig Speech ‘Crossed the Line Into Anti-Semitism’

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Vassar College President Elizabeth Bradley issued a statement on Nov. 18 condemning “from the river to the sea Palestine will be free” chants said during Hen Mazzig’s Nov. 14 speech on campus. 

Vassar Organization Israel Conversations Effectively (VOICE) hosted Mazzig at an event titled “The Indigenous Jews of the Middle East: Forgotten Refugees.” An estimated 25-30 Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) protesters chanted outside of the event for around 10-15 minutes and then eventually left. Mazzig told the Journal that the protesters were so loud he couldn’t speak until the chanting ceased.

Bradley said in her statement that the protesters had violated their pledge not to disrupt the event and the “from the river to the sea” chant “can be understood to be calling for the eradication of the State of Israel and is highly intimidating to Israelis and Jews, and directed it to an Israeli speaker discussing his perspective on Indigenous Jews. In the days following the incident, I have spent time speaking with and learning from students, faculty, alumni, and experts in the field, and I now believe the use of the chant—in this way, directed at this speaker—crossed the line into anti-Semitism. We have begun our adjudication processes, which by federal law are confidential.”

She added: “On this campus, we do not tolerate anti-Semitism, hate speech, or discrimination of any kind. I am grateful that after the fifteen-minute disruption, the invited speaker was able to continue and deliver his presentation to an engaged audience of students, faculty, and administrators.”

Bradley had initially issued a statement on the matter on Nov. 15 saying that the chanting was viewed “by some people with anti-Semitism.” Mazzig told the Journal that Bradley’s Nov. 15 statement was “weak.”

Mazzig praised Bradley’s Nov. 18 statement in a Twitter direct message to the Journal.

“I’m happy that Vassar College’s President took the time to listen to the outrage that many in the Jewish community expressed off and online,” Mazzig wrote. “This is a hopeful step that if combined with taking disciplinary steps against the propagators, I believe will lead to improving the campus environment in Vassar. Admitting a mistake and working to improve the situation is a sign of true leadership that will help create a safe space for Jewish students.”

SJP at Vassar College did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment. They had argued in a Nov. 15 Facebook post that their chanting was merely a way to express support for Palestinians; they also took issue with Bradley calling the chants “potentially anti-Semitic” and “intimidating” in her Nov. 15 statement.

“Fighting against an apartheid state should only intimidate those who have a stake in devaluing Palestinian lives,” SJP at Vassar wrote. “There is ‘no sense of belonging’ on a campus that brings a speaker who promotes racist ideology and has a history of attacking students in SJPs.”