Fifteenth Anniversary of the Muhammad al Durah Broadcast

Ten years ago, shortly after producing Pallywood, I put out a twenty-minute documentary on Muhammad al Durah, in which I argued the footage that Charles Enderlin had presented to his audience as the More »

The Answer to Hisham Milhelm’s Searing Question on Arab Cultural Failure

For Malgorzata Koraszewska’s Polish translation, see here. I have often lamented the lack of Arab self-criticism (and the surfeit of Jewish self-criticism). About a year ago, Lebanese journalist Hisham Melhem wrote a More »

Yael Lavie Interviews Tuvia Tenenbom on B’tselem’s Holocaust-Denying “Top” Researcher

I’m preparing a post on an interview with Tuvia Tenenbom by I24 reporter Yael Lavie that took place October 8, 2014. Even though it’s old, it illustrates a key dimension of the More »

Rethinking the Political Meme, Right-Left-Wing: Call for Papers

One hears often the complaint that “right and left” are not good terms for describing and categorizing various thinkers in today’s world. But all the complaints barely make a dent in the More »

Apocalyptic and Gratuitous Hatreds: The Revival of Jew Hatred in the 21st Century

The following is an only slightly edited version of my farewell lecture at Boston University, April 27, 2015. The essay is only partially linked. As I reread it, I see numerous jumps More »

Pessin Archive: Pessin’s Remarks on College Panel about Charlie Hebdo Attacks, January 22, 2015

The following are the comments Pessin made at a panel on January 22, on the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris at the beginning of  the month. It initiated a series of email exchanges with Lamiya Khandaker in February, which preceded the full-fledged assault in March.

Notes for Hebdo comments 1/22/15

Of the many issues, questions, problems in play here, one particularly strikes me:

“moral relativism” … in particular, the profound moral differences in play between distinct cultures/subcultures …

–in the academic bubble we live in we are firm believers in tolerance and diversity … which leads to a strong default inclination toward a kind of relativism — different societies and cultures and religions are all equally valuable, equally legitimate, equally ‘correct’ in their own way — at the very least we are in no justified position to critique their differences … it’s imperialistic, colonialistic, to impose our values on other cultures … shades of European imperialism, colonialism, conquest, domination etc….

–the fascinating irony of course is that these ideas of tolerance, diversity, individual liberties etc. are profoundly European ideas in the first place …

–helping to support these ideas is that it can be very difficult to distinguish “cultural” differences from “moral” differences … of COURSE differences in dress, and language, and cuisine, and customs, etc. should be tolerated, celebrated … so that bleeds over into tolerating/celebrating the diversity of practices that begin spilling into moral practices — the role/status of women, FGM, the role/status of gays, freedoms of the individual (speech, assembly, religion) etc….

–and it is instances like Hebdo which show just profoundly problematic this strongly relativistic attitude is … which reveal just how profoundly different are the value systems in play …

–for most of “us,” OF COURSE Hebdo had the right to satirize religion (not just islam but pretty nasty toward Christianity and Judaism too) … perhaps we find it offensive, in bad taste, maybe even “wrong” in some sense — but in no sense deserving of execution

–but for many of “them” (leaving that undefined!) OF COURSE Hebdo did not have that right, and WAS deserving of execution …. (demonstrations all over the world AGAINST Hebdo, incl riots and deaths against Hebdo … Nigeria (burning churches), Pakistan, Gaza…) ….

–tho I am very skeptical of sharp black/white distinctions, of us/them distinctions — they’re generally not accurate and not helpful to productive discussion — I use the distinction here only to demarcate a strong moral dividing point — either you condemn the Hebdo shootings simpliciter or you don’t … events like this force you finally to make a choice … and I’m using ‘us’ to indicate the former and ‘them’ to indicate the latter, regardless of race/ethnicity/religion etc.

–[and note I’m not even talking about the shooting of the Jews here — separate issue(s) — just focusing on the Hebdo]

–it’s easy to be tolerant and celebrate the diverse practices when “they” are “over there” “elsewhere” — but the world is getting smaller, now they are right “here” … so what can and should you do?

–can you “tolerate” those who don’t want to tolerate you?

–can you “coexist” with people who want to kill you?

–how is it possible to affirm your commitment to “individual liberty, freedom, diversity” when “sub-cultures” within your culture want to overthrow you and your values?

–this also shows up “between” cultures — eg how do states go to war justly, morally (by their own standards) against non-state entities that don’t play by the same rules (eg re protecting civilians) …

–I have no answers, to either the theoretical or practical problems raised here … but I do suspect one thing, regrettably, in both domains — that whatever the answer is, it might well involve re-examining and articulating far more precisely the nature and limits of the key notions (liberty freedom diversity tolerance) we celebrate …. Or to articulate it more precisely: the great challenge for societies committed to liberal democratic values is how to maintain those values, to maximize those values, even toward those who don’t share those values, who are so opposed to those values that they attack them with violence ….

Pessin Affair: Faculty Dissent, Jeff Strabone, March 31, 2015

Published with permission of author.

From: Jeff Strabone <[email protected]>

Date: Tue, Mar 31, 2015 at 9:25 AM

Subject: [faculty] why I have not signed

To: faculty <[email protected]>

Dear Colleagues,

Last night I received an e-mail message from a student who was outraged that I did not sign my department’s recent statement. The student then offered to “help facilitate” my class for me.

I have declined to sign my department’s statement for a number of reasons, some of which have already been articulated by other colleagues. I will therefore explain just one: declaring that you’re not a racist and thinking that you can beat or disprove racism by signing an oath or making a declaration are, to my way of thinking, fundamental misunderstandings of the nature of racism. Most racists (or, more helpfully, people who contribute to racism) don’t think they’re racists. There is no cost or sacrifice required to sign such a statement. It is, in short, too easy to sign a statement and think one’s work is done.

Pessin Archive: Using Saïd and Finkelstein to Shed Light on Pessin Affair

Demystifying Media Bias Surrounding Anti-Semitic and Islamophobic Discourses

In light of recent events on this campus as well as articles in the media, we find it necessary to highlight a number of misconceptions about Islam and anti-Semitism. We would like to dispel the notion that criticizing the Israeli government or military amounts to a condemnation of Judaism or Jewish people (just as a critique of Saudi Arabian state is not automatically anti-Islam or anti-Arab).

Edward Said’s seminal work on orientalism serves as our first point of reference. Said asserts that Western conceptions of the Middle East do not arise from an objective analysis of the region, but rather are viewed through a lens that in effect distorts reality. Orientalism propagates a false historical narrative through its creation of an “ideal other.” Said’s conception of American Orientalism is particularly relevant to our analysis of current campus events and to the larger narrative of Islamophobia. The history of orientalism in Europe differs from the American narrative, as the United States never possessed colonies in the Middle East. As a result, America’s brand of orientalism is entirely unique, defined and politicized by its relationship with Israel, a Western democracy.

Along the same vein, Said remarks that Israel regards the entirety of the Arab world as its principal enemy. Viewed through this framework, the Palestinian desire for national determination is seen as a disturbance to Israeli security. Resultantly, Palestinians and pro-Palestinian Arabs are seen as irrational, violent and inclined toward terrorism. This very fact helps explain the sheer magnitude of Islamophobia on both this campus and in the United States in general. Similarly, these massive generalizations conflate a number of distinct categories, as many individuals believe all Arabs are Muslims, and these two categories are regularly conflated with violent terrorists. 

The conception of the “dangerous Arab terrorist” is also manifested in the portrayal of the Middle East in Western media. In emphasizing the figure of the dangerous Arab terrorist, the media propagates the false presumption that all Arabs are a threat to Western interests. This tendency is visible in the Washington Post article published about the current situation on our campus. David Bernstein, author of the article and also a Professor of Law at George Mason University, singles out a student who wears the hijab as the sole voice on campus who spoke out against Pessin’s anti-Palestinian post, ignoring the numerous other members of the Connecticut College community who were alarmed by it. Our own Hillel House issued a statement on March 25th as a result of the Facebook post stating “We do not condone racist speech or actions toward any group under any circumstance.” Bernstein also quickly conflated criticism of the post with anti-Semitism itself, as if a critique of the Israeli government was itself anti-Semitic. Finally, his thinking ignored the fact that many Jews themselves are critical of the Israeli government as are other citizens of the United States. Singling out the most visible Muslim woman on campus as the sole voice was permissible precisely because of the Islamophobic discourse in the media and the broader public. The media’s tendency to generalize and broadcast false assumptions detracts immensely from a clear-headed discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian problem.     

With these ideas in mind, it is imperative to turn now to Norman Finkelstein, an American political scientist and author of Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History. Finkelstein argues that charges of anti-Semitism, identical to the accusation David Bernstein made in The Washington Post, are essentially misuses of anti-Semitism that serve to delegitimize valid criticisms against the Israeli state. In other words, criticisms against Israel as a state are in fact not anti-Semitic in nature. Criticizing Israel’s policies does not amount to criticizing Judaism or Jewish people. With Finkelstein’s remarks in mind, we as the authors want to make an imperative clarification. In criticizing Professor Pessin’s original Facebook post, which likened Palestinians to rabid pit bulls, students were not invoking anti-Semitism but were simply criticizing the racist and orientalist nature of his remarks. We can see how this is an instance of anti-Semitism discotorse being appropriated to mask Islamophobia.

The polarizing nature of the current conversation precludes productive dialogue on this subject. In order to transcend orientalist assumptions and language, we must stop making generalizations that impede dialogue. Similarly, we must become more critical of the way in which Western media portrays issues of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, using anti-Semitism to avoid criticism of the Israeli government and ignore orientalist assumptions about Arabs and Muslims. It is evident from the events that have transpired on this campus that generalizations about Islam, Arabs, Jews and all of their representations perpetuate unproductive dialogue. We hope that in invoking Said’s discussion on Orientalism and Finkelstein’s discussion on anti-Semitism we have begun to provide a greater understanding of Islam and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. •    

4 thoughts on “Demystifying Media Bias Surrounding Anti-Semitic and Islamophobic Discourses”

Pessin Archive: Pessin’s Letter of Apology for Post, March 8, 2015

Letter to the Editor

I am truly sorry for the hurt and offense that I have caused via my Facebook post of last summer, to individuals on this campus and now beyond.

It was written last August in the middle of the war between Israel and Hamas, and sat quietly (if publically) on my Facebook page until a Connecticut College student, displaying courage and integrity, emailed me about it on February 18 and described in no uncertain terms how she felt about it. I acknowledged how much I respected her speaking up, apologized for my language in the post, and removed it that very day. But my initial apology to her, and then to many others since the Voice articles appeared two weeks afterward, was rather defensive in tone. I see now—particularly after a moving conversation with a group of bright, brave, and sincerely wounded Conn students—just how damaging and hurtful the language of that post was. I made a great mistake in writing in the inflammatory manner that I did, and deeply regret the injury that I caused and have now directly witnessed.

It’s essential for me also to remark that I in no way hold and do not condone the terrible racist views that have been ascribed to me on the basis of the language of this post. I hope that my past actions and words already demonstrate that I am not the person some now think I am; I know that my future actions and words will. Let my first such action be the reiteration of my deepest apology for causing such wounds.

Andrew Pessin

Professor of Philosophy


Pessin Archive: Khandaker’s Take on her Role in the Controversy, April 15, 2015

Why I Wrote My Letter-to-the-Editor and How a 19-Year-Old Received Backlash

Editor’s note: This is a revised version of the article written by the author for the April 13 print edition of issue 10.

Here is what really happened and where it all started.

It was 8:42 p.m. on February 18th when I received an email of an offensive Facebook post made by a philosophy professor from four concerned students. They had found it from the public Connecticut College Philosophy Department Facebook page.

When the initial students found the Facebook post their first instincts were to send it to the media right away, to print it out and paste it all over Blaustein and other academic buildings. But I had asked them not to.

After some time on contemplating how to proceed, I decided to compose an email. This would be my second concerned email to the same professor. The first time I expressed concern was on Jan. 24 over ideas he shared at a public Charlie Hebdo panel which made me and several other students feel uncomfortable. I emphasized to him the significance of acknowledging that intolerance and violence occur in various forms regardless of who perpetrates it, and the importance in having solidarity for all victims. I received a defensive, unapologetic, and more offensive response in return.  I did not engage with him after that until Feb. 18. I thought I would let him know that his use of language was bothering many students.

This is an excerpt of the response that I received:

“It’s particularly upsetting that in both the Hebdo case and the FB comment, you seem to have misunderstood or misinterpreted what I said.”

In addition to an attempt to justify the use of language by reference to a political conflict, followed by:

“If my analogy inadvertently invites that overly literal misunderstanding, then I am truly sorry and surely need to be more careful, and I’ve taken the post down to think about whether it does; and I appreciate your calling attention to that fact; but either way, it is a serious misunderstanding.”

For the second time in a row, I have been told that I had misunderstood language that was either harmful, offensive, derogatory, or dehumanizing. I asked myself: Should I continue to privately engage with someone who keeps dismissing me and telling me I misunderstand everything he says? If it was just me, then fine. But over a dozen faculty members, and dozens of students cannot all be mistaken.

Over the next two weeks many students, including myself, contemplated the best way to approach this. We were not seeking to criticize his pro-Israel views, but the use of irresponsible language from a philosophy professor. This was a group of intellectual young adults in college who understand the definition of racism as a “social structure that yields superiority and privilege for some, and discrimination and oppression for others.” An analogy that justifies an “owner” and a “cage” in a sensitive region where women, children and civilians are known to die in large numbers is a racist analogy regardless of one’s political views. And we engaged with racism through the best outlet possible—our student-run college newspaper. 

My letter to the editor in The College Voice along with the others did not cause worldwide attention to his post. This attention was going to happen regardless of whether we had written them or not. My letter in addition to the other two actually stopped his post from getting into the media right away. I had advised students to keep it within the local community so we can have a community conversation about our values.

When my letter was published, the administration facilitated a private meeting with the professor and eight other students—the writers of the other College Voice letters and students who filled out a bias incident report. A few days afterwards, the professor issued a public apology to our college newspaper which I acknowledged publicly as well. My role in all this ended right there, right then.

The ending of my active role, however, did not stop other students from continuing to address this issue. A petition was created by others to ask the administration to take a clear stance on disrespectful, racist speech. This petition was created because students were tired of having the conversation end behind closed doors. But I still did not sign or share this petition.

I felt my role was to express grievances on behalf of underrepresented students who felt uncomfortable by this professor’s comments. I hoped whatever transpired afterwards would help push for a positive change for our school to move in the direction of a more acceptable community, but I ended up receiving backlash.

Andrew Pessin as a tenured professor reached out to media and singled out specific students. I immediately became vilified as the 19-year-old Muslim college student who silenced him for his political views.  David Bernstein, who writes in Volokh Conspiracy a Blog from the Washington Post—has simplified me to “a Bangladeshi who wears an Islamic head covering,” and made unsubstantiated claims of my affiliation with “anti-Semitic” and “terrorist-like” organizations. My involvement with Students for Justice in Palestine, the so-called “anti-Semitic, terrorist organization,” seeks to raise awareness on human rights abuses against Palestinians. Raising awareness and fostering controversial conversations do not amount to anti-Semitism.

I was stripped of my American identity and reduced to the Muslim activist who had targeted her professor. My name is blacklisted on hate blogs and national media. My past activity in high school (when I was a minor) was sensationalized to anti-Semitic, terrorist-like activity. The attempt to dig up dirt on a 19-year-old student was not only unprofessional from a grown tenured man, in league with a clearly bigoted journalist at the Washington Post, but also inappropriate. Has this professor lost sight of his role as an educator and protector of students?

We are all entitled to our political opinions. Not once have we attacked his right to have a political opinion. This was supposed to be a community dialogue on the use of racist speech. Ironically, I have been the one to be attacked for my free speech regarding my activity and commentary on political issues.

This is what happened to the 19-year-old who published a letter in her college newspaper only read by the immediate community, to the 19-year-old who has been vilified by the Washington Post. But I stand by my principles and will continue to criticize hate speech.

30 thoughts on “Why I Wrote My Letter-to-the-Editor and How a 19-Year-Old Received Backlash”

Pessin Archive: Balomenos Apology to Pessin, April 16, 2015

Letter to Professor Pessin

Note from the editor: This letter is an update from an earlier one written by Mr. Balomenos. You can read it here.

Dear Professor. Pessin,

I wish to formally apologize for the letter that I published in the Connecticut College Voice in early March 2015.  Since then, I have come to the realization that I made a grave error in writing and publishing such an accusatory piece outlining your actions and opinions.  I now understand that I was not operating with sufficient contextual knowledge on the matter, and thus misinterpreted your words.

I should like to make it absolutely clear that justice based on the information made available to me by current Connecticut College students was my only goal. I want to stress that I am not an anti-Semite, nor was I operating with any ulterior anti-Israel agenda.  Based solely on the information provided to me at the time, I was deeply uncomfortable with the opinions expressed; however, I now understand the entire background and context of the situation.  After reading some of the comments on my letter in the College Voice, it is obvious that I was naïve of how my words would inevitably be construed, and that the situation would explode into what it has. Thus, I am sorry for my accusatory and rash language, as well as the harm I have done to your reputation. At the time, I had the best intentions for the college community, about which I care deeply, but I now see that much to my distress, I have done far more harm than good to both you, and the community as a whole.

While I understand that my actions may be unforgivable and not soon forgotten, I would like to extend my sincerest compassion and empathy for the stress you and your family must be experiencing. It is my hope that as a community we can put this behind us and you are able to return to teaching as effectively as you have in the past. If you would like to discuss my actions further, or if there is anything I can do to help, I would be more than willing to do so.



Zachary Bertrand Balomenos

Class of 2014

Amman, Jordan

Pessin Archives: Letter #3, Zachary Balomenos ’14, College Voice, March 2

Dear President Bergeron: A Letter from a Concerned Alum

Dear President Bergeron,

I hope your second year at Connecticut College is treating you well and that you are surviving the harsh winter.  While we only overlapped a semester at the college, I will always remember your involved and hands on style of leadership as something truly unique about Connecticut College.  From the Senior Dinner Series to welcoming my fellow Arabic Studies colleagues and me into your office for an honest discussion, I was moved by your desire to know the students on an individual basis.  Thus, I hope you will accept this letter detailing my deep concern over a matter that has recently come to my attention. 

I was extremely disappointed to learn this week of some rather hateful comments a certain Professor Pessin of the Philosophy Department wrote on his private Facebook page.  The comments purportedly outlined Professor Pessin’s views on Gaza and what precisely ought to be done with the people of Gaza.  I am not going to quote the comments, as apparently they have been removed and I don’t want to falsely accuse Professor Pessin or misquote him based off of hearsay.   

While I understand everyone is entitled to his or her opinions, even if hateful, I still feel this should be brought to your attention.   I am incredibly proud of Connecticut College and I shamelessly brag about it whenever I can.  However, I would be deeply disappointed in my alma mater if I knew that an individual entrusted to provide the education I am so thankful for so openly expressed such hateful and bigoted opinions on a public forum such as Facebook, even if it is a private account.  We are all representatives of the College, and thus, I worry about the message we would be sending if individuals who acted in such a racist and inappropriate manner were so irresponsibly employed by the school.  This certainly isn’t the school I brag about to everyone I meet, nor is it a school I would be proud of. 

Let me say, that I have known about Professor Pessin’s extremist opinions for some time, but his reported comments that I only recently learned about go much too far.  If true, it shouldn’t matter whom he said such remarks about, but rather that a member of our community expressed hatred and racism about any peoples.  While inappropriate to make a direct accusation without hard evidence in front of me, I do feel it my responsibility as an alumnus who cares about my school to bring this matter directly to your attention.  I believe that a thorough and immediate investigation into this matter is imperative. 

This comes at a time of global debate on freedom of expression and the limits of free speech.  Let me be the first to say that I stand with free speech and freedom of expression and I detest those who wish to restrict this.  However, there is a line between expressing one’s opinion and thoughts through thoughtful satire or discourse, and bigoted hate speech.  If true, the comments I have hopefully enlightened you on fall into the latter category. 

I hope you will look into this matter, not just for me, but also for the good of Connecticut College. 

Zachary Bertrand Balomenos
Class of 2014
Amman, Jordan

Note from the Editor: Mr. Balomenos has written an update to his original letter, which can be read here.

Pessin Archives: Letter #2, Michael Fratt and Katilyn Garbe, College Voice, March 2

“Respect for the Dignity of all Beings”: The Honor Code and Hate Speech

We have often thought about the proliferation of student protests in the 1960s and how pervasive the culture of civil disobedience was during the time of the Vietnam War.  Are students in this day and age less politically active than previous generations?  Why do we not see outpourings of protest on this campus of the scale that used to be the norm?  Rarely in our time at Conn have we seen almost unanimous student uproar about any given injustice barring only the Fishbowl controversy.  On Wednesday February 25th, in the aftermath of an ironically timed event called the Jerusalem Food Tour celebrating shared humanity, we found our outrage.  We discovered information that put my apathy to rest; it made us sick.  It came to our knowledge that Andrew Pessin wrote on his Facebook page a rant on the nature of Palestinians.  Professor Pessin compared Gazan Palestinians to “rabid pit bulls” who need to be caged. He described the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a cycle of letting the “snarling dogs” out of their “cage” and then beating them back into it.  One person named Nicole commented on the post suggesting the “dogs” be put down.  Professor Pessin responded, “I agree.”  Professor Pessin directly condoned the extermination of a people.  A member of our community has called for the systematic abuse, killing, and hate of another people.  This post came to the attention of students as well as faculty members and has thus far only been spoken of privately.  It is clear that the imagery used is not only incredibly offensive, but also particularly damaging within the culture of Islam, which has a potent conceptualization of dogs.  We vehemently believe that this deserves the attention of the Conn community: students, staff, and alumni.

What does this statement made by a faculty representative of our school say when our College is in the process of hiring a Dean of Inclusive Excellence? How can we stay true to our ideals as a college that prides itself so much on our inclusive learning community?  We must ask ourselves, what kind of community do we want to be?  According to a noted scholar of the Rwandan genocide, James Waller, “dehumanizing victims removes normal moral constraints against aggression.”  We all know that it is through dehumanizing language that hate crimes begin.  We call upon students, faculty, and alumni to ask themselves: Is there a place for this language at Connecticut College?  We wonder ourselves how this particular situation would play out had this Professor spoken out against Jews or LGBTQ individuals. We believe that if Professor Pessin made these comments about women, African Americans, Jews, LGBTQ individuals or any other underrepresented group this issue would have reached our ears earlier and he would have been dealt with swiftly.  This is not about the beliefs of Professor Pessin regarding Israel or Palestine; this is about hate speech.

Based on an ancient Athenian oath of citizenship, Connecticut College’s Honor Code states:

“We will never, by any selfish or other unworthy act, dishonor this our College; individually and collectively we will foster her ideals and do our utmost to instill a respect in those among us who fail in their responsibility; unceasingly we will strive to quicken a general realization of our common duty and obligation to our College. And thus in manifold service we will render our Alma Mater greater, worthier, and more beautiful.”

We invite students, faculty, and alumni to ask themselves: Are the statements of this professor in tune with the ideals of the honor code? We as students are bound by this honor code and are expected to uphold it within the external community as much as we are expected to uphold it on our campus. If a student said these words what could we expect as a response? Are professors not bound by the same moral standards of the honor code?  Should we expect more from them as leaders of this institution? 

We humbly address President Bergeron.  We humbly address Dean Van Slyck, Dean Denard, Dean Arcelus, Dean Zimmer, Dean Highbaugh, Dean Garcia and the Board of Trustees.  We call for a conversation; cancel classes, events, and athletics on one day.  This must be addressed.  The administration cannot keep silent over such disgusting hate speech.  We Implore a response and for the Administration to take action. Years ago before we were students here the former president cancelled all events one day in the wake of a racist hate crime on campus and established an open mic discussion in Palmer that stopped the College in its tracks.  This event is deserving of the same attention and we must have a discussion as a campus regarding what the shared values of this College ought to be.  Be angry, talk to your professors, start the conversation.  This outrage should not be a private matter, this must be public and we must re-evaluate what we think our values are as students, faculty, and alumni of this college. Students need this, staff needs this, we need to lament, we need context, and we need a thoughtful discussion.  This is a red line, one that has been crossed.  How we proceed now is up for debate. 

Pessin Archives: Letter #1, Lamiya Khandaker, College Voice, March 2

On March 2, The College Voice published three letters from four students informing the college community about Pessin’s Facebook post. The letters make no reference to the fact that the post was from the previous summer, that Pessin had already clarified (and apologized for) its apparent ambiguity, and deleted it two weeks prior to these letters. The College Voice did not warn Pessin that these letters were being published, nor invite him to respond or comment in the same issue. The second letter was later proven to have changed Pessin’s words in the comment thread to the post to make it seem like he was calling for genocide of Palestinians when in fact he was calling for the defeat of Hamas.

The first letter is, from Lamiya Khandaker, student chair of the Committee for Diversity and Equity, and the main student protagonist in the affair, whose prior correspondence with Professor Pessin was substantial. Letter posted here with extensive subsequent commentary.

Why Hate Speech is Not Free Speech in an “Inclusive Excellence” Community

I am infuriated, repulsed and depressed. I feel unsafe.  Free speech is a given.  Free speech means that you have the right to say what you want to say without the penalty of breaking the law.  Does that mean free speech is acceptable in all circumstances? No. Not when your free speech is hate speech and takes place in a community which professes values of “diversity and equity,” and “inclusive excellence.”

I had not understood the exact importance of my role as Chair of Diversity and Equity until actual encounters with subtle institutional racism were taking place at our academic institution.  Not until the college decided to paste my face as the face of diversity, yet sweeps under the rug when an influential member of its own community actively engages in dangerous hate speech.  Not until it took a few of us students to identify a problem that should have been recognized long ago by the administration itself. This is not diversity and equity. This is not inclusive excellence. This is institutional racism.

People have this misconception that racism and bigotry are direct; that they are in your face; that they are physical acts. No.  Racism isn’t explicit. Racism is subtle.  Racism is institutional. Racism is systematic. Racism is embedding seeds of hate and bigotry into the psyche of social culture. Racism is only the foundation of what leads to later acts of violence.  Racism takes root when we have influential academics in our school who publicly express views of bigotry. Racism is accepted when the institution fails to address the responsibility of academics to watch what they say.

I have had several email exchanges with Professor Andrew Pessin regarding my concerns as an underrepresented student on campus.  And each time, his response was more of a, “I’m sorry you misunderstood what I said.” On the contrary, I did not misunderstand.  I did not misunderstand his contribution at the Charlie Hebdo panel when he posed indirect, yet problematic questions such as, “How do we tolerate cultures of intolerance?” only to end his portion of the Q-and-A session with an emphasis of hate crimes perpetrated by Muslims. I did not misunderstand the content of this public Facebook post that insinuated Palestinians (NOT Hamas) as “rabid pit-bulls.“  I did not misunderstand when he told me that, “Muslim terrorists were at the top of the totem pole as perpetrators of violence.” Tell me, what part of all this did I misunderstand? The fact that I may be a “liberal animal rights activist” sympathizing with this “rabid pit bull?” Oh no wait, perhaps, I am the “co-specimen” who sympathizes. Because my people are breeds of dogs, and not human beings? Or, perhaps I misunderstood his floods of articles that specifically talk about the failure of addressing “Arab and Muslim terrorism.” 

Just imagine if he substituted Gaza for “Ferguson.” Imagine if he spoke of “Ferguson thugs” as “rabid pit bulls” needing to be “caged,” by its “owner” who provides it with “government assistance, affirmative action, and welfare.” But when giving these “Ferguson thugs” a little bit of space to “breathe;” they start “snarling” and “aim for the throat,” and as a result need to be “put down.” And if you sympathize with Ferguson thugs, you’re either one yourself, or a liberal animal rights activist. Just imagine if all his postings were about Black crime. Would you raise an eyebrow?

One only needs to look at the recent horrific murders of the three Muslim Arab Americans in the UNC shootings to acknowledge that violence against minorities occur through the repetition of stereotypes; through the repetition of “the other” as the violent one; through engrained feelings of fear, hate and bigotry.  I have had Professor Pessin as a student and never felt victimized in class.  As a matter of fact, many students find him smart, engaging, and influential. But that is the problem. If students are finding an academic within our institution as smart and influential, and then read his overtly public hateful posts regarding socio-political issues, they are going to listen and absorb. They are going to be influenced by his words, and that is the biggest danger.

In a time when everyday news headlines are sensationalizing the correlation between “Muslims” and “Terrorism,” it becomes increasingly hard to feel safe as a Muslim. I feel unsafe when I go out to the local community. I felt unsafe when my quick stop to Shop Rite resulted in dirty looks, and couples bringing up the topic of ISIS purposely in front of me. I feel unsafe if this is what our own academics are publicizing. 

Our academic community, and all academic communities need to address actual issues of diversity, acceptable speech and community values for the sake of the safety of all students, and faculty– especially underrepresented ones.  Our academic communities need to have zero tolerance for such speech.  It does not matter if these aren’t vocalized in a classroom. It matters if you are an active community member who publicizes such views, no matter where you are.

If I am going to recite, “We will never, by any selfish or other unworthy act, dishonor this our College; individually andcollectively we will foster her ideals and do our utmost to instill a respect in those among us who fail in their responsibility; unceasingly we will strive to quicken a general realization of our common duty and obligation to our College. And thus in manifold service we will render our Alma Mater greater, worthier, and more beautiful,every Thursday night, then I expect to see such behavior on our campus on behalf of ALL its members. Or else, I don’t want to be your face of Diversity.•

Pessin Archive: Online Petition Posted March 18, 2015

Originally sponsored by Ayla Zuraw-Friedland, editor-in-chief of The College Voice, subsequently taken over on April 2 by Aparna Gopalan, Opinions Editor of The College Voice. The petition went through several revisions. Originally it named Prof. Pessin by name, but after Pessin informed Zuraw-Friedland that the petition was generating anti-Semitic hate mail and threats to him and his family, she made the petition more anonymous and transferred sponsorship to Gopalan. (Still, the information in the petition makes it easy for anyone to find out who the professor is, and Pessin’s name remains explicit through the hundreds of comments.) This is the text of the petition as of May 28, 2015. It presents only the first paragraph of Prof. Pessin’s FB post, leaving out the second paragraph (which made it clearer that the post was about Hamas) and the comment thread (which makes it explicit that the post is about Hamas). [Bold text in original.]

Online Petition Posted March 18, 2015

On March 8, a philosophy professor who made the above remarks about Palestinians issued an apology in The College Voice for a post on his personal Facebook page (published publicly in August 2014) that caused widespread alarm in the campus community. The professor’s apology was in response to three Letters to the Editors published in the March 2, 2015 edition of The Voice written by three current students and an alum.

Since then, two emails have been sent out from the President of Connecticut College asking for our participation in an event that has been planned for March 25th in which the community will “reflect.”

What is missing from all of this is any desire for the senior administration of the College as a whole to develop the competency to identify racism when we see it. This is a vital component of our advancement with regards to inclusive excellence.

For the students who brought the issue forward, President Bergeron has said: “I commend them and many others for their courage.” However, victims of racism who have had to publicly fight racism on their own need more than the College’s admiration. Commendation is not a substitute for actual, public support or an excuse to leave the work of combating institutional racism to a handful of minority students.

The senior administration of the College has refused to publicly acknowledge the racist nature of what has occurred and has not taken steps to remedy this problem. We demand an end to silence.

We the undersigned acknowledge the professor’s apology and hope that it is a sign of enhanced understanding of what precisely constitutes racist speech. We firmly believe and uphold the principle of free speech – free speech, moreover, that entitles one to their racist, homophobic, sexist, bigoted or violently hateful opinions.

We do not believe censoring the professor to be the answer. That we are in disagreement with his opinions does not mean we wish to silence them, because, in the words of the American Civil Liberties Union,

Pessin Archive: Announcement of Establishment of Global Islamic Studies, March 4

At a key moment in the Pessin Affair (two days after the school newspaper attack), the college announced the launching of a new major in “Global Islamic Studies.” Since the chair of this new program was perhaps the most prominent actor in the attack on Pessin, the launching of the program and the remarks of all involved, including Dean Van Slyck, about the “activist” nature of the research involved bears close attention. [Bold mine]

March 4 Press Release Announcing the New Major In Global Islamic Studies

College announces new global Islamic studies major

Bo Martin ’15 is interested in the impact of Islam on the fight for racial equality in the United States. It’s the subject of a senior honors thesis he is currently writing as one of the College’s first global Islamic studies majors.

“It’s is a great mix of government, religion, linguistics, sociology and nearly every other humanities and social science,” says Martin of global Islamic studies.

Area studies

The multidisciplinary new major was approved by Connecticut College faculty in November, and already 10 students have declared their intentions to major or minor in the subject. That’s a testament to students’ interest in the role of Islam and the influence of Muslims throughout the world, says Associate Professor of Religious Studies Sufia Uddin.

“Islam is one of the fastest growing religions, and less than 15 percent of Muslims are in the Middle East,” says Uddin. “We are challenging preconceived notions and rethinking how we understand Muslims and the role of Islam in the world.” 

Pesssin Archives: Faculty Dissent, John Gordon, March 30

Published with permission from author.

From: John Gordon <[email protected]>

Date: Mon, Mar 30, 2015 at 2:46 PM

Subject: [faculty] Campus controversy

To: faculty <[email protected]>

Dear Colleagues,

1.  First, two excerpts:

Connecticut College accepts the principles of academic tenure as defined and accepted by the American Association of University Professors and the American Association of Colleges (AAUP Policy  Documents & Reports, 2001 Edition p. 4), with the exception that at Connecticut College the probationary period in the ranks of full-time instructor and/or assistant professor is seven years except as provided in

Information for Faculty, p. 10

                This report recommends that each institution work with its faculty to develop policies governing the use of social media. Any such policy must recognize that social media can be used to make extramural utterances and thus their use is subject to Association- supported principles of academic  freedom, which encompass extramural utterances.

                As Committee A previously noted regarding extramural utterances, “Professors should also have the freedom to address the larger community with regard to any matter of social, political, economic, or other interest, without institutional discipline or restraint, save in response to  fundamental violations of professional ethics or statements that suggest disciplinary incompetence.”

                Obviously, the literal distinction between “extramural” and “intramural” speech— speech outside or inside the university’s walls— has little meaning in the world of cyberspace. But the fundamental meaning of extramural speech, as a shorthand for speech in the public sphere and not in one’s area of academic expertise, fully applies in the realm of electronic communications, including social media.

 -American Association of University Professors, Academic Freedom and Electronic Communication, pp. 50-1

Put these two together, and what they say is that Andrew Pessin’s Facebook reflections, on the Middle East or anything else, were, by our rules, none of our corporate business.  People were entitled to respond, preferably as individuals, preferably in the original medium.   Departmental pronouncements, clearly intended to intimidate, were and are out of line.

Pessin Archive: Farewell Remarks from Zuraw-Friedland, Editor of Connecticut College’s Newspaper

In her final piece in The College Voice, Ayla Zuraw-Friedland vaguely allusions to the ethical problems surrounding her tenure, with no mention of her controversial issue of March 2, in which she published three letters attacking Pessin and neither warned him, nor offered him the opportunity to respond. She also mentions her faculty mentor, Jim Downs.

I Guess This is It: Signing Off

Posted on May 5, 2015 by Ayla Zuraw-Friedland in Editorials

After 11 issues in print and one online of The College Voice as Editor in Chief and nearly 60 as a staff writer, section editor and senior editor over the past three years, it has all boiled down to an editorial that I am supposed to use to sum up everything that this one extra-curricular has done for me. It is an editorial that I have both dreamed and dreaded writing. I’m supposed to say something important, but I cannot quite grasp what that is.

I only had two goals when I started this year: 1) Do NOT go into debt. 2) Just keep things floating. No waves, just twelve passable issues. Finish your thesis. Pass it along. I never identified as much of a journalist, anyways.

Even looking back from this moment, I thank goodness that I only met one of those goals. I realize now how ridiculous that goal was and that it was reflective of my unwillingness to recognize what I now consider to be an undeniable fact about the newspaper; despite my best efforts, it has become a mirror of my own spirit.

It has become my way of asking: How can we leave this space better than when we found it?

Maybe that carries baggage that begs the question as to whether I have violated standards of journalistic integrity. But maybe it’s a question that I’m happy to ask and be asked anyways. Who am I to answer that on my own? The simplest answer is, that I never intended to. I believe that The College Voice is and should be a conversation space for everyone. If this year has taught our community anything, it is that words and language are powerful tools to wield.

I will never deny that this has been a year of mistakes and learning. I will never claim what I did was “correct,” but I will always stand by the fact that I was doing what I thought was right. But, despite all the media attention, positive and negative, this community was bombarded with from the outside, the world at large is not our audience. It is here. The College Voice is not called a “campus newspaper” for nothing.

I am lucky to have a team with me that have been equally consistent in asking similar questions. This staff rests on a long tradition of Strong Female Role Models (and also Dave Shanfield) that have shown me what it means to take risks, to take deep breaths through caffeine induced panic attacks and to take a second look at the “Final” edition of the paper, because it can always be better.

I thank Dana and Luca for being the most wonderful team. You’ve already picked up the baton and I can’t wait to see you run with it. Dana, you have been with me every step of the way, in every office meeting with the Deans that I thought would end in a fight, and involved in every late night food run I can remember. Thank you to our adviser, Jim Downs, for convincing me that gut feelings are the truest form of intelligence, and also that it is okay for some emails to go unanswered.

I thank my intrepid staff of editors, writers and designers for putting up with my disorganization and lack of direct eye contact or precise instructions. You’ve been through a hell of a ride. Thank you to the senior staff, Matthew Whiman, Ellie Storck, Dakota Peschel, Eleanor Hardy and Annie Rusk. You can all go into the world knowing that you have a beautiful, shiny title on your resume, and hopefully a few fond memories of broken computers and an abundance of chairs to go along with it.

I could write more. But what I want to close this with, in classic fashion, is a question. Where do we go from here?

At this point, support for the newspaper has come from within a network of dedicated students and faculty members. In a letter to campus last month, The College Voice was referred to as “our campus newspaper.” That was the first example I could remember of the campus at large or any administrator taking responsibility or ownership over this organization. As more and more media stories came out attacking specific members of the newspaper staff and the newspaper as a whole, it became clear that it would also be the last.

That means that, somewhere along the lines of “shared governance” and “accountability,” something got lost. How can the campus claim us as their own without offering support, whether that be by writing articles or in efforts to educate the staff as to what it means to have journalistic integrity? We want desperately to belong to you, to be a space you can trust, but that cannot be done without help. We need conferences and guidance and acknowledgment of the basic reality that we have been doing this on our own. We have a long way to go.

I am glad though, to have been along for at least the beginning of what I hope is a long run. I look forward to looking back. The shifting staffs and families are the most consistent home I have known at this school. Perhaps this editorial is so long because I know that the second that it ends, it is my last goodbye.

Signing off,


Pessin Archive: Faculty Dissent, Alex Hybel on the Coercive Atmosphere at ConnColl, March 31

I publish this email with the permission of the author. It was written the day after twelve departments had published “community statements” denouncing (without naming him) Andrew Pessin’s “hate speech.” Among those published was that of his own Department of Government and International Relations, which Hybel signed, and the English Department, which Jeff Strabone refused to sign.

Alex Hybel, Tuesday March 31.

Dear Colleagues,

The thoughts I am about to express below are mine and mine alone.  I am NOT writing on behalf of my colleagues in the Department of Government and International Relations.

I am troubled by decision on the part of the student who expressed outrage for Jeff Strabone’s unwillingness to sign his [English] department’s letter, and her/his offer to “help facilitate” Jeff’s class.

I do not question the student’s right to express her/his indignation, nor even her/his belief to suggest that he or she has the background and knowledge to enlighten him and members of his class.

I do not question the emotional and psychological pain many of our faculty and students have experienced as a result of the hurtful and spiteful comments voiced by certain members of our community, nor the need on our part to create an environment in which ideas are exchanged in a respectful manner.

What troubles me is that in my view the student’s action is the direct result of a climate of intolerance and intimidation that has been brewing for some time and emerged fully during the email exchange by a small group of faculty this weekend.  They implicitly threatened that if departments did not issue official statements, their absence would be noted on a list circulated under the guise of “transparency.” Such individuals are being guided by the unfounded belief that they have a clear vision of what our community should stand for, and seem determined to impose that idea on the rest of us.

I spent part of my teenage years being told by a fascist regime what to think and how to behave, and a substantial portion of my academic life studying fascist political regimes and the conditions that led to their development.  Though I cannot argue that all such conditions are present at our institution, the one characteristic that those regimes have in common is the commitment to “re-educate” those who have yet to ascend to their level of enlightenment, and to outcast those who refuse to accept their “guidance.”  That feature is very much alive at our institution. 

Whether intentionally or unintentionally, a few members of our community are robbing faculty and students of the opportunity to voice contrarian ideas for fear that if they did they would be disparaged and shunned.   More importantly they are robbing our students of the opportunity to experiment with different ideas, to be contrarian, and to leave our institution with the realization that what we have taught them is how to think, not what to believe.  If we fail to accomplish that end, then we should no longer view ourselves as a liberal institution.


Alex Roberto Hybel

The “New” 21st Century Anti-Semitism: A Brief Bibliography

I list here all the earliest works that identified a new wave of Western Anti-Semitic sentiments that literally exploded on the scene in the wake of the reporting on the Second Intifada (aka Al Aqsa Intifada, the Oslo Jihad) in October 2000. If anyone has others to suggest, please recommend them.

Shmuel Trigano, ed., Observatoire du Monde Juif (November 2000-2004)

Pierre-André Taguieff, La nouvelle judéophobie (Mille et une nuits, Paris, January 2002); English tr. Rising From the Muck: The New Anti-Semitism in Europe (Ivan R. Dee, NY, 2004).

Emmanuel Brenner et al., Les territoires perdus de la République: antisémitisme, racisme et sexisme en milieu scolaire (Mille et une nuits, Paris, 2002; English: The Lost Territories of the Republic (American Jewish Committee, New York, 2006).

Phyllis Chesler, The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do About It (Jossey Bass, NY, July 2003, revised edition, Gefen, Jerusalem, 2015)

Manfred Gerstenfeld, Europe’s Crumbling Myths: The Post-Holocaust Origins of Today’s Anti-Semitism (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jerusalem, 2003)

A New Anti-Semitism? Debating Judeophobia in 21st Century Britain, ed. Iganski and Kosmin (Profile Books, London, 2003);

Gabriel Schonfeld, The Return of Antisemitism (Encounter Books, NY 2004);

Paul Giniewski, Antisionisme: le nouvel antisémitisme (Cheminements, Angers, 2005)

Fiamma Nierenstein, Terror: The New Anti-Semitism and the War against the West (Smith and Kraus, Hanover NH, 2005

Old Demons, New Debates: Anti-Semitism in the West, ed. David Kerzer (Holmes and Meier, Teaneck NJ, 2005).

Pessin Archive: “Community Statements” in Chronological Order

All statements are taken from the page at the Office of Equity and Inclusion. There they are in reverse chronological order. So one can understand the scope of this phenomenon, I list the organizations making statements first:

March 24
Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE), 
Department of History
Holleran Center and OVCS
Student Government Association
Class of 2017 President
March 25
Global Islamic Studies Program
Department of Human Development
March 26
Department of Theater
Department of Sociology
Connecticut College Hillel
Department of Religious Studies
March 27
Department of Gender and Women’s Studies
Department of Environmental Studies, Department of Botany and Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment
Ammerman Center for Arts and Technology
Department of Art
Department of Education
Department of Biology
March 28
Department of Art History and Architectural Studies
Department of Slavic Studies
Department of Italian Studies
Department of Hispanic Studies
Department of Psychology
Department of English
March 29
Department of Dance
American Studies Program
Department of Philosophy
Film Studies Program
Department of Music
March 30
Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures
Department of German Studies
Department of Classics
Department of Anthropology
Department of Government and International Relations
Department of Physics, Astronomy and Geophysics
Department of Chemistry
Department of Athletics and Physical Education
Department of Computer Science
Class of 2105 President
Department of French
Department of Mathematics
March 31
Toor Cummings Center for International Studies & the Liberal Arts
Department of Economics
April 2
Alumni Association Board of Directors
April 12
East Asian Studies Student Advisory Board
April 26
Office of Sustainability

Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE)

March 24, 2015

In response to the many events that transpired on campus prior to and during spring break regarding a Facebook post by a member of our faculty, the CCSRE would like to clearly state that we do not condone speech filled with bigotry and hate particularly when that speech uses dehumanizing language and incites or celebrates violence and brutality.

We make this public statement with particular attention to those students, staff, and faculty whose identities and affiliations position them as the targets of such speech. We feel a public statement that directly names the harm of bias incidents is essential to supporting the well-being of various members of the Connecticut College community, their right to educational opportunity, and their right to work in a non-hostile environment. We will continue to play our part in creating spaces for productive engagements around inclusive excellence. We look forward to collaborating with others to help move the College forward in achieving our goal of full participation.

Pessin Archive: Faculty Dissent, Spencer Pack, March 29

I publish this with permission from Spencer Pack.

From: Spencer Pack <[email protected]>
Date: Sun, Mar 29, 2015 at 10:24 AM
Subject: [faculty] On Some Recent Faculty Statements
To: faculty <[email protected]>

To my colleagues in the economics department, and throughout the college at large:  my Statement on the Recent Faculty Statements; or, why I will not sign a variant of one of these statements.

Here is my most important objection to the recent faculty statements.

I think in the main, the current flood of faculty responses and statements have been kneejerk politically correct platitudes  demonstrating insufficient thought about the complexity of the current situation. They are below the standards that I expect from my colleagues at Connecticut College;  most of my colleagues are exercising extremely poor judgment.

Some of the complexities of the current situation which need much further thought include the following:

  1. The Facebook postings of summer 2014 were written during war. Thus, the current situation is largely about war; and globalization; and the blowback from globalization of various wars; and what people think and do and say in war (here contributions from the history department could be valuable).
  1. The current situation is about class/and labor relations; it is partly an attack on tenure; and is part of a larger attack on labor unions, workers’ organizations, and the middle class in America; and it is partly about collegiality and worker solidarity; or the lack thereof.
  1. It is about changes in the means of communications; what is appropriate on social media; also who controls the settings on electronic communication; and how; for some historical comparison: what was the role of the printing press in the ensuing century or two of religious wars? How does that compare to the internet and current hostilities? Here people should consider the  work of the great Canadian economic historian Harold Innis, his follower Marshall McLuhan, and the work the Toronto school of communications.

Follow up on Proxy Honor Killings: Response to Peter Sage

In response to my post on Jewish anti-Zionism as a proxy honor-killing, Peter Sage wrote the following request for clarification.

So please help me see a way out of the current blind alley. If we have a one state solution then we will have, immediately or soon, an Arab majority and you are certain this means that Jews will be oppressed by the popular will of that majority. (I agree this is a valid concern.)

The mere fact that you need to reassure me that you grant the concern indicates how far removed from reality much of the public discourse has become. It’s kind of like a “no duh.”

The current alternative are Jews in power in Israel holding military/police power of occupied territory of stateless non-citizens.

Well, since Oslo, if they’re stateless non-citizens, it’s because their ruling elite, who have full control of most elements of a working state – education, police, communication, licensing, health, elections, administration – have seen fit to run their fiefdom as mafia-land. It’s not Israel’s fault they’re, like their political cousins in Gaza, “one man, one vote, one time” democracies.

This has gone on for a half century. The result has been discord within the society.

Which society, Israel? Of course. Given that it’s a democracy, committed to the basic rules of egalitarian power holding – do not do onto others what you would not want done to you – or, more colloquially, live and let live, Israelis all find this situation painful. Most of us, even at great sacrifice, would be happy to give it up. It’s just that the alternatives are much worse, right now.

Indeed, looking at other examples of places where an ethnic group is held in a subservient position (British Colonies prior to 1776; enslaved blacks in America; Jim Crow/Black Codes post Civil War America; European treatment of Native Americans 1492 through independence; Japanese occupation of China 1938-45; German treatment of Jews 1933-45; apartheid in South Africa) has worked out badly.

Wow! That’s quite a list there. Aside from the case of the British colonies in America, most of them are particularly nasty. The sin, as it were, of oppression lays heavily on the shoulders of the identifiable oppressors. Although no comparison to the Israeli-Palestinian case works really well, given the unique aspects of this case of conflict, all of these (except the British/American one) illustrate the most heinous behavior on the part of the oppressor of the “subservient” (in pomo-poco terms: subaltern).

Jewish anti-Zionism: The proxy honor-killing

Available in Polish, translated by Malgorzata Koraszewska here.

The recent stunning performance of Marcia Freedman at the J-Street conference, calling for a one-state solution (almost surely not called Israel), in which an Arab majority would fiercely defend the rights of a protected Jewish minority, heartily applauded by an audience of alleged “pro-Israel, pro-Peace” attendees, has once again raised the question sent to me by someone who saw The J-Street Challenge:

WHY do J Street activists take these positions that they know are destructive to Israel’s chances for survival? 

Obviously, the easy way to answer is to claim they don’t realize the destructive nature of their “plan for peace.” Certainly this would hold for Ms. Freedman, who apparently believes that once Israel becomes a “true democracy [applause]” (whatever that means), that Jews won’t need to maintain control of the levers of power, since that now truly democratic “state” would secure the rights of the Jews no matter who was in power (e.g., an Arab majority).

Only someone struck with terminal cecity could not notice that beyond Israel’s borders, Arab majorities rarely protect the rights of minorities, especially those they feel threaten them. The notion that 2000 years of determined victimization of Jews without sovereignty means nothing, and that somehow an Arab majority would “fiercely defend the rights of the Jewish minority,” such ideas defy the reality-based social and political imagination. Freedman’s speech, so totally divorced from the all-too-human reality of this part of the world, gives us a sterling example of the vapid moral angélisme that animates so many anti-Zionist Jews.

[For those not convinced that J-Street pursues suicidal policies for the polity it professes to “love” – withdraw to ’67 borders as an unreciprocated concession – I’ve written about this elsewhere.]

Here I’d like to address my correspondent’s well-posed question by slightly rephrasing it:

Why do Jews identify with and promote Palestinian lethal narratives about Israel, and ally with, encourage, and promote groups who openly desire the destruction of Israel, even as they assure us (M.F. style) that we have nothing to fear from them?

In a word, I think they’re engaged in a long-term, proxy, honor-killing.

Does Burston really think it’s legitimate to view BDS as Tikkun Olam?

[I re-post this item from 2010 after having attended a meeting at Temple Israel, a Reform Synagogue in Boston last night where J-Street and NIF talked us blue from their tikkun bubble chamber.]

A good friend sent me the following piece by Bradley Burston with the comment: “It expresses how I feel.” I find it so pervasively flawed that I have difficulty taking it seriously. But if my friend can (and he’s one of the smartest people I know), then I have to, and it does raise, however poorly, a whole range of key issues. So, with great reluctance (because there are more interesting texts to sink one’s teeth into), I fisk below.

First, a brief introductory note: One of the key contentions of Burston and the people he likes (J-Street, Jewish Voices for Peace, Young Jews for Peace, etc.) is that a) they love Israel and b) they know the best way to peace which, since Israel won’t take that path, they must force upon her. Now all these groups locate along the “left” political spectrum differently. NIF disapproves of BDS but funds groups who do; J-Street disapproves of  BDS even if they associate with people who do; Jewish Voices for Peace and Emily Schaeffer (below) support BDS in many forms.

Whatever the details, each of these groups believes that they must pressure Israel to leave the occupied territories out of a combination of moral passion – the Israel they love should set a moral example to the world – and peaceful intentions – they know their formula for peace will work.

Now some people, myself included, see the situation very differently. On moral matters, howevermuch we may share concerns about the occupation and dominion over another people harms both Palestinians and Israelis, we have difficulty with a moral equivalence, that ends up as a moral inversion, with the profound condescension and bigotry it involves in its abysmally low standards for the Palestinians, and the inversely exacting standards to which it holds Israel. The result – people, Jews! – for whom Israel is the new Nazi. And even as such people are morally reckless in their accusations of Israel, they echo and reinforce genocidal hatreds among the most base of the enemies of the Jews.

On the practical level, many of us feel that while making concessions and apologizing is a splendid way to begin a process of reconciliation, that only works in cases where the other side also seeks resolution, and responds in kind. In some cases, conflicts are not only unresponsive to such an approach, but literally allergic: rather than a peace process it produces a war process. Indeed, given how often and consistently Palestinian (and more broadly Arab) leaders have seized upon Israeli concessions to press for more and on Israeli confessions to reaffirm a demonizing narrative, it’s dubious that under the best of circumstances, Palestinian political players would respond to an Israeli withdrawal to the ’67 borders with a shift to peace.

On the contrary, any such move most likely will strengthen those in the Palestinian camp who argue that any withdrawal should be part of a “Phased plan” to destroy Israel and use any and every pretext to keep the war alive. Any observer who dismisses even this possibility – the favorite line is either, “you’re paranoid,” or “oh, you think they only understand violence.” – is either in ignorance or denial of the discourse that prevails in Palestinian political culture today.

And so, if under the best of conditions withdrawing to the ’67 lines could backfire, how much the more likely that the voices of attack will grow louder if Israel finds itself compelled as a result of becoming the object of universal execration (BDS) and pressure from its only powerful ally, the United States, to withdraw. The naïveté of such a formula is only matched by the aggressiveness with which it gets implemented. A formula for war: si vis bellum para pacem.

The fact that groups can argue that the US should force Israel to make these concessions without any serious discussion of the necessary massive reciprocity from Palestinians (especially when it comes to incitement to hatred and violence), raises serious doubts among many about their realism, and given their recklessness in insisting that virtually any means to get there are legitimate, it raises for us serious doubts about their responsibility.

As far as I can make out, Burston has no idea what I’m talking about. He’s like the New Yorker cartoon of a Manhattanite’s view of the USA. When he looks at the landscape of this debate, all he sees are him and his like-minded friends “doing the right thing,” while the opposition is at the other end of the spectrum – messianic rabbis and their neo-con partners who will not part with an inch of the land, even if God himself told them to do so. And nothing in between.

He encases his simplistic dualism in the antimony “Jews of the Gate” vs. “Jews of the Wall.” This fisking comes from someone who thinks that both of his categories are poorly conceived; and that the real issues are entirely different from the ones upon which he focuses.

Thanksgiving, Tikkun Olam, and U.S. Jews breaking the Israel barrier By Bradley Burston

[Part 2 of a series on U.S. Jews emotionally divesting from Israel. In part, a journal of a recent West Coast speaking tour hosted by J Street]

Norah: It reminds me of this part of Judaism that I really like. It’s called Tikkun Olam. It says that the world is broken into pieces, and that it’s everybody’s job to find them and put them back together again.

Nick: Well, maybe we’re the pieces. And maybe we’re not supposed to find the pieces. Maybe we are the pieces. “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” (Columbia Pictures, 2008)

It’s hard not to read this as a spoof of the trivial use to which a mystical concept like tikkun olam has been put in new “new-age” spirituality. Not having seen the movie, I don’t know if this is an homage to “Deep Thoughts,” but Burston seems to offer them up as his credo. Indeed, Nick’s version – people! – stands behind the full line-up of comments he makes throughout this piece. So it’s probably worth a short comment on this deep and now deeply problematic notion that has set our moral compasses awry in the 21st century.