At a conference held at Bard College two weeks ago on the subject of “racism and anti-Semitism,” a group of protesters—organized by Students for Justice in Palestine—attempted with some success to disrupt a talk by Ruth Wisse and two (Jewish) discussants. (Wisse, known for speaking her mind forcefully against campus anti-Semitism, thanked the protestors for “providing a demonstration” of the topic at hand.) Administrators and security did little to stop the demonstrators.
While such scenes are hardly remarkable in today’s universities, more notable was the flood of indignant denials from conference participants that followed an article by one of the discussants, Batya Ungar-Sargon, describing what happened. The indignation, perhaps, stemmed from Ungar-Sargon’s willingness to label the demonstrations anti-Semitic. Shany Mor, a professor at Bard and the third participant on the panel, defends Ungar-Sargon’s account and exposes the feeble excuses for the thuggish behavior of the students:
The protest was only against Wisse, I was told repeatedly, even though flyers against all three of us were distributed. This was the reception controversial speakers should expect, I was told, even though there were many far more controversial speakers at the conference. But this is a liberal campus, I was told, and the reception was always going to be worse for controversial speakers from the right than from the left. This was doubly odd, as neither Ungar-Sargon nor I can be fairly imagined as being on the right by anyone’s imagination.
And, while many of the more provocative lectures were not terribly provocative to a left-liberal audience, [others] were. There was a panelist who argued that black underachievement was not due to racism but to fathers. There was a panelist arguing that “chosenness” had distorted Jewish political thought and as such infected later European thought on colonialism. . . . . There was a panelist who argued that certain African and Asian countries might have been better off had they remained under European colonial rule. . . . Some had difficult questions from the audience; many didn’t even have that. None was protested.
This is what makes [one Bard professor’s] claim that the demonstration was motivated by nothing more than the fact that the three panelists “espouse political opinions with which the students disagree” so outrageous. It’s understandable that this is what he might want believe, but it’s verifiably false. The three of us up there on that stage actually have radically different political views from each other, and radically different views on the issue in question at that session. This would have been apparent had a civilized discussion taken place.
Indeed, notes Mor, Students for Justice in Palestine chose only to target “the one panel [exclusively] of Jewish speakers, presented as Jews, talking about Jew-hatred [at] the entire two-day conference.”