Hate speech under the guise of scholarship

Hate speech under the guise of scholarship

Remember Fleetwood Mac’s 1987 song, “Little Lies?” Eight academic departments recently invited Jasbir Puar to Vassar College, and she told students lots of lies. They were neither sweet, nor little.

Puar’s talk in January was titled “Inhumanist Biopolitics: How Palestine Matters.” Puar, associate professor of Women’s & Gender Studies at Rutgers University, has been busy telling lies, presenting a version of this lecture at venues ranging from Poughkeepsie, NY, to Santa Barbara, Calif. Her incendiary, unbalanced hate speech masquerades as scholarship. In typical post-colonialist rhetoric, she ignores the facts and twists reality to promote a spurious agenda. 

I was there, listening to her reading from her computer in a monotone. Her lack of emotion contrasted sharply with the hatred she expressed. Let me give you a taste of her slanderous distortions and demonizing lies about Israel.

With no documentation or specific evidence, Puar asserted that Israel’s ultimate goals are ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, stealing of Palestinian land, and entrenchment and expansion of suffocating Israeli power. Israel’s “settler occupation” (her term), which she calls the “second Nakba” (“catastrophe” in Arabic), is all about using “asphyxiating,” “biopolitical” control over body and environment to suppress the Palestinian people. To this end, she claims Israel uses scientifically executed “maiming” and “stunting.” 

“Maiming” means shooting to intentionally cripple, shattering knees, and hitting vital organs (an obvious contradiction) to minimize death statistics and ensure that Palestinian workers can be profitable without threatening the occupier. 

“Stunting” is used to permanently debilitate and disable the Palestinians. This is achieved through population poisoning with uranium, lead, and phosphorus, as well as “calorie starvation” in children. Through Israel’s actions, Puar claimed, it is creating physical, psychological, and cognitive injuries by controlling infrastructure, water, electricity, and land; restricting mobility; and limiting telecommunications. She alleges that 95 percent of Palestinians are permanently disabled. 

Even congenital disabilities are blamed on the Israelis. Incredibly, Puar held Israel totally responsible for the collapse (via “remote home control”) of essential services in Hamas-controlled Gaza, which she called an “open-air prison.”

Puar’s libelous accusations included Israelis killing Palestinians to harvest their organs, a version of the age-old anti-Semitic blood libel; experimentation on Palestinian children; “field assassinations” of 120 Palestinians ages 12-16 in a four-month span; and the intentional bombing of Palestinian hospitals and nursing homes. She labeled Israel an “apartheid state” that uses its world-renowned reproductive technology to control population demographics by collecting genetic data to identify who is Jewish, and specifically targeting Palestinian procreative organs. Paradoxically, she bragged that the Palestinian birthrate is triple that of the Jewish Israelis’. 

Puar concluded that Israel is imposing a collective punishment on the helpless Palestinians through psychic, bodily, and mobility impairments, all elements of “biopolitics.” She described the end goal as not just ethnic cleansing, but also the “cannibalism of a culture.”

When asked whether Israelis were creating a slow-motion genocide, she agreed that Palestinians are dying a slow death, but insisted that the term “genocide” remains “tethered to the Holocaust” and its use is not allowed since Jews have thoroughly hijacked discourse regarding trauma and victimhood.

She supported Vassar’s current BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) student government resolution, and after students stopped applauding, she advocated organized armed resistance against Israel.

This lecture was hate speech pure and simple, demonizing the Jewish nation like Goebbels and Hitler. Disguised behind a plethora of pseudo-intellectual jargon, she presents bigotry all too reminiscent of 1930s Europe to demonize Jews. 

About 100 students sat rapt, many nodding approvingly and, by their questions, indicating agreement with her message. Far worse was the utter silence of the half-dozen Vassar faculty members present. Not one stood up to challenge the baseless lies and unadulterated exaggerations within Puar’s hour-long diatribe. 

How could Vassar’s American studies, Africana studies, international studies, and women’s studies programs, as well as the English, political science, and religion departments, sponsor such a lecture? And how could they do so without also offering an opposing view? Their sponsorship was an endorsement of hate speech against Jews, setting an example for students to follow.

But “the most unkindest cut of all” is the sponsorship by Vassar’s Jewish studies program. Surely one would think that Jewish studies faculty, familiar with the 2,000-year history of persecution of Jews, would recognize blatant anti-Semitism. Is it too much to expect them to have the moral integrity and principles to refuse to sponsor this rank anti-Semitism and to debunk the demonizing lies? Have their brains been hopelessly addled by their ideological obsession with the “post-colonialist” view of Israel as a foreign Western colonial power victimizing “indigenous” Palestinians? Would the Africana studies program endorse the views of a Klansman or the women’s studies program host a misogynist?

This is not the first time that Vassar Jewish studies has supported anti-Semitic speech. In previous years it has lent its name to talks by gender theorist and BDS-proponent Judith Butler; the pro-Palestinian Jewish writer Max Blumenthal (whose planned talk at the German parliament was cancelled by Germany’s main left-wing opposition party for fears it would “promote anti-Semitic prejudice”); the Palestinian-American journalist Ali Abunimah; and Brown University academic Sa’ed Atshan, who accuses Israel of “settler-colonialism, ethnic cleansing, military occupation, and apartheid.” 

How can I sum up my thoughts on the Jasbir Puar event and its sponsors at Vassar? George Orwell in his 1945 “Notes on Nationalism” observed, “One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.”

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