Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 9
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Open Letter From Whitman SJP: ADL’s Defamation Problem

This open letter intends to be an honest attempt to critique the narratives that Whitman College administrators try to incorporate into the current discourse on campus about the Palestinian liberation, Zionism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. It should be noted that Whitman Students for Justice in Palestine (WSJP) advocates for the Palestinian liberation while standing against anti-Semitism, and that it currently has to fight to prove that the two ideas are compatible with each other. It is disappointing to observe the bare minimum in our administration’s promise of critical engagement with current discourse through the “Dialogue and Dignity Initiative,” and its simultaneous undoing of any critical engagement by endorsing Antisemitism 101 for the Workplace by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Most of all, it is disappointing to fight these battles with our own administration, which does not call for a ceasefire in Gaza as a prerequisite to any engagement and instead situates itself among the other educational institutions in the US with “significant financial, reputational” investments in the military industrial complex and settler colonialism.

On January 17, the Whitman Today newsletter published a link to the ADL’s “Antisemitism in the Workplace Training.” The training remains on the Department of Inclusive Excellence webpage, which advertises it as one of many opportunities for community members to “increase their capacity for advancing inclusive excellence and enhance their DEIA competencies.” Education about anti-Semitism is crucial, but the ADL is not a reliable source for that education. The ADL’s position on anti-Zionism is neither nuanced nor balanced. From their public-facing educational resources to countless private statements leaked to the press, the organization has been unequivocal in its conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. CEO Jonathan Greenblatt summarized the organization’s position in an address at the 2022 ADL National Leadership Summit: “To those who still cling to the idea that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism — let me clarify this for you as clearly as I can — anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. I will repeat: anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. Anti-Zionism as an ideology is rooted in rage.” 

Under his leadership, the ADL has called SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) “extremist” groups, called on law enforcement to investigate them for material support of terrorism, and repeatedly compared the anti-Zionist left to the explicitly anti-Semitic far-right. With this context, it’s unsurprising that the anti-Semitism training provided by Whitman is explicit and unapologetic in its conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. The training lists anti-Zionism as a pillar of anti-Semitic myth alongside blood libel, deicide, Holocaust denial and the stereotypes that Jewish people are greedy, disloyal and powerful. Two out of the five example scenarios it provides of anti-Semitism in the workplace revolve around Jewish employees facing bigotry for their Zionist beliefs, and “hostility over geopolitics” is described as one of the five main ways that anti-Semitism manifests in the workplace.

This isn’t anti-racist education; it’s Zionist propaganda disguised as a DEIA resource, to enhance “DEIA competencies.” Although the training does provide some useful (if oversimplified) background information for those completely unaware of Jewish history, it fails to address many of the ways that anti-Semitism actually manifests in the workplace. What anti-Semitic conspiracy theories actually look like, the ways that allusions to George Soros or the Rothschilds are invoked, the actual dog whistles used to communicate Holocaust denialism or neo-Nazi allegiance, the way that anti-Semitism can be hidden in comments about people’s appearances — none of these are explored in a way that would allow the training’s audience to recognize or respond to anti-Semitism, and to engage in critical introspection and reflection, not a rhetoric of blame. There is no denying the reality of anti-Semitism in this country, and there are ways in which it is baked into the educational system. Choosing an approach to teaching students, faculty and staff members about anti-Semitism that encourages that reflection and critical thought has far more of an impact on “recognizing and responding to” anti-Jewish sentiments, hate, and acts.

There seems to be many speculative reasons behind why the “Proposal to Divest from Military Infrastructure” from Whitman Students for Justice in Palestine was rejected by the Board of Trustees. The statement from the Board itself is there for everyone to unpack, but one thing worth mentioning is how quick the statement is to affirm that “requests for divestment … may be understood as anti-Semitic…” The a priori accusation of anti-Semitism in response to any request for divestment from Israel, whether from WSJP or not, is suggestive of the narratives promoted by the ADL and others (including Christian Zionists) in the US, despite the implicit claim of neutrality by the administration. The tacit assumption of neutrality is another one of the speculative reasons behind the rejection of the proposal. President Sarah Bolton’s silence upon being asked whether what is happening in Gaza is a genocide would have been covered up by these claims of neutrality by the administration had the proposal not been accused of anti-Semitism by the Board. Taking this into account, Whitman College is not only promoting the ADL, but also advancing the ADL’s narrative of suppressing any constructive criticism of Zionism by deliberately equating it with anti-Semitism.

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    Anonymous StudentMar 11, 2024 at 10:02 pm

    Here is the problem with what you are arguing – SJP has said and done antisemitic things. Let me illustrate just a few:
    – Using a paraglider image on a poster days after October 7th that included the words “resistance is our right”
    – The use of the slogan of “From the River to the Sea”, which Hamas has used in the past as a clear call for the end of Israel. You do not get to reclaim a term without first acknowledging its harmful history.
    – Suggesting Israel should not exist. What does this mean? It means that SJP does not believe that Jewish people have the right to autonomy and self determination in their ancestral homeland.
    – SJP released a statement saying that resistance by any means necessary is legitimate. Does that mean it was legitimate for Hamas to rape women and kill babies?

    SJP has engaged in antisemitic rhetoric. They have to own that. Their unwillingness to apologize for it has made their stance incredibly clear. There are several Jewish students on campus, including myself, who are essentially living in hiding, and are afraid to voice our opinions because of how strong SJP has become.

    Let’s be clear, there is a way to criticize Israel and its conduct in the ongoing war, without being antisemitic. There is a way to call for a ceasefire without being antisemitic. We ALL want a ceasefire. We ALL want safety for Palestinians. However, it IS antisemitic to suggest Israel should not exist. It IS antisemitic to depict Hamas’ actions on October 7th as valid resistance. The ADL is correct in going after SJP. They have engaged in antisemitism, and have created a hostile culture on campus.