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The Kibbitznik: Shocked, I tell you!

Alyssa Goldstein
May 18, 2011
by Alyssa Goldstein So it’s been a long time since I posted here, I’ve been so caught up in finals and all. I go to Bard college, which is commonly known as the “Bard Bubble” because it’s rather isolated from the rest of the world. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that things that are normal here, like public nudity, are not exactly normal everywhere else. Same goes for Israel/Palestine stuff too. Discourse around the Israel-Palestine conflict is not very big deal at Bard. Students are generally too busy coordinating their flannel shirts with their skinny jeans to care too much about it. Sure, Bard has a partnership with Al-Quds university, and plenty of Bard students go to Palestine in the summer to study or do community service work, but it’s basically just that--another place to study or volunteer. Nothing very political about it. We’ve had Israel Apartheid week here two years in a row, and it passed without fuss or incident. The only people who seemed to care were people with little or no connection to the Bard campus--like parents, the ADL, and right-wing internet bloggers with nothing better to do. I think one of the reasons why the Israel-Palestine conflict is not very divisive at Bard is because the Jewish and Muslim Students Organizations are not involved in it. With very rare exceptions, the JSO and MSO have not done any programming related to Israel/Palestine.It’s not strange to anyone here that I’m involved with both the JSO and a left-wing activist group called Bard Students for a Just Peace in Israel/Palestine (BSJPIP). I’m extremely thankful that Bard doesn’t have a Hillel--you don’t have to espouse a particular stance on Israel in order to come enjoy a Shabbat dinner. It wasn’t until last semester that I truly realized the importance of this--after I ventured outside of the Bard Bubble and took a trip to the real world. The story starts when my friends and I in BSJPIP were feeling bummed. We were sick of the fact that no one at Bard seemed to care about Palestine. Even worse, someone had started vandalizing any posters related to Palestine--scrawling things like “there is no occupation” and even writing across a picture of a young Palestinian girl “she’s cute until she gets rockets.” Then we got an invitation to an event at a nearby university organized by a local activist group that was specifically billed as telling the Palestinian side of the story. Some of the presentations were solid and informative, others were reminders that strong feelings of nationalism put into poem form often yield bad results. There was also a long presentation dedicated to Jewish anti-occupation work, ranging from J Street to the BDS movement. However, much more striking than the speakers themselves was what came afterwards. When Q&A time rolled around, I looked to the back of the room and was shocked to see it filled with yellow-shirted security guards. There were more security guards in that auditorium than there were on the entire Bard campus. A few seconds later, I found out why: one of the audience members, a burly man with a bandana, stood up and began to shout. “I’ve come here tonight and learned that I’m a racist and a monster,” he began. “Yes! I am a Zionist! and I am shocked to see what a biased event the Muslim Students Association has put on yet again! I’m shocked!” The vice president of the Muslim Students Association, incensed, took the podium and demanded that all the Jews in the room raise their hands. About half the audience members tentatively raised their hands before one of the organizers interrupted with a firm “let’s not do this.” (Later, my friend quipped that going to an event billed specifically as the Palestinian side of the story and complaining about bias makes about as much sense as going to a concert and complaining that there’s music). After the sparring between Bandana guy and the event organizers had died down, my friends and I spoke to the vice president of the MSA. She told us that this was really the least of what usually happened at their events--at a previous one, the argument had nearly erupted into violence. Recently, the campus Republicans had hosted an “Islamofascism Awareness week.” She asked us if any similar stuff ever happened at Bard. “Um...someone wrote on our posters,” we answered sheepishly. “Oh, that happens all the time here,” she said. “Usually we can’t put any up without someone taking them down right away.” She lowered her voice to a whisper suddenly. “It’s really hard when so many of the professors here are pro-Jewish.” I raised my eyebrows so high that they almost jumped off my forehead. Wasn’t this the woman who had just asked all the Jews in the room to raise their hands as a rebuttal to Bandana guy? Hadn’t she just sat through a presentation about Jewish anti-occupation work? “Do you mean pro-Israel?” I asked skeptically. “I mean, I’m Jewish, and a lot of the people here are Jewish...” She seemed to immediately realize that she has said something wrong, or at least tactless, and apologized profusely. I was troubled though, had “Judaism” and “virulently pro-Israel” become so synonymous on that campus that such a level of cognitive dissonance was possible? In any case, I had never been so happy to get back to the Bard Bubble.