Rising Anti-Semitism at Swarthmore College

Swarthmore College. Photo courtesy: Swarthmore.edu

– Naomi Friedman

During the 2016-2017 school year, swastikas were found plastered in McCabe Library, the Crum Woods, Sparrow House and elsewhere on and about Swarthmore college campus. Most of us associate Nazi graffiti with—well, Nazis or neo-Nazis. But in recent years, swastikas have popped up on many campuses just prior to, during, or following  student votes to boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) Israel and other anti-Israel activity.

I first noticed this in my hometown of Evanston at Northwestern University. In the 2015 spring semester, the student group Wildcats for Israel found their banner torn apart just as a BDS group formed to push for divestment from Israel.  Soon after, BDS student and faculty resolutions were followed by two swastika incidents and anti-Israel mock border checkpoint demonstrations.

In fact, a recent study demonstrates that rising anti-Semitism on campuses strongly correlates with: one, the  appointment of faculty that advocate for BDS, and two, anti-Israel student groups.

Not surprisingly, Swarthmore is home to both. What is startling, however, is Swarthmore’s decision to warmly welcome a professor who spreads easily refutable fabrications that demonize Israel and who not only avidly advocates for BDS but also for the annihilation of the Jewish state.

Prior to Swarthmore’s February 11, 2015 appointment of Dr. Sa’ed Ashtan to the Peace and Conflict Studies program, Dr. Ashtan had publicly called for the annihilation of the Jewish state as he demanded that Israel be “decolonized” during the 2014 conference of the anti-Israel group Students for Justice in Palestine. “We all know Israel is an apartheid state and should be boycotted,” he insisted at this same conference.

On April 8, 2015, following the appointment, Dr. Sa’ed Ashtan publically condemned American-Muslim leaders engaged in programs aimed at promoting peaceful co-existence and accused Israel of having “ethnically-cleansed Palestinian ancestral lands.”

Following the assumption of his teaching position in October 2015, Dr. Atshan endorsed the false maps showing the almost complete transfer of land ownership from Palestinian to Israeli hands between 1946 and today. Among those easily spotted gross errors is the portrayal of land which is today still owned by Arabs and non-Jews in Israel as having been appropriated from Palestinians by Israelis. The 1946 map implies that almost every scrap of land was privately owned by Palestinians—although 50 to 70 percent of the land was government or publicly owned. The Sea of Galilee is missing entirely. And the UN partition plan is shown to have granted Jerusalem to Palestinians, although the city was supposed to be administered by an international regime.

MSNBC quickly apologized for airing the factually inaccurate map while Dr. Ashtan expressed the desire to “pinch himself” at having gotten MSNBC to portray these maps, or so he reported on his Facebook page on October 18.

In his course materials for autumn 2015, Professor Ashtan provides a PowerPoint (PPT) presentation created to accompany the Spangler book that he assigns that claims that Israel seeks to repress, ethnically cleanse Palestinians, and maintain an apartheid system. The PPT presentation further describes the peace process as “useless.”

In December 2015, Dr. Ashtan organized a trip to Israel and the West Bank that aimed at indoctrinating students. The visit included meeting Palestinian activist Manal Tamimi who, with her family, posed as non-violent activities while advocating for violent attacks on Israeli civilians.

How did Swarthmore College respond to all this?

On December 13, 2016, the college released a statement: “We are thrilled to announce that Dr. Sa’ed Atshan’s visiting position in the Peace and Conflict Studies program has been converted into the program’s first full-time tenure-track position.”

Swarthmore College failed to identify the individuals or groups responsible for the many swastika graffiti incidents during the last school year.

However, given the findings of the recent report on rising anti-Semitism—that “46% of schools with faculty boycotters showed evidence of targeting Jewish students for harm, 74% of schools with faculty boycotters showed evidence of anti-Semitic expression,” Swarthmore likely need look no further for the source of rising anti-Semitism on campus.

Swarthmore itself is responsible.



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