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Forum: What Happened When Students Protested at a Bard College Conference on Anti-Semitism and Racism

On Saturday night, The Forward published a column by our Opinion Editor, Batya Ungar-Sargon, about her experience at a conference on anti-Semitism and racism at Bard College.

A panel Ungar-Sargon was moderating that featured Ruth Wisse, a controversial scholar and Holocaust survivor, was targeted for protest by the campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.

She felt the protest was anti-Semitic because it unfolded at the conference’s only panel where all the speakers were Jewish, and because it was a protest over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while the panel in question was about anrti-Semitism in America, not Zionism.The next morning, she read a statement of disgust, condemning the participants for not speaking out against what she saw as an anti-Semitic attack, and left the conference,

The column generated a lot of attention on social media, and many of the people who attended the conference had significantly different interpretations of the events. The Forward has published several responses to Ungar-Sargon’s piece, as part of our commitment to host a broad spectrum of viewpoints on the difficult issues that often divide our community.

The campus debate over Israel and anti-Semitism, and the boundaries of academic freedom and free speech, are among the most complicated and crucial of those issues. We invite you to read all the perspectives presented about the protest at the conference, and to watch the video of the events, which is available here.

This is a link to Ungar-Sargon’s original column, titled “I was protested at Bard College for being a Jew.” We have published four Letters to the Editor from others who were at the conference. Below are links to each one.

Roger Berkowitz, the founder of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard, and the conference organizer, said that Ungar-Sargon misrepresented what had happened. “At no point was anyone prevented from speaking; the talk she refers to proceeded until its end,” he wrote. Read the letter.

Samantha Hill, assistant director at the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities, which was the conference host, argued that Ungar-Sargon should have stayed at the conference to process what had happened. Read the letter.

Shahanna McKinney-Baldon, director of Edot HaMidwest Regional Jewish Diversity Collaborative, said that her conversation with a student about whether the protest was appropriate was mischaracterized as “egging on” the protestors, and that she was not identified as Jewish and black, nor with her job title. Read the letter.

Kenneth S. Stern, the director of the Bard Center for the Study of Hate, said that what he saw in the protest was “deep disagreement,” not anti-Semitism. Read the letter.

Shany Mor, an Associate Fellow at the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College and a Research Fellow at the Chaikin Center for Geostrategy at the University of Haifa, was on stage with Ungar-Sargon and writes “Why Is Everyone Lying About Bard? Every Other Account Proves Ungar-Sargon Right.”

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