August 8, 2020

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Spencer Pack to ConnColl Faculty on Harassing Jewish Faculty

Spencer Pack, who invited me to speak at ConnColl about the Pessin Case, has written to the faculty about their President, Katherine Bergeron’s response to claims of harassment of Jewish members of the community. He has sent me the note and given me permission to post it.

Reflections on the new Connecticut College Tradition of Harassing Jewish Members of the Community

For the third semester in a row now, Jewish members of the Connecticut College community have been harassed by other members of the community. On February 4, 2016, I wrote on this listserv that “in my opinion, this harassment of Jews on campus in the name of fighting for social justice should end, immediately”.  Partly in response to this posting, President Katherine Bergeron wrote in a March 28, 2016 email to the members of the Connecticut College Community that she had “been troubled to receive a number of emails and calls from alumni and parents about recent allegations of anti-Semitism on our campus”.  She then baldly assured us that she found “the charges entirely unfounded…”.

I find this response pathetic.

Either I was completely clued out and totally ignorant of what was happening on campus; or President Bergeron was. Unfortunately, the events of the past semester help demonstrate who was correct on this issue.

In my opinion, the posting of the mock eviction notices throughout the dorms at the end of the last semester by the “Connecticut Students in Solidarity with Palestine” is clearly a continuation of the new Connecticut College tradition begun Spring 2015, of harassing Jewish professors and students in the name of fighting for social justice. Containing lies and half-truths at best, these posters were not meant for discussion or debate.  They were not put up in public venues such as the student union, the library, or academic buildings. No; they were posted only in the dorms, and at the very end of the semester when students were preparing for their final exams. Thus, the goal was not reasoned discussion or education. Rather, for the second semester in a row, posters in support of the BDS movement were meant to distract Jewish students from their studies; from preparing for their final exams; to harass Jewish students.

Subsequently, someone had the excellent sense to file a bias complaint over these scores of posters put up throughout the dorms on campus – and that person is to be applauded. This bias complaint compelled the administration to follow due process and carefully investigate whether this was indeed a bias incident, as held by the college’s criteria for bias. Thereupon, some of our student activists were so incensed with this mere filing of a bias complaint, and the subsequent necessity for the administration to follow due process and investigate said complaint –  that they felt compelled to occupy offices in Fanning in protest.   Moreover, in this inanity, the occupation of first David Canton’s, and then President Bergeron’s office, these “student activists” had the support and encouragement of some of our colleagues.

More Connecticut College pathos.

Look:  harassment of Jews in the name of social justice is not new. Most notably in the 20th century, it was done in the Weimar Republic. Clearly, things did not turn out well for the Jews there. Yet, I think it is fair to say that things did not turn out well for Germany either; or Europe; or the United States; or the world.

Also, a word about this BDS (boycott, divest, sanctions) movement. The BDS is not in favor of a two state solution in Israel. They want a one state solution; a Palestinian state.  Given the current disturbances in the Arab, indeed, the greater Islamic world, I think most sober observers would conclude that a Palestinian state replacing the current Israel state would very likely result in a serious bloodbath. Possibly the killing, or certainly the attempted killing of another 6 million Jews; another Holocaust. But, that is not going to happen. The Holocaust in the 20th century and the attempt to prevent another Holocaust is indeed largely why the Jewish state of Israel was established in the first place. Support of  the BDS movement  is support for the destruction of the state of Israel; support for war, not peace.

Part of the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, is the holding of Jews, or Israel, the only Jewish state in the world, to higher standards than are held to other people or states. In my opinion, the mock eviction notice, in repeating the old trope that Israel is racist, holds Israel to a higher standard. It is my understanding that there are plenty of Christian states in Europe; and, of course, many Islamic states around the world.  Yet, the charge that they are inherently racist (particularly the Islamic states) is rarely raised.

Also, the so-called “right of return” for the millions of descendants of Arabs displaced in the 1947-1948 war: as far as I know, descendants of Palestinian refugees are the only people in the world who are supposedly grandfathered in.   They are considered by BDS and the Connecticut College Students in Solidarity with Palestine to still be refugees with a “right to return”. My grandfather fled czarist Russia in 1914. Am I therefore a Russian refugee with a “right” to return to Russia? I don’t think so.  So, another double standard. More evidence of anti-Semitism according to the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism; which definition, by the way, seems eminently reasonable to me.

Partly in response to complaints about the harassment of Jews in our community, President Bergeron has written and verbally proclaimed what an excellent thing it was that Richard Landes came to speak at Connecticut College. Let me set the record straight: President Bergeron and her administration did nothing to help me bring Richard to campus. Indeed, several people have explained to me in detail how members and close friends of Bergeron’s administration actively tried to prevent Richard from coming to campus. Such disingenuousness by a college President is disturbing; and, in the long run, dysfunctional.

Also in response to the harassment of Jewish members of the college community, which has and is continuing to occur under her stewardship, I have heard President Bergeron propose that we hire another expert in and expand Jewish Studies at the college. Now, on the one hand, I think the development of a Jewish Studies program here could be a wonderful thing. But, consider the current nasty climate on campus: so we have a bunch of students inspired by some of our colleagues in various key departments fighting it out with a bunch of Jewish Studies students in the name of competing student social activisms? Seems problematic to me; not much of a solution to our problem.

I do see where developing a Jewish Studies program is great for the Advancement people. When Jewish alumni to their nausea [Sartre] learn about current campus activities and threaten not to give money to the college, they may be told, “oh, you must help out and give money for the expanding Jewish studies program”. Nonetheless, I do not believe that our current difficulties are really the result of ignorance.  Or that having a few more courses in Judaic Studies would effectively address the harassment of Jews on campus issue. No. Suppose, for example, we had a bunch of boisterous flat earthers hassling physics students because the flat earthers insist the earth is flat.  The answer to that problem would not be to hire another physicist. No, the problem would be much deeper than mere ignorance of physics. It would certainly have a psychological dimension.

Indeed, if the school were to hire a new faculty member to partially address our problems, I think we could usefully hire a political psychologist. We could use someone developing what Wilhelm Reich called The Mass Psychology of Fascism, and updating it to the 21st century; and developing what Erich Fromm called our psychological need to Escape from Freedom; as well as the early work of Adorno and other members of the Frankfurt school with their studies on the authoritarian personality. This is because I think what we have here at Connecticut College is basically a public health issue. That is, anti-Semitism is largely a form or type of mental illness.  It is a particularly nasty virus which keeps reappearing in human history.

Historically, anti-Semitism may be broken down into three types:

  1. Pre-modern. Here, one would need to study issues of human sacrifice being replaced by animal sacrifice; being replaced by Christian faith that Jesus Christ was sacrificed for “our” sins; to Christian-Jewish relations; to Jews used as convenient scapegoats, etc. To which we need to add
  2. Modern, “right-wing” anti-Semitic nationalism. This involves the careful defining of who is a member of “our” nation,and then the subsequent harassment, depriving of jobs, taking the property, driving out, and ultimately killing non-members of the nation – Jews as well as others.  To this, we now need to add
  3. Post-modern, post-Marxist, left-wing anti-Semitism. Here Jews tend also to be defined as particularly unsavory white people who oppress brown and black people in general and brown Palestinians in particular. This third type of anti-Semitism deserves further analysis; this campus could provide excellent data for that analysis.

I’ve written about this three-stage phenomenon.

So: what is to be done?

I think we need a President who has the courage, backbone, and moral fiber to stand up to and denounce the continuing harassment of Jewish members of the community by other members of our community; or, if necessary, the Connecticut College community needs to hire such a President. Moreover, the President and her administration need to develop and implement policies to actively achieve the goal of ending the new tradition of harassing Jewish members of the community.

Let us be frank: the Connecticut College community can continue harassing its Jewish members. In that case, Jewish members of the community will gradually leave, fewer Jewish faculty or students will join the community, and the college will continue to lose the support of its Jewish alumni.

Or, the community can stop harassing its Jewish members, and have the continuing support and participation of Jewish students, faculty and alumni.

However, the Connecticut College community cannot continue to harass its Jewish members, and expect to have the continued support and participation of new Jewish students and faculty; and alumni. Or the support of the greater local, national, and international Jewish communities. So, we, as a community, need to make a decision about our future.

I conclude by noting that I consider that most of what I have written on this listserv about this issue these past 15 months or so to be frighteningly obvious. Indeed, I frequently feel like the little boy in the fairy tale who cried out, “the emperor has no clothes”!  But we all know that was only a fairly tale.  In the real world, that little boy would most likely have been killed.

I am,

In deep sorrow,

Spencer J. Pack

Professor of Economics

Member of Connecticut College Community – 35 years


Reconstructing Marxian Economics:  Marx Based upon a Sraffian Commodity Theory of Value (1985:  Praeger).

Capitalism as a Moral System:  Adam Smith’s Critique of the Free Market Economy (1991: Edward Elgar; 2010: Paperback Edition, Edward Elgar).

Aristotle, Adam Smith and Karl Marx:  On Some Fundamental Issues in 21stCentury Economic Thought

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