In a strange public controversy last week, Batya Ungar-Sargon, the Opinion Editor at The Forward, published a column claiming that she had been protested by members of Students for Justice in Palestine during one of her panels at a conference on racism and anti-Semitism at Bard College, ostensibly “for being a Jew.”
The article omitted the fact that many of the protestors were Jewish, and were largely objecting to the presence of keynote speaker Ruth Wisse, who has made notoriously racist comments about Arabs. They were also objecting to Ungar-Sargon’s attacks on U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar and her dismissal of the concerns of Jews of color about her editorial decisions at The Forward.
As +972 contributor Mairav Zonszein reported in Jewish Currents on Monday, many other participants at the conference – including the Jewish protestors, fellow Jewish speakers, and Jewish organizers of the event – have revealed that Ungar-Sargon’s op-ed and her departing speech at Bard were grossly misleading and detached from reality. Many of these participants issued their own responses refuting Ungar-Sargon’s account (examples are here, here, here, and here).
This episode is unfortunate yet unsurprising to many observers. In recent years, Ungar-Sargon earned respect in part for actively bringing a diversity of voices to The Forward regarding Israel-Palestine. These included Palestinian writers whose views were radically different from her own, offering them a platform to engage American Jewish audiences that they might otherwise not have interacted with.
However, her theatrics at Bard were illustrative of a baseless and reckless diagnosis of anti-Semitism which — in addition to cheapening a serious accusation — has contributed to a dangerous climate for Palestinians and their allies, including Jews, to challenge individuals and ideas that condone their oppression.