Jasbir Puar accused of anti-Semitism at panel

by Parker Richards | 5/5/16 6:20pm

UPDATED: May6, 2016 at 6:49p.m.

A student was allegedly threatened and asked to leave a panel hosted by the Gender Research Institute at Dartmouth on Saturday after he attempted to film remarks by Rutgers University professor Jasbir Puar.

Puar is known for her controversial remarks about Israel, which was her main topic during the panel. The stated topic of the event was related to feminism and the environment rather than Middle Eastern politics, according to GRID’s website.

Matthew Goldstein ’18 accused GRID director Annabel Martín of threatening him with force after he attempted to record the lecture. Later, Hanover Police and Safety and Security became involved, and Goldstein was told he would be arrested if he did not stop recording. At that point, he chose to leave the area.

College spokesperson Diana Lawrence wrote in an email that, as an academic institution, Dartmouth is and will remain committed to robust debate, respectful dialogue and discussion with the understanding that such interactions will sometimes be difficult or disagreeable.

Goldstein brought a camera to the event, which he believed was legal under New Hampshire law, in order to record Puar’s remarks.

At an event at Vassar College in February, Puar requested that her talk not be recorded. Goldstein said he had been told by Martín that the GRID-sponsored event would not be recorded, and he felt it was important to have a record of the panel.

Goldstein said Martín accosted him shortly after he began filming during Puar’s talk before summoning a Safety and Security officer who was monitoring the event to ask Goldstein to cease filming, which he refused to do.

New Hampshire’s legal code does permit recording of public events, but that law does not extend to events that occur on private property, which included the panel.

“If you’re inside a building at Dartmouth College, they have the right to have any rules or regulations there,” Hanover Police chief Charlie Dennis said.

Safety and Security director Harry Kinne did not respond to requests to comment by press time.

Lawrence wrote in an email no one was threatened with force or physically restricted during the event. In a later email, she also wrote that the Dartmouth community must be able to tolerate opinions and ideas, even those with which we disagree, and to seek substantiation whenever claims are made.

Martín responded to requests seeking comment with an emailed statement but did not respond to specific questions about the panel, its content and planning or her actions during the incident with Goldstein.

In her statement, Martín wrote that it was Puar’s decision to allow only an official College recording. Martín said an audio recording will be made available Friday. No video recording is currently set to be made available.

As of Friday afternoon, no audio recording was available from the Jones Media Center, where lecture recordings are catalogued.

The professional recording will eliminate any dispute over Puar’s statements, Martin added.

In a follow-up email, Martín wrote that “the only way to be objective” is to listen the recording.

Anthropology professor Sergei Kan expressed displeasure with Martín’s actions and said she was “very hostile” and did not “have the right” to eject Goldstein in the manner she did.

Goldstein praised the conduct of the Safety and Security officer and the Hanover Police officer who were summoned by Martín after Goldstein’s initial refusals to cease filming the panel.

Goldstein was told he would be arrested for disorderly conduct if he did not stop filming, but no arrest was made, according to Dennis. Goldstein elected to leave instead.

Noah David ’19, who attended the event and witnessed the confrontation between Goldstein, Martín and the law enforcement officials, said Goldstein and the officers were all respectful throughout the entirety of the proceedings.

Following Goldstein’s exit and the end of Puar’s section of the panel, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill English professor Neel Ahuja rose to speak. According to numerous people in attendance, Ahuja began by calling out Goldstein for his actions.

Kan recounted Ahuja saying that Goldstein had “invaded professor Puar.”

Alex Leibowitz ’19 said that Ahuja stated that attempting to record Puar “was the equivalent of silencing minorities.” He said he did not see the logic of the comment, which struck him as an odd one for Ahuja to make.

David said Ahuja alleged that Goldstein’s attempt to record the event “shows the militancy of the whites versus the brown and black people in the world.”

David said he believes Ahuja’s comments were potentially anti-Semitic because Goldstein was visibly wearing a shirt with Hebrew lettering and a yarmulke.

Ahuja initially responded to a request seeking comment asking for further information. After being provided with such, he did not respond further.

Rather than discussing the gender and ecological issues that were the topic of the panel, Puar began discussing conflicts in Israel and Palestine.

Many Jewish students in attendance took issue with the content of Puar’s talk.

Kan said Puar’s statements at the GRID-sponsored event were “academic anti-Semitism.” He said he saw one Jewish student close to tears while others were emotionally distraught because their faith “was being covered in dirt.”

“This is hatred,” Kan said of Puar’s statements. “This is the kind of scholarship that wants to provoke, wants to offend and does it without any concern for accuracy.”

Puar did not respond to a request seeking comment by press time.

Goldstein — who is the co-president of Chabad at Dartmouth but said he was speaking only in a personal capacity — expressed displeasure with the decision to bring Puar to campus before her talk, a position supported by many campus Jewish leaders.

Puar made accusations that Israelis maim Palestinians, a claim that represents a “deliberate maligning of Israel that has no factual or almost no factual foundation,” Kan said.

David, who is a member of Chabad and Hillel at the College and has a brother and cousin, as well as many close friends, serving in the Israel Defense Force said he was offended by Puar’s remarks.

Prior to the speech, Goldstein said he believed Israel would not be brought up.

“It was made to seem like the speech was not going to be explicitly about Israel and if there was anything that was mentioned, it would be sort of an ancillary component, not really the full thing,” Goldstein said. “The entire speech was about Israel.”

Both Kan and Goldstein criticized Puar’s qualifications to speak on issues of Middle Eastern politics. Puar is a professor of women and gender studies at Rutgers, where she specializes in queer theory, feminism, globalization and diaspora studies.

Goldstein noted that Puar has no background in Middle Eastern studies and does not speak Arabic or Hebrew.

Puar said at the event she intends to learn Arabic. She made no similar mention of Hebrew.

David said Puar’s rhetoric was close to anti-Semitism and some of the things she referenced were anti-Semitic, but he did not call the entire content of her talk anti-Semitic. Leibowitz said many of Puar’s writings are anti-Semitic but stopped short of saying the same of her presentation on the panel.

Goldstein, however, stated that the entire event was highly anti-Semitic and accused GRID of promoting anti-Semitic speech.

“I believe that in GRID’s sponsoring of Puar’s speech, they were sponsoring anti-Semitic rhetoric, because it kept fully in line with what she has said before,” he said. “Not only was it anti-Semitic, it’s also not academically honest — garbage scholarship, really.”

Goldstein is a former member of The Dartmouth opinion staff. Leibowitz is a member of The Dartmouth business staff.

Zachary Benjamin and Samantha Stern contributed reporting.

Addendum (May 13, 2016):

Last Friday, The Dartmouth prematurely published an incomplete account of the April 30 GRID event. We regret the error and a letter from the editors can be found here. A complete article on the lecture published on May 13 can be found here.