May 29, 2019
News Press Release

ZOA Criticizes Northwestern for Failing to Rescind “Journalism” Professorship and Chair of Israelophobe Steven Thrasher

Thrasher’s Antisemitic Israelophobic Pro-BDS Speech Ruined NYU Graduation, Showed Thrasher is Untrustworthy and Bigoted
Steven Thrasher speaking at NYU’s doctoral convocation ceremony, May 20, 2019. Photo: Screenshot: Algemeiner

Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) President Morton A. Klein and ZOA Chairman Mark Levenson, Esq. released the following statement: 

The Zionist Organization of America is deeply dismayed that Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro and Provost Jonathan Holloway stated that antisemitic, Israelophobic pro-BDS-propagandist Steven William Thrasher will still be joining the faculty of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications on June 1, 2019. Thrasher hijacked his NYU graduation ceremony and speech last week to defame Israel, and to praise and promote Jew-hating terror-linked Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and virulent BDS groups, including Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which intimidate, harass, assault and torment American Jewish college students. Thrasher also called on everyone else to do the same as he did.

Failing to rescind Thrasher’s about-to-begin professorship will harm Northwestern’s reputation, make Northwestern an unwelcome campus for Jewish students (and donors), and damage the entire journalism profession. Journalism professors are supposed to teach students to become objective reporters – not Jew-hating, Israel-defaming propagandists for terror-linked groups.  

Notably, Thrasher insisted during his NYU speech that it is everyone’s “duty” and is “what we are called to do” “on every campus where we serve” and “every place where we work” to attack Israel, and support anti-Jewish BDS and BDS groups. Thrasher thus clearly revealed that he will likely also abuse his about-to-begin Northwestern professorship to defame Israel and promote virulent Jew-hating groups.  

It is also notable that Thrasher engaged in deceit in order to use his NYU graduation speech to defame Israel and promote anti-Jewish BDS groups. NYU President Andrew Hamilton revealed that Thrasher excluded his offensive anti-Israel pro-BDS rant “from the version of the speech he had submitted before the ceremony.” (“Statement from NYU President Andrew Hamilton Decrying Student Remarks at GSAS Graduation,” NYU News Release, May 23, 2019.) Thrasher thus proved that he is untrustworthy, and that he will likely “do whatever it takes” to continue promoting his hate-mongering views at every opportunity.

The advertisement for Thrasher’s position noted that the faculty member “will contribute within the school, university and community.” Thrasher’s position will thus enable him to spread his anti-Jewish and anti-Israel bile throughout the community, as well as in the classroom.

Simply put, Northwestern should not hire an Israelophobic professor who calls for supporting the reprehensible, violent antisemitic groups who are dedicated to Israel’s destruction and the demonization of Israel and the Jewish people.

Thrasher’s appointment also does a disservice to the LGBT community, which his professorship is supposed to focus on. Any sensible, unbiased LGBT member should support Israel over the violently anti-gay Palestinian-Arab territories. Gay Palestinians are tortured and at risk of being murdered in Gaza and the Palestinian-Authority (as well as Middle-East Muslim countries), and routinely flee to Israel for safety.  

Steven Thrasher is also particularly unfit to fairly examine dangerous anti-Jewish bias within certain LGBT and “social justice” groups, because Thrasher holds the same vile prejudices. 

Yet, despite all the damage to Northwestern and Jewish students that will likely result from Thrasher’s impending professorship, Northwestern’s president and provost absurdly defended Thrasher’s appointment as a matter of “academic freedom” and “inclusivity,” and because other Northwestern professors also support BDS. This ignores the fact that BDS opposes academic freedom and inclusivity. BDS aims to exclude the pro-Israel community from campus life, demands that Jewish students be ousted from universities, and attempts to destroy relationships with Jewish and Israeli academic and other institutions. SJP and BDS promote “anti-normalization” – meaning opposing even normal conversations with Jewish and pro-Israel students, and opposing any normal contact with Israel.  

At NYU, the organizations Thrasher praised, including SJP and JVP, amassed a coalition of over 50 student groups who pledged to boycott Israeli goods, academic institutions, off-campus pro-Israel groups including the ZOA, and NYU’s pro-Israel student clubs. This pledge included refusing to co-sponsor any events with pro-Israel NYU student clubs. 

And this past December, threats caused the temporary closure of NYU’s Jewish Student Center.  The threats allegedly came from an SJP member who also wrote: ““thanks to whoever got my [Twitter] account suspended just cuz i expressed my desire for zionists to die.”

Numerous instances of SJP, etc.’s threatening and disruptive activities on college campuses are well-documented. (See, e.g., Canary Mission report and Amcha Initiative’s database.) 

Thus, when a university countenances those who promote BDS and groups such as SJP, the university is harming academic freedom and inclusivity, and enabling a hostile environment that impedes the safety and academic freedom of Jewish students and others on campus.   

Northwestern should consider:  Would Northwestern hire a professor who demonized Blacks or women and called for actions and boycotts against them?  Or who demonized or called for the destruction of any other democratic state besides Israel?  Of course not.  Northwestern needs to apply the same standard Jew-hating Israel-bashing Steven Thrasher.

Northwestern’s statement read, in pertinent part:  “Many were understandably offended by some of the comments made by Dr. Thrasher during his commencement speech at New York University earlier this week. We do not share all of his views, nor do we feel commencement was the appropriate venue to express them. However, academic freedom assures his right to hold them.  While Dr. Thrasher will not be the first Northwestern faculty member who supports the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, Northwestern as an institution unequivocally rejects BDS. To the contrary, we value our many relationships with a variety of universities and research centers in Israel.”  (“Statement regarding Steven Thrasher by President, Provost,” Northwestern Announcement, May 24, 2019.)

It is gratifying that Northwestern states that it opposes BDS “as an institution.” However, an institution is the sum of its parts. When Northwestern hires faculty who are dedicated to promoting antisemitic boycotts, Northwestern belies its stated opposition to BDS.

It is also appalling that Steven Thrasher will occupy the new Daniel H. Renberg endowed Chair in Journalism at Northwestern. The chair is supposed to honor Daniel H. Renberg (1930-2014), a philanthropist who supported the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. The first “official” act that began the Holocaust was Nazi Germany’s anti-Jewish boycott (April 1, 1933). Mr. Renberg must be rolling over in his grave knowing that the first occupant of the chair named for him propagates the same anti-Jewish hatred that Mr. Renberg opposed. At an absolute minimum, Northwestern must rescind Thrasher’s appointment to the Daniel H. Renberg Chair. 

Thrasher’s NYU graduation speech ruined the graduation ceremony for NYU’s Jewish and pro-Israel students, and has already caused prominent Jewish students to withdraw from NYU. 

Thrasher stated during his anti-Israel NYU graduation speech:  “I am so proud, so proud, of NYU’s chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine [SJP] and Jewish Voices for Peace [JVP], and of GSOC [the Graduate Student Organizing Committee labor union representing NYU’s graduate teaching and research assistants], and of the Student Government, and of my colleagues in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, for supporting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against the apartheid state government in Israel.  Because this is what we are called to do. This is our NYU legacy, that we are connected in radical love.  And we have a duty and a privilege in this position to protect not the most popular amongst us, but the most vulnerable amongst us on every campus where we serve, and every community where we live, and every place where we work.  This is our duty.”  

Simply put, Northwestern should not hire an Israelophobic professor who calls for supporting the reprehensible, violent antisemitic groups who are dedicated to Israel’s destruction and the demonization of Israel and the Jewish people.