It is not an overstatement to say that Julie Ancis is well into an extraordinary career.
As a nimble academic — that’s not a modifier that always accompanies that noun — Dr. Ancis, the Distinguished Professor of Informatics at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, is a psychologist who specializes in the new field of cyberpsychology as well as the old field of general psych. Her expertise is in social media, diversity, gender, race — just about everything new that is creating the maelstrom of wonderful advances and horrifying setbacks as cutting-edge technology and age-old human behavior collide and collude.
She’s also a strong Zionist and a passionate defender of Israel.
She’s joined other feminist scholars who have attacked the National Women’s Studies Association’s “failure to lend its prominent voice in support of Israel women and girls” in response to the October 7 attacks. That quote is from the Academic Engagement Network, which has a list of its primary signers attached to it; Dr. Ancis signed it as a member of her AEN section, for women faculty. (Academics love initials; the rest of us have to sound them out.)
“We are dismayed that for over two months as testimonies from survivors, witnesses, and emergency medical workers and more documented forensic evidence from the murdered victims have been widely reported, the NWSA has chosen to remain silent,” the open letter, released on December 14, continued.
“It has not spoken out against the crimes of rape, murder, and other atrocities perpetrated on defenseless women and girls on October 7, 2023. Further it did not call for the release of hostages in Gaza, including women, girls, and female infants, who were held in dire conditions by Hamas.”
The letter continued to detail specific, horrific crimes against specific women, and to express its signers’ outrage over the double standard it displays.
Dr. Ancis is a member of the AEN but not of the NWSA — she specializes not in women’s studies but in psychology — “but two and a half years ago, I started a group called Psychologists Against Antisemitism,” she said; it’s online at www.psychaas.com. (The NWSA’s statements are at www.nwsa.org/page/statements.)
Psychologists Against Antisemitism now has about 800 members, “a combination of clinicians, professors, students. I started it in response to my own experiences and the experiences of my Jewish colleagues of antisemitism in my divisions of the APA,” the American Psychological Association.
“Since then, things have just gotten worse.”
As for the NWSA’s statements, released on October 11 and October 31, “I believe that they are shameful and grossly inaccurate,” Dr. Ancis said. “My discipline is supposed to disseminate knowledge about women and gender, not to be a mouthpiece about a terrorist organization.
“There are so many premises in the NWSA statements that are completely inaccurate and dishonest. It says that Israel is a colonizer — in fact, Jews are indigenous to the land. They are trying to say that we are illegitimate.
“The major danger here — and there are many dangers — is that this association, like other professional associations, are influencing students in the field, particularly in women’s studies. These statements basically are perpetuating antisemitism. They’re also creating secondary trauma for all those who suffered at the hands of terrorists, and they’re activating our ancestral trauma as Jews.
“It is very painful.”
She focused on some of the words in the statements. “They talked about the genocidal, vengeful war in Gaza,” she said. “That’s completely incorrect. It was a response to a terrorist attack. Gaza is occupied by Hamas, not Israel.” The statements call Israel an apartheid state and call for support of Students for Justice in Palestine; the October 31 letter ends with “Bending toward social justice” as its sign-off line.
“They said that they are alarmed by the criminalization of free speech,” she continued. “We are not calling for the criminalization of free speech. We are calling out hate speech that leads to violence against Jews.”
In its letter, the AEN wrote:
“The NWSA’s first statement unconscionably sought to rationalize and justify the Hamas massacre. The second, by accusing Israel of perpetrating genocide in Gaza, waded into Holocaust inversion. As historians have recently noted, this charge is an antisemitic canard in which Jewish victims of genocide are now cast as akin to their Nazi tormentors.”
Her organization “is committed to addressing and combatting antisemitism within the fields of psychology and related fields,” Dr. Ancis said. “I have a webinar series and a YouTube channel. We are committed to fostering training and education that increases sensitivity and responsiveness to antisemitism and its effects.”
It’s not always safe or easy, though, she said. “Colleagues and I have noticed a difference in how we are treated.” It’s subtle, but “it’s very painful,” she said.
Dr. Phyllis Chesler is a psychotherapist, writer, professor emerita at the College of Staten Island, influential second-wave feminist, and outspoken teller of the truth as she sees it, no matter how inconvenient that telling or that truth might be. She’s been a strongly identifying Jew throughout her life; she’s taken on both Islamophobia and Islamism, making both friends and enemies.
She’s Dr. Ancis’s mentor. “This is an important moment, and the signatories of the statement are doing something very important, and Julie is doing something very important,” she said.
“The National Women’s Studies Association mainly features women of color who are Marxists, and whose concerns are always and only about racism and islamophobia,” she said. “They hardly study women as a caste. It’s all about ethnicity and color. They’re no longer feminists, in any sense of the word.”
But academia is a hard place, and it’s difficult to take on established beliefs.
“The signatories were very brave,” Dr. Chesler said. “They could lose their reputations, their jobs, their funding, and their friends. Because the issue” — Israel and Gaza, the rape, torture, and dismemberment of Jewish women and girls — “is toxic.”
Still, the AEN is not backing down. The world is not binary; Israelis are not white European oppressors, and Palestinians are not brown Middle Eastern victims, and being a Jewish Zionist does not have anything to do with being a feminist or a progressive, it says. It rejects intersectionality, which posits all those things.
It also does not mean caring only about Jews.
“Our concerns and opposition to the NWSA’s positions should not be misconstrued as a lack of empathy for the plight of Palestinians, including women and girls in Gaza who have long suffered gender-based discrimination, oppression, and violence under the cruel rule of Hamas,” the letter continued. “We acknowledge the hardships that women and girls in Gaza are now facing. We are deeply concerned that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian women and girls have been displaced from their homes and mourn the lives of the innocent who have been killed in Israeli aerial bombardments. Both Palestinians and Israelis deserve freedom, protection and safety, and self-determination.
“The NWSA has lost its moral compass,” it concluded. Dr. Ancis has not given up hope that maybe, some day, it might do better.