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Opinion | Not all colleges are refusing to fight antisemitism

todayNovember 5, 2023 1

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There is no shortage of appalling moral cowardice or intellectual confusion about antisemitism and Israel on college campuses. Some college presidents have refused to take an unequivocal stance condemning the slaughter of Israeli civilians on Oct. 7. Others have failed to address intimidation, hate speech, threats and other illegal actions against Jewish students. And, worst of all, some faculty members at certain elite schools have openly discriminated against students or signed on to screeds blaming Israeli victims for the massacre, asking to “recontextualize” the pogrom as a “military exercise” and echoing calls to eliminate Israel entirely. (Only under extreme pressure have three Ivy League presidents belatedly promised to address antisemitism.)

At Cooper Union in Manhattan last month, protesters “swarming at the entrance to the school’s downtown building … gained entrance despite the guards’ best efforts walked upstairs to the library, where Jewish students, some wearing yarmulkes, took refuge.” Like something out of 1930s Europe, “when guards barred the library, the protesters banged on the doors for at least ten minutes while shouting. One Jewish student heard calls for the ‘murder of Jews.’” The university took no action against the students, and its president misrepresented the action as “peaceful.”

This goes way beyond displays of the Palestinian flag or slogans such as “Free Palestine.” Antisemitic incidents are up on college campuses by nearly 400 percent, including incidents of swastika graffiti, arson, assaults, physical intimidation and property damage. Slogans such as “from the river to the sea” are not simply calls for Palestinian independence; that particular phrase demands the elimination of all of Israel and its Jewish inhabitants — the stated goal of Hamas. (In case anyone had doubts, we can do away with the notion that anti-Zionism is separable from antisemitism. If that were true, American Jews would not be in danger.)

The White House weighed in with a full-throated condemnation of events taking place on college campuses. “Amid the rise in poisonous, antisemitic rhetoric and hate crimes that President Biden has fought against for years, there is an extremely disturbing pattern of antisemitic messaging being conveyed on college campuses,” Andrew Bates, deputy White House press secretary, said last week. “Just over the past week, we’ve seen protests and statements on college campuses that call for the annihilation of the state of Israel; for genocide against the Jewish people. … These grotesque sentiments and actions shock the conscience and turn the stomach.” Second gentleman Doug Emhoff, Deputy Education Secretary Cindy Marten and Deborah Lipstadt, Biden’s special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, met with Jewish leaders to hear their concerns. The president has ordered his team to come up with policies to confront antisemitism and Islamophobia on campus.

However, not all universities, college presidents and faculty groups are cut from the same cloth. Credit is due for robust responses from hundreds of faculty members, alumni, donors and academic officials around the country to both antisemitism and administrative paralysis.

Scores of Harvard alumni signed a letter to their alma mater that included demands for meaningful action and blasted tolerance of Jew hatred:

These horrific events were met with acclaim by over thirty Harvard student groups, who called the intentional slaughter of civilians “justified” and claimed that Israel was “solely responsible.” This deluded romanticization of violence has been matched by calls for more violence and the obliteration of the state of Israel “by any means necessary.”

This — while Jewish students mourned the murder of their own family and friends, and the whole conscientious world reeled at the scale of the horror.

And during this time, the University remained silent. In the absence of any official pronouncement to the contrary, these letters conveyed the implicit approval of a silent administration. It was incumbent on the administration to speak out swiftly against terrorism, especially when it has spoken clearly and forcefully on many recent geopolitical and political events.

It is one thing to champion the rights of Palestinians and to vociferously express concern for the safety of civilians, particularly children, in Gaza, as many members of this alumni group have always done and will continue to do. It is quite another to trade in the crude language of “resistance” to justify the grotesque bullying and intimidation of Jewish students on campus and to exalt ideologies of violence and brutality that run counter to the idea of democracy itself.

More than 450 Columbia faculty and staff members decried their university’s response:

We are horrified that anyone would celebrate these monstrous attacks or, as some members of the Columbia faculty have done in a recent letter, try to “recontextualize” them as a “salvo,” as the “exercise of a right to resist” occupation, or as “military action.” We are astonished that anyone at Columbia would try to legitimize an organization that shares none of the University’s core values of democracy, human rights, or the rule of law. Any civilian loss of life during war is awful but, as colleagues on the faculty acknowledged in the letter mentioned above, the law of war clearly distinguishes between tragic but incidental civilian death and suffering, on one hand, and the deliberate targeting of civilians, on the other. We feel sorrow for all civilians who are killed or suffering in this war, including so many in Gaza. Yet whatever one thinks of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or of Israeli policies, Hamas’s genocidal massacre was an act of terror and cannot be justified, or its true purpose obscured with euphemisms and oblique references. We ask the entire University community to condemn the Hamas attack unambiguously. We doubt anyone would try to justify this sort of atrocity if it were directed against the residents of a nation other than Israel.

Finally, the University cannot tolerate violence, speech that incites it, or hate speech. Just as we condemn any bigoted comments or acts directed at Palestinian and Muslim students, we are appalled by the spate of antisemitic incidents on campus since October 7. These incidents, which include antisemitic epithets, physical assault, and swastikas scrawled on bathroom walls, are growing in frequency and are creating a hostile and unsafe environment that impacts our entire community.

At Cornell University, police were summoned and a student arrested for making grotesque antisemitic death threats. The school’s president, Martha E. Pollack, vowed to combat anti-Jewish bigotry: “We will not tolerate antisemitism at Cornell; indeed we will not tolerate hatred of any form, including racism or Islamophobia. … It means, first and foremost, that when there are threats or incitement to violence, we will respond rapidly and forcefully, as we did in this case,” Pollack wrote. She also promised new programming, speakers, policies and dedicated entities to fight antisemitism.

After ethnic studies departments at the University of California objected to a description of Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks as “terrorism” and called “on the UC administrative leadership to retract its charges of terrorism, to uplift the Palestinian freedom struggle, and to stand against Israel’s war crimes against and ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Palestinian people,” school regent Jay Sures denounced the lack of empathy for “Jewish life” and the attempt to whitewash the worst slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust.

Tulane University took a more muscular approach after a protest turned violent. “Everyone who committed an illegal act on this day will be held accountable for their actions. In addition, all students are accountable to the Code of Student Conduct,” President Michael Fitts said. After several arrests were made, he vowed that “additional arrests may be forthcoming as video evidence is reviewed.”

Likewise, Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law, wrote a passionate denunciation of antisemitic outbursts and the ensuing weak response from academic administrators:

I was stunned when students across the country, including mine, immediately celebrated the Hamas terrorist attack in Israel on Oct. 7. Students for Justice in Palestine called the terror attack a “historic win” for the “Palestinian resistance.” A Columbia professor called the Hamas massacre “awesome” and a “stunning victory.” A Yale professor tweeted, “It’s been such an extraordinary day!” while calling Israel a “murderous, genocidal settler state.” A Chicago art professor posted a note reading, “Israelis are pigs. Savages. Very very bad people. Irredeemable excrement. … May they all rot in hell.” A UC Davis professor tweeted, “Zionist journalists … have houses w addresses, kids in school,” adding “they can fear their bosses, but they should fear us more.” There are, sadly, countless other examples.

How can anyone celebrate the killing of 260 people attending a music festival, or the brutal massacre of more than 100 people in a kibbutz, or the pulling of people from their houses to take as hostages? If this happened to people who were not Jews would there be such celebrations?

I have heard few campus administrators speak out publicly about the antisemitism that has become prevalent this month. They want to seem neutral or not be perceived as Islamophobic. I understand. I, too, refrained from speaking out against those who defended Hamas’ terrorist attack.

But when do we stop being silent and when do we say the antisemitism must be condemned and it is not acceptable on our campuses? I believe this must be that time. …

I have no idea how it would be determined who is rightly entitled to what land, but I do know that calling for the total elimination of Israel is antisemitic.

There has been enough silence and enough tolerance of antisemitism on college campuses. I call on my fellow university administrators to speak out and denounce the celebrations of Hamas and the blatant antisemitism that is being voiced.

Other groups of students, faculties and alumni continue to challenge university officials. For example, at Stanford University: “Over 1,800 Stanford affiliates signed an open letter expressing disappointment in President Richard Saller and Provost Jenny Martinez’s response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel over their failure to condemn Hamas’ actions.” Emory University president Gregory Fenves condemned the Hamas attack while recognizing the plight of all civilians and condemned antisemitic rhetoric at a rally. Also, Emory put an assistant professor on leave for allegedly making antisemitic comments on a private social media account.

This should not be difficult. One can unreservedly denounce the Oct. 7 pogrom that slaughtered 1,400 people and mourn Palestinian lives lost in the ensuing war. One can seek to improve daily conditions for Palestinians, advocate for a two-state solution, criticize the Netanyahu government and defend free speech. Indeed, most Israelis already do. Millions of American Jews do, as well.

What is not acceptable, however, is to remain silent in the face of despicable antisemitism or, worse, to aid and abet it. It is indefensible to cheer for the destruction of an entire country and its inhabitants. Denigration of Jews’ humanity cannot be tolerated. No one should want universities that cannot manage to uphold the most basic values of a civilized society educating their children.



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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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