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The presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and MIT assert in a Congressional hearing that calling on campus for the genocide of the Jews is an exercise in free speech and so not a violation of university policies. The breath-taking hypocrisy of this claim, to say nothing of its immorality, was obvious to everyone who does not subscribe to the newspeak of American academia. Such a call for genocide with regard to any other group would, of course, not be tolerated. In addition, all three universities are constantly violating free speech precepts by limiting the access of conservative voices to their campuses and barring other sorts of speech that favored groups might find offensive.
The university presidents’ tolerance for campus voices advocating slaughter of the Jews was not because doing so is free speech but because doing so is cost-free. Much of the schools’ progressive and Muslim faculty and staff, as well as of their student bodies, are militantly anti-Semitic and forcefully oppose any gesture by university administrators supportive of Jews or of Israel. In contrast, university administrators typically pay no price for anti-Semitic gestures. Similarly, the haters have paid no price for aggressively exhibiting their bigotry, and they expect to pay none.
This dynamic has a long pedigree. A history of murderous anti-Semitism and its roots always entails disentangling the various, protean rationales of Jew-hatred. There is religious bias, racial and ethnic bias, class bias. And there are the many contradictory hateful indictments of Jews. Jews are too white; Jews are not white enough. Jews are capitalists; Jews are socialists and communists. Jews are too insular; Jews are too assimilationist. Jews are globalists; Jews are nationalists. Jews are too secular; Jews are too religious. But amid the contradictory indictments, there has been one constant that has always facilitated Jew-hatred in all its forms. It has always been largely cost-free for the haters. Jews have virtually always been in no position to exact a cost. The bigots, and those in positions of authority who give them a pass, have almost never had to take into account the threat of pushback in their calculations of how far to go with their hate-mongering.
Today, Israel can push back against its genocidal neighbors. Its catastrophic failure to deter Hamas from undertaking and then executing the horrors of October 7 is at least being followed by a military campaign that has the capacity to dismantle the terror organization and deter others from attempting to emulate October 7.
The American Jewish community also has some ability to push back. It is less helpless than Diaspora communities have typically been over the last two millennia.
But it has dramatically failed to make substantive use of that ability.
The anti-Semitism on American campuses is hardly a new phenomenon. It has been intensifying over many years. The large donors to Harvard and Penn who are now withholding their contributions had grounds for doing so years ago had they been paying attention. Mainstream Jewish organizations had likewise not responded to the growing anti-Semitism in academia and, unlike the donors now taking a stand, they are still not forcefully opposing the academic hate.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has been essentially AWOL from the campus battle. Hillel, the main Jewish organization involved with American campuses, has a presence at some 550 colleges and universities. Some chapter leaders take strong stands against campus anti-Jewish and anti-Israel depredations. But others seek to accommodate the haters, often undercutting Jewish and pro-Israel students who want to respond to the Jew-baiting more forcefully. Some even allow Jewish groups that are essentially auxiliaries of anti-Semitic hate groups – Jewish Voice for Peace, If Not Now, J Street – to play a role in setting the agenda of their campus Hillels. Again, why would university presidents, obviously devoid of ethical compunctions, not take the easy road of accommodating the campus haters – faculty, students, administrators – when there is no downside to doing so.
Government can play a role in addressing campus Jew-hatred. The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is supposed to enforce Title VI prohibitions against college and university bigotry. Other federal laws explicitly prohibit religion-based bigotry. But while the OCR has investigated some universities for their anti-Jewish and anti-Israel bias, they have investigated too few. And there has been too little follow-up or penalty for those schools found guilty of tolerating anti-Jewish hate. The University of Vermont and the University of North Carolina (UNC) are two such schools. Yet problems have persisted at both. In November, 2019, OCR entered into a Resolution Agreement with UNC to address findings of campus anti-Semitism. Yet UNC, suffering no consequence for the findings of anti-Jewish bigotry, has remained a cesspool of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel hate-mongering. Only recently, four years after the Resolution Agreement, did OCR open another Title VI investigation into the ongoing problems at UNC.
Where is the Jewish communal advocacy for more aggressive enforcement of anti-bias federal laws? Where is the Jewish push for withholding federal and state funds from colleges and universities that accommodate and even promote anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist bigotry?
Foreign governments have poured many millions of dollars into American academic centers to advance anti-Jewish and anti-Israel agendas. Qatar has been the most prominent source of such funds. Its contributions to American academia in recent years have been on the order of several billion dollars. The impact goes beyond the campuses, as foreign funding has supported university production of anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist curricula for grade schools.
The Federal Agents Registration Act (FARA) requires persons or entities that do political work for foreign governments, organizations or individuals to register with the Department of Justice and describe their relationship to their foreign funders, their activities and their remuneration. FARA’s aim is transparency with regard to foreign efforts to influence domestic opinion and government policies. Enforcement of FARA with regard to academia is virtually nonexistent. Where is the Jewish effort pushing for such enforcement vis-a-vis universities and academic departments serving as agents of Qatar or of other foreign entities in the promotion of anti-Jewish agendas?
The failure of Jewish communal institutions and their leadership to counter the anti-Semitic onslaught goes beyond addressing anti-Jewish bigotry in academia. Consider the political arena: One reads daily of warnings to President Biden from Democrat party strategists that his support for Israel in its campaign to dismantle Hamas and derail its genocidal agenda will cost the President votes of progressives and of the young in the coming election. Muslim Americans – a majority of whom, according to opinion polls, support Hamas in the wake of its October massacre – openly demonstrate against Israel, verbally attack the President, and threaten to deny him their ballots in November. And there is evidence that the Administration is applying pressure on Israel in various ways to assuage anti-Israel, anti-Jewish constituencies. Once more, where is the pushback? How many articles have there been about Jewish leaders pointing out that Jewish voters – long predominantly Democrat voters – cannot be taken for granted when they see elements of the party leadership willing to sacrifice Israel’s, and the Jewish community’s, well-being to placate anti-Jewish blocs? And why would those party operatives who advocate such abandonment of the Jews and of Israel rethink their course when there appears to be no downside to their continuing in the same course.
The abysmal failure of mainstream Jewish organizations and their leadership to address forcefully the anti-Semitic onslaught is due in large part to much of that leadership identifying closely with the leftist bodies that are the major sources of contemporary Jew-hatred, such as academia and elements of the Democrat Party and its constituency.
A key factor in the rot on campuses and in the Democrat Party is, as others have noted, the current leftist orthodoxy of critical race theory (CRT) and its action auxiliary, the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) movement. While purporting to advocate equity and inclusion, DEI is intrinsically and irredeemably anti-Jewish. It adheres to the far left reduction of all political issues as entailing conflict between oppressors and the oppressed. Jews are deemed white and therefore oppressors. DEI also embraces the socialist concept of zero sum economics. Success of one group can only be explained as unfair treatment of other groups. Jews are disproportionately successful, so they must have gained their place in society by inequitable, oppressive means. Also, of course, intrinsic to the DEI catechism is that group identity explains all and that society must be balkanized into ethnic and racial groups to assure equity and inclusion. A corollary is that – perhaps the greatest sin in the eyes of the DEI dictators of the new ethics – Jews must be condemned for being overwhelmingly against such balkanization and pro-integration, endorsing Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ideal of people being judged by the content of their character rather than their racial or ethnic identity.
The motivation to Jew-hatred in this context was captured by Henry Lewis Gates, Jr., chairman of African and African American Studies at Harvard. In the ‘90’s, Gates noted that the rate of anti-Semitism in America among blacks was twice that among whites. His explanation was that it reflected the struggle between two black elites: the radical, separatist black elite represented by, for example, Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam versus the mid-twentieth century-style black civil rights elite represented by King. Gates observes “Many American Jews are puzzled by the recrudescence of black anti-Semitism, in view of the historic alliance between the two groups. The brutal truth has escaped them: that the new anti-Semitism arises not in spite of the black-Jewish alliance but because of that alliance.” That is, the radical, separatist elite uses the promotion of Jew-hatred as a tool to attack the black pro-integration elite for being allied to the Jews. The same dynamic exists in the current struggle between the promoters of DEI and their opponents. Attacking and defaming Jews as enemies of a fairer, more equitable society serves as another avenue of attack against those who believe, like the Jews, in the integrationist ideal.
Yet the ADL, led by former Obama administration operative Jonathan Greenblatt, rather than fighting the anti-Jewish bias that is an inseparable element of the progressives’ venerated DEI, has repeatedly promoted CRT and DEI. It has done so even in educational materials distributed by the ADL for grade school use. In the wake of the response to October 7, former ADL head Abe Foxman has condemned the poisonous role of DEI programs on college and university campuses. But the track record of the current ADL leadership has been disgraceful with respect to DEI.
The ADL also has long focused predominantly on far-right – white supremacist and neo-Nazi – Jew-hatred and less so on that emanating from the Left, even though the latter has penetrated much more into the American mainstream as shown in the response to October 7. This too has contributed to the weak pushback to today’s burgeoning anti-Semitism. Even in the context of the October 7 massacre, Greenblatt spoke of the dramatic rise of anti-Jewish invective and actions by the “far right” and “hard left.” Certainly, there was an explosive increase in anti-Semitism from both sources. But the mainstreamed source – that accounting, for example, for the anti-Semitism rampant on the campuses – is, of course, the latter, together with the Jew-hatred of the hard left’s Islamist allies. The enormous anti-Israel rallies that have filled the streets of major cities and the mobs that have blocked highways and bridges and have sought to close down airports and train stations have likewise been composed of leftists and their Islamist allies.
Another non-far-Right source of Jew-hatred that the ADL prefers to downplay or ignore is that of black radical groups such as Black Lives Matter (BLM).
On October 31, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Jason Riley titled “Black Lives Matter and the World’s Oldest Hatred.” Riley notes that the BLM organization has consistently attacked and defamed Israel in the past, including accusing it of genocide, and so its support for Hamas’s massacre should have come as no surprise:
What’s shocking isn’t the rhetoric of BLM leaders in the aftermath of Oct. 7 but that so many people who ought to have known better got played. In 2020, an open letter that endorsed the BLM movement appeared as a full-page ad in the New York Times. It was signed by more than 600 Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, which exists to fight anti-Semitism. If accusing Israel of genocide isn’t defamation of Jewish people, I don’t know what is. Yet Jonathan Greenblatt, the executive director of the Anti-Defamation League, is a prominent defender of BLM.
Riley then cites Greenblatt on BLM: “‘There are those who are attempting to smear this movement as inherently anti-Semitic,’ Mr. Greenblatt wrote in a September 2020 Medium post. ‘It is not.’ He added that while ‘some individuals and organizations associated with the Black Lives Matter movement have engaged in antisemitic rhetoric,’ it ‘would be foolish to cede the conversation to the most intemperate voices.’”
Greenblatt responded to Riley’s op-ed with a November 5 letter to the editor in which he again disingenuously suggests that only certain chapters of BLM engage in anti-Semitic and anti-Israel vitriol. He then seeks to justify his embrace of BLM by noting the historic importance of the black-Jewish alliance, seeming to delusionally aver that BLM is part of such an alliance.
The tack, reflected in Greenblatt’s letter, of avoiding criticism of anti-Semitism emanating from sources on the Left and justifying doing so by alluding to transcending shared interests, is common in left-leaning Jewish institutional circles. For example, in June, 2022, the North Carolina Democrat Party passed two lie-filled anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist resolutions, resolutions parroting both Islamist and neo-Nazi propaganda. The state’s Jewish Democrats organization would not prioritize removal of the resolutions because, as the provisional chair of the North Carolina Jewish Democrats opined, to do so would distract from supposedly weightier issues. He is quoted as saying, “We believe these internal party arguments are distracting and do not allow us to focus on such alarming events as the elimination of women’s control of their bodies…”
Another common tack in the same vein, likewise downplaying anti-Semitism from leftist or other non-far-Right sources and offering a rationale for doing so, is for Jewish bodies to assert that what is construed as anti-Semitism is really a corollary to the relevant sources’ criticisms of Israel and that the latter has some justification. (This can perhaps best be understood as a contemporary version of the hoary pattern of elements of Jewish communities under siege embracing the indictments of the besiegers and blaming other segments of the community – often segments across political or religious or social divides – for the ascribed transgressions.)
One can see this tack repeatedly at play, for example, within the leadership ranks of Reform Judaism, by far the largest American Jewish denomination in terms of congregations and members. Particularly under the presidency of Richard Jacobs, criticism of leftist sources of anti-Jewish invective has been muted or interpreted as reflecting not unreasonable disenchantment with Israel. Over the last two-plus decades the Israeli electorate has swung markedly to the right. It initially did so in response to the failure of the Oslo Accords, torpedoed by Yasser Arafat’s rejection of all proposals – including those of then President Clinton – for a final resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and his unleashing a terror war that claimed more than a thousand Israeli lives. This shift in voter sentiment was further reinforced by Israel’s subsequent unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the disasters that have followed upon that even prior to October 7. But the Reform leadership and many of its followers have been critical of the Israeli political landscape and more than prepared to make common cause with much of the anti-Israel sentiment within the American Left.
An example reflective of this is the Reform Movement’s declaring three years ago its opposition to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism being codified in law. The definition has been endorsed by many governmental and civic institutions and other bodies, but the Reform leadership takes issue with elements of the definition related to Israel.
The declaration, by four organizations within the Reform Movement, states, “Our commitment to principles of free speech and concerns about the potential abuse of the definition compel us to urge its use only as intended: as a guide and an awareness raising tool. The definition should not be codified into policy that would trigger potentially problematic punitive action to circumscribe speech, efforts which have been particularly aimed at college students and human rights activists.”
And a Jewish Telegraphic Agency article on the Reform Movement declaration quotes a statement by Reform president Jacobs in which he makes explicit unhappiness with labeling critiques of Israel anti-Semitic: “I think there is a concerning trend to label groups, including Jewish groups, that are strongly critical of Israeli policy — whether those are policies within the Green Line, whether those are policies in the occupied West Bank — as anti-Semitic, and in a sense demonize those organizations.”
But the IHRA definition offers examples of attacks on Israel that it deems anti-Semitic, and they do not include criticisms of Israeli policies such as those alluded to by Jacobs. Among the IHRA examples are: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.” And “Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
Why would the Reform Movement oppose such attacks on Israel being labeled anti-Semitic?
The Reform declaration regarding codifying the IHRA definition in law also states that the definition’s Israel examples “must not divert attention from the more frequent manifestations of antisemitism, too often violent, emanating from new streams in the hate movements… streams primarily associated with the far right.”
First, while anti-Semitism from the far right has been growing, is dangerous, and certainly is not to be ignored, it is simply untrue to assert that far right Jew-hatred is responsible for “the more frequent manifestations of antisemitism.” This was an obviously absurd claim to any unbiased observer before October 7 and is even more obviously so today. Far right Jew-hatred, however poisonous and dangerous it is, remains largely marginalized in America. In contrast, leftist anti-Semitism has penetrated much further into the American mainstream, as has Islamist anti-Semitism. But much of American Jewish institutional life, and its leaders, identify with left-dominated segments of the society that have become increasingly anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist – again, academia, cultural elites, the mainstream media, social media, elements of the Democrat party. And major Jewish institutions and their leaders have responded, as noted earlier, by refraining from calling out the anti-Semitism of those sources, or by muting their criticisms and choosing to construe anti-Jewish attacks from those sources as a function of supposedly understandable unhappiness with Israel.
And the Reform concerns about the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism being codified in law is a reflection of this perversion of what ought to be the priorities of Jewish institutions. It is overwhelmingly leftist sources of Jew-hatred that promote the extreme, bigoted attacks on Israel cited as examples of anti-Semitism by the IHRA definition. It is leftist sources that the Reform movement chooses to identify with and defend, like the “college students and human rights activists” referred to in the Reform declaration. And the Reform stance then amplifies the betrayal of the Jewish community implicit in this defense of leftist bigots by asserting that it is thereby protecting the community. It is doing so, it asserts, by preventing the calling out of anti-Semitism being misdirected from the supposed main threat, that of the far right.
For any Jews who genuinely care about Israel – and that is most – and care about the well-being of the American Jewish community, a reassessment of long-held political assumptions is far overdue. The existential task is to make expressing and promoting Jew-hatred costly, no matter what the source. Whether it be the Jew-baiting of the far right or the campuses or legacy media, or social media, or cultural elites or the Democrat party, it must be forcefully, unhesitatingly and unambiguously attacked. A cost must be exacted as well from those organizations in the Jewish community that have for too long indulged many Jew-haters and Israel-haters. For American Jews to do otherwise, to continue to ply old, failed paths, is to court communal disaster.
Kenneth Levin is a psychiatrist and historian and author of The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege.