This article was first published by
Jewish Ideas Daily (www.jewishideasdaily.com) and is reprinted with permission.
One of the many dismaying things about anti-Semitism is its lack of originality.
The rhetoric and setting change, but the substance persists. Anti- Semitism on
American campuses is no exception, but the mere fact that it exists, and that it
is virulent, is sufficient to merit the alarm it has caused.
material has accumulated on this particular instance of the general phenomenon
to form a subgenre of its own. Notable book-length entries include Academics
Against Israel and the Jews, a collection edited by Manfred Gerstenfeld; Jewish
Identity and Civil Rights in America by Kenneth Marcus, which addresses legal
issues related to Jews as an ethnic group; and Jerome Karabel’s earlier study,
The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and
Princeton,, on the history of admissions policies at elite institutions that
discriminated against Jews on account of their “character.”
These are now
joined by a new collection, Anti-Semitism on the Campus: Past and Present,
edited by Eunice Pollack, which ably and usefully extends the analytic
Judgments regarding Jews’ “character” are at the core of the
new campus anti-Semitism as well, but today they relate exclusively to
TO UNDERSTAND today’s phenomenon, it helps to know a little
pre-history. A good example is offered by women-only Wellesley College in
Massachusetts, where, as Jerrold Auerbach shows here, a strict quota on the
number of Jews was in place through the 1960s, and simple requests by Jewish
students for postponing examinations on Yom Kippur were denied as blithely as
were bids for tenure by religiously observant Jewish faculty. At the same time,
in its department of African-American studies, Wellesley employed a professor,
Tony Martin, who preached Afrocentric nonsense, and whose class assignments
featured The Secret Relationship between Blacks and Jews – an infamous tract
accusing Jews of being behind the slave trade. When criticized, Martin was
defended by administrators on the grounds of “academic freedom” – today’s last
refuge of scoundrels. Jewish students, increasingly marginalized, were forced to
choose between speaking out and shutting up; legally unrecognized as a minority,
they were not entitled to the federal protections against ethnic and other types
of harassment routinely afforded to all other groups on campus.
Martin case is symptomatic in more ways than one. It says something about the
sources of the new campus anti-Semitism, which emanates exclusively from the
precincts of the far Left, including the Jewish Left, and the Left’s political
allies: black and Muslim students and their organizations.
It also says
something about the abettors.
The bigoted but genteel WASP administrators
of the past are gone, replaced by bureaucrats who above all want to maintain
quiet, and who will indulge the most blatant anti-Semites in order to do so,
especially if the attacks on Jews stem from a designated “victim”
As Pollack shows in her own contribution, today’s Muslims and
Palestinians draw on the earlier experiences of radical black
The Nation of Islam, Malcolm X, Amiri Baraka, and Stokely
Carmichael were the real pioneers in demonizing Jews and Israel in the
universities (and beyond); in the process, they routinely made use of classical
anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist tropes.
The twinned Pavlovian responses of
university administrators – fear and condescension – have set the bar of
incitement so high that only physical violence is off-limits.
As for the
Jews who are being forced to choose between the perils of protest and the shame
of acquiescence, the overarching choice before them is framed in terms of their
support for Israel – a society charged with an original sin so evil that its
bearers must be shunned or eliminated.
For their part, professors,
including Jewish professors, tie themselves in knots to be on the “right
In a chapter discussing the situation at Berkeley, Edward
Alexander cites petitions demanding that the university divest from Israel. The
exercise, as if by design, puts all other Jews on notice: stand with the guilty
party – i.e., Israel – or with all right-thinking people. Speaking out in
opposition, pointing to the explicit double standards and implicit anti-Semitism
of the attackers, is routinely denounced as “censorship.”
WHY DO some
Jews on campus hate Israel with such a passion, ignoring all the glaringly
retrograde aspects of Palestinian society, including its own officially
propagated anti-Semitism? Why do some Jews align themselves with entities like
the Muslim Student Association – a recipient of funds from Saudi Arabia and
other repressive kleptocracies, abusers of women and homosexuals, and enemies of
religious freedom? At least two levels of explanation have been suggested,
including by Kenneth Lasson and Edward Alexander in this volume.
to do with the credo of cosmopolitanism, post-modernism, and post-nationalism
that pits today’s certified elites against such “bourgeois” allegiances as
nation and religion. Of course, those adhering to the cosmopolitan credo, whose
household gods go by the names of “social justice” and “human rights,” form a
particular class unto themselves, with strongly enforced taboos and privileges.
For Jews, membership in this class requires putting their own particularity
firmly behind them, just as it once did for Jews wanting to join a country
The other, related level is that of activism.
In the past,
for Jewish converts to communism, socialism, and other forms of radical leftism,
Jewish particularism, including Zionism, violated the ideal of Jews as the
revolutionary vanguard who would lead the world toward the disappearance of
national and ethnic differences. Today’s avatars seek acceptance not into a
country club, but into an elite fighting force. For some exponents of this type,
brilliantly skewered by novelist Howard Jacobson in The Finkler Question, the
highest form of Jewishness resides, precisely, in the public repudiation of
This last syndrome feeds into and off of a relatively new
phenomenon: the quasi-religious claim that, in essence, opposition to Israel is
a Jewish moral imperative. Enlisting biblical prophets in the cause of what
Reinhold Niebuhr derided as “perfectionist pacifism,” the claim also represents
something of a return of the one-time opposition to Zionism by elements of
classical Reform Judaism. As in the past, Jewish ethical pronouncements are
selectively deployed against other Jews; young Jews, especially on campus, are
told that solidarity with the Jewish state is an obstacle to their spiritual
fulfillment, which is to be sought rather in such politically correct pursuits
as tikkun olam.
American universities are not yet so poisoned as are
their counterparts in Great Britain and elsewhere. The example of Canadian
universities, however, unfortunately not discussed in this book, shows how all
this can change in an explicitly “multicultural” regime. As for the American
people, they are nowhere near as anti-Semitic or as anti-Israel as are Europeans
and others; it also helps to keep in mind that universities are not so much
bellwethers of the larger society as carefully manufactured and nurtured
artifacts. Still, the inroads of anti- Semitism into these islands of activism
are a warning of what could yet occur in the world at large of opinion affected
by their preachments.
The writer is a research scholar with the Institute
for Jewish and Community Research.