Think Again: Campus thought control

On about 200 campuses, there are annual Israel Apartheid Week rallies calling for the destruction of the State of Israel. Many of the events are formally sponsored by academic departments.

By
July 9, 2015 12:06
Michael Oren

Michael Oren. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Former US ambassador Michael Oren relates in Ally: My Journey Across the American- Israeli Divide how he was warned by journalist Jeffrey Goldberg that US President Barack Obama would pick a fight with Israel from day one. Sadly, that prediction – unlike Goldberg’s repeated assurances that Obama was serious about a military option against Iran – proved correct. On day one, Obama demanded a complete settlement freeze and made no distinction, in Oren’s words, between the extension of a balcony in Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood and building in Itamar.

Soon thereafter, the administration declared president George W. Bush’s April 14, 2004, letter acknowledging that Israel would retain the settlement blocs in any peace deal to be null and void, even though the letter was the quid pro quo for Israel’s 2005 expulsion of 8,000 Jews from their homes in the Gaza Strip.

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In a meeting with Democratic Jewish congressmen shortly thereafter, the latter were almost unanimously supportive of the president.

Oren exited the meeting concerned about both the American-Jewish community and continued bipartisan support for Israel.

He had good cause on both counts. By the time he left office, Oren had sized up the Jewish community’s response to the threat of Israel’s annihilation by an Iranian nuclear weapon as “for the most part removed and impassive.”

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And pollster Frank Luntz provided the Israeli government with some distressing results this week about waning Democratic support. Among highly educated, high income, politically involved Democrats, 76 percent believe that Israel wields too much control over American foreign policy; almost one half think Israel is a racist country and less than a half think Israel desires peace. Some 45% said they would be more likely to support a candidate who criticized Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians. The contrast with Republicans could not have been sharper.

Luntz’s findings come at a time when numerous polls show America trending more liberal and Democratic Party identification up.

TO A large extent those worrisome trends reflect the hegemony of leftist thought in the groves of academe in America. Those Democrats polled by Luntz are shaped in America’s universities, where a particular political orthodoxy is ever more entrenched. America’s universities spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually ensuring every type of diversity, except one: diversity of thought.

At the University of Iowa Law School, for instance, until very recently 49 out of 50 members of the faculty were registered Democrats. Of 155 Princeton faculty and staff members who contributed to the presidential campaign in 2012, only two contributed to Mitt Romney – a visiting engineering professor and a custodian.

Not by accident is the most leftist dominated segment of American life also that in which free speech is least protected. Kirsten Powers (a Democrat) has written a new book called The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech. Much of that book is devoted to American universities where left-wing students, administrators and faculty have sent the message that “anyone [who] strays off the leftist script... might find themselves investigated, harassed, ostracized, even expelled” because their speech has given offense.

Nearly 60% of the colleges and universities in America have campus speech codes that dramatically restrict, if not obliterate, freedom of speech. One, for instance, bars students from “offending... a member of the university community.”

Fordham University prohibits using email to “insult.” Offense and insult are determined by the ones so offended. Numerous universities have instituted “trigger warnings” on course content to warn students that course material may cause them distress by challenging their worldview.

Janet Napolitano, chancellor of the University of California system, the nation’s largest, recently instituted seminars for deans and department chairs to guide them in things that should no longer be said because they constitute “micro-aggressions,” defined as “brief, subtle verbal or non-verbal exchanges that send denigrating message to the recipient because of his or her group membership.”

Included are such statements as “America is a land of opportunity”; “I believe that the most qualified person should get the job”; “America is a melting-pot” and “affirmative action is racist.”

Each of these “suggestions” seeks to impose a particular societal vision and/or foreclose societal debate. They constitute a liberal version of the Gulag’s reeducation centers. Objections to the first two statements are based on a desire to portray America as so racist that individual talent and hard work are virtually irrelevant and it is impossible to speak of a hirings based on merit. “America is a melting-pot” is objectionable, because it prefers the traditional view of America as an affirmational society bound together by certain common ideas over the multicultural vision of a balkanized society based on ethnic, racial and sexual identities. The view that non-colorblind admissions and hiring is inherently racist is one side of a long-standing debate, and it just happens to be the view adopted by the US Supreme Court of late.

A group of Scholars of Color recently disrupted a class at UCLA, charging that the tenured professor had committed “micro-aggressions” against them. Example: The professor changed one student’s capitalization of “indigenous” to lower case, and thus disrespected her ideological point of view. Were the students punished for disrupting a class? No. The 79-year-old professor was instructed to stay off the graduate campus for a year, and UCLA commissioned an “Independent Investigative Report on Acts of Bias and Discrimination Involving Faculty.”

At Marquette University, a Jesuit school, Prof.

John McAdams was stripped of tenure and fired for a blog post, in which he criticized by name a graduate teaching assistant who had told a student that he could not defend the traditional Catholic teaching on same-gender marriage in class because it might offend other students.

McAdams wrote that the graduate student had used “a tactic typical among liberals now.

Opinions with which they disagree are not merely wrong and are not to be argued against on their merits, but are deemed ‘offensive’ and need to be shut up.”

His firing proved how right he was and how effective those tactics have proven.

Not all offense is equal. Jewish students live in a hostile environment, which can at times be genuinely frightening, on many campuses across America. Last summer, Boston police had to protect pro-Israel students over three successive days from pro-Palestinian mobs shouting “Jews back to Birkenau.” Over 50% of Jewish students report that they have personally experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism.

No one, it seems, is particularly concerned about aggressions – micro or otherwise – against them, even though Jew hatred is not exactly an unknown phenomenon throughout history.

On about 200 campuses, there are annual Israel Apartheid Week rallies calling for the destruction of the State of Israel. Many of the events are formally sponsored by academic departments and promoted by professors on their emails.

Ruth Wisse, in “Anti-Semitism Goes to School” (in the May Mosaic) describes how a group of pro-Palestinian student groups demanded that candidates for student government at UCLA and Berkeley sign a pledge that they will not participate in trips to Israel organized by groups like AIPAC or Aish International’s Hasbara Fellowships. Most candidates refused to sign, but the student government president did.

While expressing discomfort with the pledge, UCLA’s Jewish chancellor declined to go further on the grounds that promotion of the pledge is a form of free speech. When it comes to leftists, minorities and those otherwise easily offended, the subjective hurt of those offended trumps free speech; when it comes to insult and intimidation of Jewish students, however, the value of campus free inquiry and speech is suddenly rediscovered.

As Wisse puts it, “Institutions that enforce ‘sensitivity training’ to ensure toleration for gays, blacks and other minorities may inadvertently be bringing some of these groups together in common hostility to Jews as the only campus minority against whom hostility is condoned.”

Crossing the Line 2: The New Face on Anti-Semitism on Campus, an excellent documentary by Jerusalem U intersperses interviews with Jewish students with scenes form campus anti-Israel rallies. In one surreal scene, Becky Sebo, a student at Ohio University speaking against a student government Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions resolution, is dragged away in handcuffs by police. The police were called by the student government president, whom we see in another scene pouring a bucket of blood on herself in support of BDS.

In two weeks, we will discuss the ideological underpinnings of what has been called liberal fascism, and its implications for Jews and Israel.

The writer is director of Jewish Media Resources, has written a regular column in The Jerusalem Post Magazine since 1997, and is the author of eight biographies of modern Jewish leaders.


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