Ivy League universities are poisoned with antisemitism - opinion

Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, and other Ivy League universities are rife with antisemitism, both in class, in admissions, and on campus.

 Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey.  (photo credit: TIM ALEX/UNSPLASH)
Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey.
(photo credit: TIM ALEX/UNSPLASH)

Thirty-three years ago, I stood amid the ivy-covered architecture on the campus of Princeton University and proudly tossed my cap in the air along with my fellow graduating students.

The feeling of elation upon completion of our studies at the august institution, which was founded in 1746 and was the site of a famous battle in 1777 during the American Revolution, was hard to contain. We all felt a sense of accomplishment, and I was proud to call myself a Princetonian.

But in recent years, amid rising antisemitism at my alma mater, as well as other Ivy League colleges, I am sorry to say that my youthful sense of school pride has unfortunately withered.

I may still be a Princetonian, but I am first and foremost a Jew, and I grieve over the rise in anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiments on campus and the school administration’s failure to curtail them.

Take, for example, the report on Ynet this past Sunday, which revealed that a new course at Princeton this fall includes a book in its syllabus which claims that the Israeli army harvests Palestinian organs.

Buildings in Harvard Yard are reflected in frozen puddle at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, January 20, 2015. (credit: REUTERS/BRIAN SNYDER)
Buildings in Harvard Yard are reflected in frozen puddle at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, January 20, 2015. (credit: REUTERS/BRIAN SNYDER)

The course, titled The Healing Humanities: Decolonizing Trauma Studies from the Global South, is scheduled to be taught by assistant professor of Near Eastern studies Satyel Larson.

Part of the required reading is a book called The Right to Maim, which alleges that Israeli soldiers deliberately shoot Palestinians with the intention of maiming rather than killing them so as to make use of their organs.

This is nothing less than a modern-day version of the medieval antisemitic blood libel. Incredibly, when contacted by Ynet, Princeton University refused to comment, as though the fact that blatant Jew-hatred will be taught on campus is not worthy of a reaction.

And yet, we all know how different things would be if the book in question was directed at African-Americans, Latinos, or any other ethnic group. But when it comes to Jews, reviving an age-old slander is apparently considered acceptable in the halls of academia.

Antisemitism infects US Ivy League universities

IN FEBRUARY, in yet another example of anti-Jewish hostility, Princeton hosted a writer named Mohammad El-Kurd, who is perhaps best known for labeling “Zionist settlers” as “sadistic, barbaric, neo-Nazi pigs.” He has also glorified terrorism, praised the Second Intifada, and even claimed that Israeli soldiers consume the organs of dead Palestinians.

When a group of 41 Princeton undergraduates asked the university’s English Department merely to condemn El-Kurd’s outrageous bile, the learned professors refused to do so.

Sadly, Princeton is hardly alone in the Ivy League in experiencing widespread antisemitism.

Last December, a report by the AMCHA Initiative (a nonprofit organization dedicated to investigating and combating antisemitism at institutions of higher education in America) about Jew-hatred on campus found that Harvard University had more antisemitic incidents in 2021-22 than any other institution of higher learning in the country. These included tearing down posters from Harvard Hillel advertising Jewish events, attempts to disrupt pro-Israel speakers, and the painting of a swastika on a college dorm.

Ira Stoll, a Harvard graduate who works at the university, told The Jewish Chronicle (UK), “The level of antisemitism on campus over the past year is shocking, embarrassing, disgraceful – like nothing I’ve seen before.”

Another report, issued in September 2022 by the Stop Antisemitism organization, gave failing marks to both Yale and Columbia universities. Regarding Yale, it found that “Students do not feel that the school administration take antisemitism seriously enough and feel that complaints of antisemitism on campus are ignored.”

Moreover, many Jewish students at Yale said they do not feel comfortable “in expressing their Jewish identity or their support for Israel and believe that they are held responsible for Israel’s actions.”

As for Columbia, students indicated that there exists “a hostile and antisemitic environment when their identity or Zionist beliefs are expressed.”

THE HOSTILITY that Jews face on Ivy League college campuses is not confined to the classroom. It also seems to extend to admissions offices too, as there has been a dramatic nosedive in recent years in the number of Jews being allowed to attend.

A revealing article published in Tablet Magazine this past April noted that “The number of Jews on major Ivy League campuses has been cut in half or more over the past decade.”

This is largely due to “new elite doctrines that downplay merit in favor of amorphous definitions of ‘diversity’ and ‘privilege.’” Put more bluntly: Deserving Jewish students are being turned away because of their skin color.

Indeed, whereas just two or three decades ago, Jews constituted 25% to 33% of the student population at some of the top schools, those numbers have fallen precipitously. As Tablet put it, “Today, it has become a perceivable reality that Jews are no longer being admitted to Ivy League schools in their former numbers.”

Whether or not there are quotas on the number of Jews is anyone’s guess, but the sizable drop in Jewish students being admitted hardly appears coincidental.

Why does all this matter?

America’s top universities are, in many ways, the crucible in which the nation’s future leaders are forged, their minds are shaped, and views are sculpted. The poisonous anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiment in the air is bound to impact how graduates view Jews and the Jewish state, even as the growing dearth of Jewish students makes it less likely such attitudes will be challenged.

As institutions which purport to preach tolerance, openness, and understanding, they need to move swiftly to combat the growing Jew-hatred that has infected their campuses.

And given their historical legacy of anti-Jewish admissions policies, when Jews were subjected to quotas until as late as the 1950s and 1960s, it is the height of chutzpah for Ivy League schools to once again be engaging in such restrictive practices.

Since 1859, Princeton’s school song has been “Old Nassau,” whose lyrics include “In praise of Old Nassau, we sing, hurrah, hurrah, hurrah! Our hearts will give, while we shall live, three cheers for Old Nassau!”

Regrettably, those cheers have been increasingly drowned out by antisemitic slurs and anti-Israel vitriol on Princeton’s campus.

The time has come for the university leadership to stand up to the hate so that Old Nassau can once again evoke hurrahs rather than harrumphs. 

The writer, who graduated from Princeton in 1990, served as deputy communications director under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his first term of office.