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A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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Let’s talk about antisemitism on college campuses

Daniel Swindell
Jewish students on the campus of the University of Missouri talk to police after a Shabbat Table was vandalized on campus.

In the wake of continued pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses that effectively rationalize the Hamas atrocities of Oct. 7 against Israel, it is worth further examining the stunning testimony of the three college presidents of University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, and MIT before a House committee on Dec. 5 that exposed the antisemitism at those universities and academia at large.

Amazingly, the three women could not bring themselves to answer yes to Rep. Elise Stefanic’s question as to whether calling for genocide against Jews would be a violation of their school’s code of conduct. Instead, they said it would depend on “context.” Such equivocation shocked most observers, but anyone familiar with contemporary academic culture should not be surprised with their response.

Remember that the vast majority of faculty and administrators at universities, particularly elite institutions such as the Ivy League schools, are not only liberal Democrats (based on data on campaign donations and party affiliations) but also support a far-left narrative grounded in “post-colonialism,” “critical race theory,” “intersectionality,” and other such concepts that view the United States, Israel, whites, Jews and other “privileged” groups as “oppressors.” Thus, even if Hamas’s Oct. 7 actions were over-the-top- terrorism that provoked the current round of violence, most of the professoriate and much of the student body tend to see a moral equivalency between the latter and Israeli killing of civilians in Gaza. Indeed, many accord the Palestinians the higher moral ground, never mind that Israel has the right of self-defense in resorting to armed force against aggression and has generally adhered to international humanitarian law as much as possible in trying to distinguish between combatants and noncombatants.

In being so preoccupied with defending free speech and academic freedom — being super-sensitive not to offend their left-leaning campus constituents engaged in pro-Palestinian protests — the main sin committed by the three presidents was not only lack of moral clarity but gross hypocrisy.

I am supportive of the First Amendment. I believe we should err on the side of maximizing free speech—the correct formula should be “censure, not censor,” that is, the primary guard against outrageous speech is to meet it with counter-speech criticizing it, not necessarily to ban it. However, if speech crosses a bright line, such as inciting to violence, it can and should be banned. Moreover, in exercising speech policing, universities should be consistent in the rules they apply. 

It was almost comical how the three presidents refused to condemn genocide against Jews when their universities and other such institutions have been so quick to engage in cancel culture and ban speech from conservative speakers delivering much less inflammatory language. For example:

• In 2023 the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression ranked Harvard last on its “free speech” rankings among 248 universities.

• Dorian Abbot, professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, had his lecture at MIT canceled in 2021 due to his having written an op-ed criticizing “woke ideology” and supporting “merit-based” hiring.

• Professor Amy Wax of the University of Pennsylvania law school has had disciplinary procedures instituted against her because she raised concerns about the academic performance of minorities.

• The chancellor of the University of California-Berkeley, on her webpage, urged faculty to avoid using such “microaggression” phrases as “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”

• Faculty at many universities have been threatened with firing for refusing to use certain pronouns in class.

Suffice it to say, Harvard, Penn, MIT and other universities are very selective in limiting speech. Apparently committing genocide against Jews does not clearly qualify as speech that crosses the line, while far less outrageous speech does.

As noted above, the explanation is that antisemitism does not quite fit the dominant ideological narrative that tends to prompt university leadership to speak out more loudly in support of Black Lives Matter and LBGTQ folks, victims of Islamophobia, and other persons of color. The sad reality is that even the most savage, barbaric murders, rapes, beheadings, and other atrocities committed against Jews, including children and Holocaust survivors, does not yet quite rise to the level of obscenity worthy of unequivocal condemnation by leaders even at our most elite universities, some of whom are Jewish. 

I might note that Yale’s current president, Peter Salovey, is Jewish. He has announced his forthcoming retirement. Yale is the only Ivy League university never to have had a female president. I am guessing, given current identity politics, his successor will be a woman, maybe Black, surely “progressive.” Never mind the gender or color or religion, unless as a society we commit to changing “the narrative,” universities will remain obtuse when it comes to antisemitism.

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