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Anti-Semitism 101

University of California, Irvine.

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.

Relevant Links
Fighting Back  Kenneth L. Marcus, Minding the Campus. In October 2010, after a lengthy campaign, the federal Office of Civil Rights agreed to investigate anti-Jewish discrimination on campus; it remains to be seen whether the policy will be enforced.
The Reality of Campus Anti-Semitism  Cary Nelson, Jonathan S. Tobin, Contentions. An exchange between the president of the American Association of University Professors and the executive editor of Commentary magazine.

Enough 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 discussion. Judgments regarding Jews' "character" are at the core of the new campus anti-Semitism as well, but today they relate exclusively to Israel.

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 Jerold Auerbach shows here, a strict quota on the number of Jews admitted 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, including the college president, 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 non-recognized 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.

The 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 and abusive anti-Semites in order to do so, especially if the attacks on Jews stem from a designated "victim" class.

As Eunice Pollack shows in her own contribution, today's Muslims and Palestinians draw on the earlier experiences of radical black students. 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 from today's protected groups 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 in order to be on the "right side." 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. One has to do with belief, and specifically 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 under the names of "social justice" and "human rights," form a particular class unto themselves, and one 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 desirous of joining a country club.

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 in the form of Zionism, violated the ideal of Jews as the revolutionary vanguard who would lead the world toward the disappearance of national and ethnic difference. 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 the novelist Howard Jacobson in The Finkler Question, the highest form of Jewishness resides, precisely, in the public repudiation of Jewishness.

This last syndrome feeds into and off of a relatively new and ominous 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 repressed: namely, 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, situated right next door and 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 of opinion affected by their preachments.

Alex Joffe is a research scholar with the Institute for Jewish and Community Research.

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SW on May 6, 2011 at 3:28 am (Reply)
Some of the pre-Nazi European strains of radicalism were essentially against "the state" while for society. In this, they might have used similar language in a current of onrushing rhtetoric, but the theme was clear. Being against "the state" was not being against one particular state and its ruling class -- this is the model of the party system in which political oposition is the fiction, while the reality builds ever bigger and more indebted government -- but against encroaching government itself. The early 20th century radicalism often was simply against "rulers" and for some kind of "live and let live" individualism. This of course challenged all forms of government and their various "divine rights." Anti-Semitism is directed not only against Jews but the underlying reality that the survival of Judaism has been a thorn in the side of the monolithic views of government, as decider of what "society" should be. That decision was easy for them, for it meant "under the authority of the state." The stubborn independence of Jews has remained an affront to statists to this day, and the current crop of vicious anti-Semites all preach a "state" over a "society," whether it be Leftist secularism or militant Islam and sharia. That we might "walk away" from such monolithic command remains an affront to them. Same theme acted out today as in earlier centuries. A "world of opinion affected by their preachments" becomes a world with only one allowed opinion, of course. For this to be a reality, Judaism's independence must be curtailed. I pray the opposite will be our future.
Ed Beaugard on May 6, 2011 at 7:16 am (Reply)
I agree with most of this article, except for:

"When criticized, Martin was defended by administrators, including the college president, on the grounds of "academic freedom," today's last refuge of scoundrels."

I think "academic freedom" or "free speech" must be defended, not matter how awful, stupid or objectionable the things being said by anyone.
Also, another problem is the idea of a "victim class". If it were me, I would not be lobbying for protection as a victim class, but that's a very long discussion to really explain it.
independent patriot on May 6, 2011 at 8:15 am (Reply)
I have mentioned this time and time again...why does the defense of the Jewish people fall upon a group of 18 year old children when there are huge National Jewish Organizations which are supposed to stand for protection of Jews? Where are these groups? Why do they not protect our children at university? The problem with Jewish American Organizations is that they are too afraid to have their liberal credentials challenged. They are happy to turn on their fellow Jews and allow them to be maligned in order to keep their liberal credentials in tact. Those of us who have children in this age range, will do what we have to do to protect our children. To hell with the Jewish organizations in this country. They are a shundah.
SW on May 6, 2011 at 9:55 am (Reply)
Mr. Beauregard rightly comments, "I think 'academic freedom' or 'free speech' must be defended, not matter how awful, stupid or objectionable the things being said by anyone."

I suggest the phrase, "academic freedom," is used often to mean cherry-picked speech, for all too often the universities stand ready to censure if not outright censor speech which they themselves dislike, and this double standard, which is definitely not "free speech," is what is meant by the fumbling phrase, "academic freedom." How often have we seen academic freedom not applied to that which the "academy" disallows?

This augments the observation by "patroit" that "liberal credentials" are often the stumbling point. Here in Europe I see those who would deny the Holocaust spoken of as "right-wing," when their politics usually is best defined as socialist, if not an outright advocacy of totalitarianism.

"Free speech" is free, which means fools may also speak, but it does not mean fools may in their "right to speak" assert also a right to silence others. This is what "academic freedom" often means. Sadly.
Grantman on May 6, 2011 at 5:46 pm (Reply)
@independent patriot - you are right on target. Today, for so many Jews, liberalism is more important than Judaism. I never thought I'd be grateful that my son is going to a mid-sized university in Alabama where he's one of a handful of Jews (maybe).

I can tell you he's much better off with these sons of the south than going to a school up in the northeast where I was originally from.

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