OpinionAntisemitism

Colleges already flunking their tests on antisemitism

In a woke minefield, disarming antisemitism is of very low priority. Another academic year and so many new accusations against Jews to learn.

McCosh 50, the largest lecture hall on campus, renovated in 2021. Credit: Politics Is Exciting via Wikimedia Commons.
McCosh 50, the largest lecture hall on campus, renovated in 2021. Credit: Politics Is Exciting via Wikimedia Commons.
Thane Rosenbaum. Credit: Courtesy.
Thane Rosenbaum
Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, law professor and Distinguished University Professor at Touro University, where he directs the Forum on Life, Culture & Society. His most recent book is “Saving Free Speech ... From Itself.”

Colleges and universities are back for the Fall semester, but when it comes to the rising swells of antisemitism that have overtaken campus greens as of late, it’s never too early to issue report cards. Failing grades are nearly everywhere, with some of the top schools managing to attract the most fashionable Jew-haters.

In a woke minefield, disarming antisemitism is of very low priority. Another academic year and so many new accusations against Jews to learn. It’s positively exhilarating.

Take Princeton University. That’s where Albert Einstein ended up after fleeing the Nazis, occupying an office at a time when Jews were scarce on campus. Today, you don’t need to be an Einstein to teach there. This semester, Princeton is tarnishing its Ivy League credentials by offering a course titled, “The Healing Humanities—Decolonializing Trauma Studies from the Global South.” Listed on the course syllabus is a book called “The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity and Disability.”

Yes, I know: Neither the course description nor the book title are written in any known language. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is a friend of jargon and an enemy of grammar. The consequences of eroding academic standards are apparent everywhere.

But this curriculum word salad is rancid in yet another way. By assigning “The Right to Maim” to its students, the Princeton Humanities Department is endorsing a book, and the public pronouncements of its author, that charge the Israel Defense Forces with harvesting the organs of Palestinians and deliberately shooting to maim, and devising ways to stunt the growth, of Palestinian children.

Any proof for these defamatory assertions? No, not necessary on campuses where critical thinking is an elective these days, with citations and references optional. The author of the book was once asked whether she could supply empirical data substantiating her claims. She casually replied that her main goal was to get the attention of the reader. Well, at least she’s a good student of history, smart enough to know that scapegoating Jews never fails to attract a crowd—no matter the country, regardless of era.

Age-old blood libels are suddenly newfangled and repackaged for the Ivy League. The blood of Christian children as an essential ingredient in matzoh was always preposterous. It was time for an update. Maiming and deforming Palestinian children is much more believable. The Start-up Nation’s accolades for high-tech innovation apparently betrayed a less admirable sideline business: cornering the market on Palestinian organs.

Her book also popularizes the “pink-washing” canard: The safe haven the LGBTQ community enjoys in Israel—unlike the barbarism they experience in Arab and Muslim societies—is at the expense of Palestinian suffering. Sexual and gender equality is merely a diversionary smokescreen that masks Israel’s far more unsightly human rights abuses.

And then there’s the City University of New York Graduate Center’s (“CUNY”) unfortunate hiring of notorious antisemite Marc Lamont Hill. Remember him? Hill was fired from CNN in 2018 after delivering a speech at the United Nations where he invoked the genocidal slogan: “free Palestine from the river to the sea.” After that he managed to secure an endowed chair at Temple University before decamping for a larger urban and academic stage at CUNY. Give CUNY credit for landing an accomplished Jew-hater, and for its consistency. The law school made headlines just a few months ago after inviting a commencement speaker who spewed similar attacks against Israel, and against the NYPD.

These recent events at CUNY are all the more tragic given the long history of Jewish accomplishment at the city college system. Over a dozen Jewish graduates from CUNY were awarded Nobel prizes in medicine and science—including two women. Most colleges and universities in the United States have never produced a single one. CUNY was once a bastion of academic excellence and institutional integrity. Now it’s the home of mediocrity, and Marc Lamont Hill.

On the west coast, the University of California in Berkeley’s law school student association last year voted to ban Zionist speakers from appearing on campus—even if invited to speak about something other than Israel.

Unfortunately, the university is picking up where it left off—just last week six students vandalized a Jewish fraternity house by leaving mounds of shellfish outside the front door and tossed into an open window. At least the vandals got the laws of kashrut right. Red snapper don’t carry the same symbolic insult.

At both Princeton and CUNY, these acts of implicit, if not direct, antisemitism were immediately defended by calls for academic freedom and protection under the First Amendment. Would Princeton have acted differently had a Jewish professor assigned a book alleging that southern plantations served as winter resorts for vacationing African-Americans?

University officials at Berkeley are now claiming that the shellfish incident had nothing to do with antisemitism at all. Can it be that the littering of shrimp is yet another social pathology of the Bay Area?

There’s only one thing to be certain of:  Antisemitism on campus never seems to graduate. A student can major in humanities and yet walk around thinking that Jews are inhuman. Hatred is that adaptable. It refuses to outgrow adolescence. Maturity, actually, can lead to more hardened hearts.

History, remarkably, shows that antisemitism has been welcomed everywhere—including places where Jews have never lived. It is practiced by young and old alike. And nowadays, whether in the workplace, town square, or college gathering spots, antisemitism is no longer confined to inner thoughts and dark shadows. It is being more openly embraced. On campus, it resonates with professors and willing pupils. It’s a woefully unacknowledged crisis. Jewish life on campus is devolving into a ceaseless hazing ritual—the Greeks opting for something more Germanic.

It feels as though I had written a similar essay a year ago. Turns out, I did.

Colleges are opening their doors while minds are simultaneously closing. Custodial duties are being forsaken. The life of the mind is in the hands of haters. For Jewish students, the Days of Awe are lately coinciding with days of dread.

Originally published by the Jewish Journal.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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