columnSchools & Higher Education

Sue and defund schools that tolerate antisemitism

What happened at Haverford College is a case study in how respected liberal institutions are harming Jewish students. They need to be held accountable.

Haverford College in the Philadelphia suburbs, May 15, 2024. Photo by Carin M. Smilk.
Haverford College in the Philadelphia suburbs, May 15, 2024. Photo by Carin M. Smilk.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

Haverford College is a small liberal arts school in the bucolic suburbs of Philadelphia. But its standing as an elite institution is long established. Acknowledged as among the most selective in the nation, it rejected 87.1% of those who applied for admission in 2023. Publications that rank colleges for their academic standing routinely place them among those at the top of the field. It is hardly surprising then that it cultivates an atmosphere of stereotypical smug elitism of prestigious higher education as well as a campus culture in which progressive ideologies dominate the administration, coursework and discourse.

As such, Haverford is, for all its Quaker origins and efforts to stand out as offering a unique educational experience, fairly typical of American universities in the spring of 2024. What has happened there in the seven months since the Oct. 7 Hamas massacres in southern Israel is likely not much different from what is going on at many other institutions of higher education, including those that still aspire to the sort of high standing that Haverford takes for granted.

And that’s why the lawsuit recently filed in federal district court about the school’s tolerance—and even encouragement—of antisemitic speech and actions gives us more than just a rendering of its violations of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that forbid that kind of discriminatory conduct. The accounts of what Jewish students have had to put up with at Haverford are, in and of themselves, scandalous.

They also paint a disturbing portrait of campus life that calls into question all the assumptions about the acceptance of Jews in the United States. It not only makes it clear that contempt for Jewish sensibilities and even outright hatred directed at Jews is something that is not confined to the fever swamps of extremists. Rather, it is considered acceptable in a venue where the sort of people who will run this country in the future get their college degrees.

Left-wing antisemitism on campus

What’s more, it also conclusively debunks the idea of antisemitism being predominantly, if not exclusively, a right-wing or conservative phenomenon that liberal elites consider not just normative but mandated by the dictates of contemporary academic culture. As such, it should force everyone—Jewish or non-Jewish—to confront the reality of contemporary antisemitism.

Just as important is the decision of the plaintiffs—a group of Jewish students, faculty and alumni represented by The Deborah Project, a Jewish public-interest law firm—to choose to directly sue the school. In most such instances where Jews speak up about antisemitism and violations of Title VI, they have merely reported them to the U.S. Department of Education, where they are added to the long list of pending investigations being conducted by the federal government.

Even if those investigations are not slow-walked by bureaucrats and lawyers not interested in imposing consequences on colleges violating the law, the nature of the process is such that real accountability is slow in coming, if it comes at all. Although the wheels of justice in the Haverford example may not grind as quickly as concerned citizens like, by putting the case in federal court rather than in the inbox of the Department of Education, the project is initiating litigation that arguably has a much better chance of bringing about far-reaching consequences for the school.

While a satisfactory conclusion to this fight is not a given, it raises the possibility that a verdict will be reached that could lead to the defunding of those institutions that have allowed their fealty to toxic woke ideas to unleash a storm of antisemitism on their students.

Administrators encourage Jew-hatred

The details of the lawsuit provide a harrowing triptych of post-Oct. 7 academic life. At the heart of it and what makes it particularly actionable is not just the hatred for Israel and Jews expressed by students and faculty after the worst mass slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust. It was the open acquiescence of the school administration to these incidents that constituted not merely inaction but could easily be understood as encouragement for bigotry.

Among them is the refusal of the school to allow Jewish students to set up a table at a basketball game where materials would be available to promote antisemitism awareness. Haverford dean John McKnight and the school’s athletic director, Danielle Lynch, told Ally Landau—the named plaintiff in the lawsuit and star player on the women’s basketball team—that she had to cancel the effort or else the game would be forfeited. Their reason was that the school believed that any talk about antisemitism on campus would provoke “pro-Palestinian students” and lead to a riot. While McKnight claimed that the decision to withdraw the proposal was Landau’s, she says that “is a lie.”

Other highlights of the suit include the reaction of Haverford president Wendy Raymond when she was confronted about a series of social-media posts by a professor at the college who reposted an image of a bulldozer used in the Oct. 7 attacks with the text: “We should never have to apologize for celebrating these scenes of an imprisoned people breaking free from their chains. This was a historic moment to be recorded in the history books.”

At a Jewish student event on campus, Raymond was asked whether the post by Tarik Aougab—who remains a Haverford math and statistics professor—should be considered antisemitism. Raymond answered that his statement “could be perceived in many ways.” When asked how she perceived it, she answered, ‘I hear people breaking free from their chains.’” The president of Haverford was not ashamed to admit to considering an image of the Oct. 7 orgy of mass murder, rape, torture and wanton destruction committed by Hamas and its Palestinian supporters to be something that she admired.

At stake here are not just egregious statements and actions by Haverford. It’s the blatant double standard used by the school to treat discriminatory speech and behavior.

Denying Jewish suffering

As is typical for contemporary academia, Haverford doesn’t tolerate speech and behavior considered disrespectful, let alone discriminatory, when it comes to various minority groups like African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians or those who identify as LGBTQ+. The school is notoriously intolerant when it comes to those who dissent from the current liberal fashion. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) list of American higher education ranks Haverford as 208 out of 248 schools when it comes to protecting free speech.

But as is the case elsewhere in academia, the hatred that is directed towards Jews with chants calling for Israel’s destruction (“from the river to the sea”) or terrorism against Jews (“globalize the intifada”) is defended as protected free speech. The lawsuit alleges that McKnight was asked about “the abundance of speech on Haverford’s campus that is virulently hostile to Jews and Israel,” and whether Haverford would “tolerate such speech directed at LGBTQIA students,” he said that the two groups are “not comparable.”

How is that possible?

The answer is that what goes on at Haverford is a perfect example of what happens when educators and students are indoctrinated with ideologies like critical race theory, intersectionality and the woke catechism of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). That mindset seeks to divide the world into two permanently warring groups of “white oppressors” and people of color, who are always their victims. True to its Marxist roots, these toxic ideas treat Jews and the State of Israel as inherently “white” and therefore always in the wrong, thus granting a permission slip for antisemitism. Only those who believe in these sorts of concepts could possibly ignore millennia of persecution, discrimination and violence against Jews to be insignificant when compared to those who embrace alternative sexual lifestyles.

What’s more, Haverford’s much-vaunted “honor code” specifically demands that its students adhere to a standard of conduct in which concerns about “anti-racism” and woke buzzwords like “privilege” and “microagressions” are treated as being as obligatory as refraining from cheating on tests.

Setting a precedent

That is why, in the words of Deborah Project legal director Lori Lowenthal Marcus, the lawsuit details “incident after incident of horrible, vile antisemitic statements, actions, activities, chants, disruptions, intimidation, harassment and oppression by members of the Haverford College community” that were “ignored, condoned or even praised” by top college administrators.

It is high time that behavior like that of Haverford’s was not just exposed but punished by demonstrating that it, as is the case in so many other colleges and universities, is in clear violation of Title VI. That ought to mean a judgment that will ensure that it loses all federal funds if it doesn’t fundamentally change its behavior.

Pushing for such an outcome is not a matter of repressing free speech. Private institutions don’t treat speech that they consider beyond the pale, such as racism against blacks and other minorities, to be protected. But they rediscover the First Amendment when it comes to antisemitism. A special carve out to protect Jew-haters isn’t just wrong, it’s a violation of the law.

The Haverford suit should therefore be treated as not just a wake-up call about terrible things going on at one privileged college. It must also serve as a call to arms for all those who care about halting the spike in antisemitism that is surging throughout the United States. It could mean the creation of a precedent that could help scare other colleges and universities into adopting policies that will prevent them from being put into the same position. In doing so, the litigation could, if successful, hasten the moment when left-wing antisemitism in the academy will truly be put on trial.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

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