OpinionSchools & Higher Education

The ivory tower jihad

In the appalling scenes on campus, monstrous chickens are now coming home to roost.

Anti-Israel extremists set up a protest encampment on the campus of Columbia University in New York on April 22, 2024. Credit: Lev Radin/Shutterstock
Anti-Israel extremists set up a protest encampment on the campus of Columbia University in New York on April 22, 2024. Credit: Lev Radin/Shutterstock
Melanie Phillips
Melanie Phillips
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for The Times of London, her personal and political memoir, Guardian Angel, has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, The Legacy, in 2018. To access her work, go to: melaniephillips.substack.com.

The shocking scenes on campus over the past few days are far more significant than mere student demonstrations getting out of hand.

With “Gaza solidarity encampments” having already sprung up on more than 100 U.S. campuses (and with British campuses now following suit) Islamists and the hard-left have turned Western universities into a theater of war against Israel, the Jewish people and America.

At UCLA, a Jewish girl was knocked unconscious by the mob. On the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, the founder of Students Supporting Israel was repeatedly punched in the head, with one thug shouting “Go back to Europe, colonizer.”

At the Columbia University encampment, the mob called for “10,000 October 7ths” and screamed “Go back to Poland” and “Burn Tel Aviv to the ground.” One student, who said “Zionists don’t deserve to live,” was barred from campus but subsequently spotted in the mob that broke into and barricaded the university’s Hamilton Hall. 

Just as on Oct. 7 Hamas stormtroopers burst through the defenses of an Israel that was looking the other way, so their supporters have burst through inadequate Western defenses to turn the Palestinian cause into a beachhead in their war to bring down a West that refuses to acknowledge the threat it faces.

Apart from a few examples, such as when New York police tore down a Palestinian flag to restore the Stars and Stripes above City College and disbanded an encampment at Fordham University, with the LA police belatedly doing the same at UCLA, America has been signaling surrender to the mob.

The police should have been called in immediately to evict these unlawful encampments. Students perpetrating intimidation, incitement or violence should have been immediately expelled. Instead, Brown and Northwestern universities sought to appease the mobs by agreeing to consider their demands for divestment from Israel.

Columbia’s president Minouche Shafik similarly offered to throw the Israeli targets of genocide to the wolves by considering “new proposals on divestment and shareholder activism” and launching “educational and health programs in Gaza and the West Bank” because the protesters were “also fighting for an important cause, for the rights of Palestinians and against the humanitarian tragedy in Gaza.”

Not surprisingly, her gesture of veiled hostility to Israel sent a signal of impunity that resulted in the storming of Hamilton Hall, at which point she finally called in the police.

The proxy campus war against Israel and the Jewish people is based on defamatory lies from start to finish. The U.S. and U.K. governments have a moral duty to call out these lies. Instead, they are adding fuel to the fire by parroting the same nonsensical Gaza civilian casualty figures, giving credence to Hamas blood libels about the IDF hitting hospitals and falsely accusing Israel of stopping humanitarian aid.

All this reinforces the hysteria against Israel and the Jews. Yet American and British political leaders have voiced dismay and concern over the tsunami of antisemitism convulsing their countries. Next week, U.S. President Joe Biden will deliver the keynote address at the “Days of Remembrance” ceremony for Holocaust Memorial Day at the U.S. Capitol, hosted by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The hypocrisy is nauseating.

So the enemies of Israel and the West think that they’re winning. They’ve thought as much since Oct. 7, when the terrible blow inflicted upon Israel galvanized them into believing that the destruction of Israel and the conquest of the West were now within their grasp.

While events on campus are profoundly shocking, no one who has been paying proper attention to what’s been going on in both Israel and the West over the past several decades can be remotely surprised.

The genocidal threats against Israel and psychotic abuse of Jews being chanted by the students is the same language that’s been used by the Palestinian Arabs and the wider Muslim world for the best part of a century. Yet instead of acknowledging that Palestinian and Muslim Jew-hatred fuels an ongoing war of extermination against Israel, both America and Britain have denied this reality.

Instead, they have appeased and emboldened Israel’s Palestinian and Iranian attackers. While the United States has provided Israel with the military support to prevent its annihilation, the Biden administration is doing everything it can to cripple Israel’s war of self-defense and ensure that it doesn’t win against Hamas.

The administration has enabled billions in sanctions relief to flow into Tehran’s coffers and is reportedly also working to reverse the one thing that could pave the way for peace in the Middle East: the developing rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

All this has further galvanized those who think Oct. 7 signaled the beginning of the end for both Israel and America. Hamas and the revolutionary left, both of which are set upon the destruction of Israel and the West (albeit to different ends) are now using each other to bring about those twin heinous agendas.

In this, radical Islam is making infernal common cause not just with the revolutionary left but with Western progressive universalists who have been undermining the foundations of Western society for decades. Ground zero of the onslaught has been the universities. 

For decades, Western students have been taught poisonous lies about Israel. According to the National Association of Scholars, between 2001 and 2021 Qatar gave at least $4.7 billion to American universities. These funds support professors whose views align with those of the Qatari ruling family, the patrons of Hamas.

The Israel Academia Monitor website reports on a Qatar-funded program produced by a collaboration between the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (known as the Doha Institute) and Birzeit University. The Arab Center is headed by former member of Knesset Azmi Bishara, who sought refuge in Qatar after escaping allegations of spying for Hezbollah.

According to an anti-Israel Jewish professor at Duke University, Rebecca Stein, the program is aimed at “remaking the dominant paradigm of Israel Studies as it has been configured in the United States and increasingly in Great Britain, with its proud ‘advocacy’ mandate on behalf of the Israeli state. Birzeit’s program turns this paradigm inside out, providing students with a radical alternative.”

More fundamentally still, the shocking scenes on campus are the outcome of the West’s willed educational collapse. The understanding of education as the transmission of a culture to the next generation was junked decades ago in favor of a propaganda narrative of Western oppression.

This opened the way for the colonization of curricula by anti-Western ideological causes. The admission of students selected on the basis of identity politics rather than intellectual ability further reduced education standards to positively infantile levels.

This was illustrated at Columbia by the keffiyeh-clad Johanna King-Slutzky, who spoke to the media on behalf of the encampment. Jaw-droppingly channeling Hamas’s strategy in Gaza, she stated that the university had an obligation to bring in food and water to the illegal encampment, demanding, “Do you want students to die of dehydration and starvation? … This is like basic humanitarian aid.”

Her remarks attracted widespread incredulity and ridicule. But so should Columbia’s educational standards.

In her biography on the Columbia website, now deleted, King-Slutzky describes her dissertation as “a prehistory of metabolic rift, Marx’s term for the disruption of energy circuits caused by industrialization under capitalism … theories of the imagination and poetry as interpreted through a Marxian lens in order to update and propose an alternative to historicist ideological critiques of the Romantic imagination.”

This gobbledygook is beyond parody. Alas, it’s all too typical of what now passes for higher education in America and Britain. Universities—the supposed crucibles of knowledge, intellectual challenge and open minds—are now in the business of propaganda, dumbing-down and the closing of the mind. They have become the principal vehicles for coercing cultural conformity to hatred of both Israel and the West.

In the appalling scenes on campus, a number of monstrous chickens are now coming home to roost.

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