columnSchools & Higher Education

There’s no middle ground in the fight against DEI antisemitism

Allegations that the battle against campus antisemitism at Harvard was “hijacked” by right-wingers or racists are false. Advocates of woke ideology are the real racists.

From left: Claudine Gay (Harvard University president), Elizabeth Magill (University of Pennsylvania president), American University professor Pamela Nadell and Sally Kornbluth (Massachusetts Institute of Technology president) testify during a House committee hearing about antisemitism on campus on Dec. 5, 2023. Credit: House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
From left: Claudine Gay (Harvard University president), Elizabeth Magill (University of Pennsylvania president), American University professor Pamela Nadell and Sally Kornbluth (Massachusetts Institute of Technology president) testify during a House committee hearing about antisemitism on campus on Dec. 5, 2023. Credit: House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

Claudine Gay resigned as president of Harvard University but as she conceded defeat in her battle to hold onto her post, she further poisoned public discourse about the controversy that undid her. In a New York Times op-ed, Gay refused to take full responsibility for her failure to combat antisemitism at Harvard and ensure that Jewish students feel safe on campus. Add to that her hypocrisy about free speech and flat-out lying concerning plagiarism charges, which did more than anything to end her short tenure in the school’s top job. Worse, she also tried to smear her opponents, including those who brought the scholarly fraud that pervaded her meager writings to light, as racists.

But she was right about one thing. This story “is bigger” than her.

Critical to understanding this controversy or even the justified concerns about the post-Oct. 7 surge in antisemitism is the way leftist ideologies like intersectionality, critical race theory (CRT) and the woke catechism of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) have played in all of this. The obsession with race above and beyond every other possible consideration pushed morally corrupt figures like Gay to a position of pre-eminence in academia. But it also acts as a standing defense or rationale for her misdeeds, as well as her blind spot about antisemitism.

And that is why, before moving on, it’s worth debunking her self-serving swan song, in addition to the growing effort on the left to dismiss the controversy as nothing more than an example of a conservative “culture war” talking point or to second her bogus claim that she is a victim of racism. Equally important is the need to debunk the notion that there can be some middle ground about the role that woke ideology plays in stoking the post-Oct. 7 surge in Jew-hatred.

Lying about her record

Gay’s broadside in the Times is not so much clueless as it is a compendium of brazen falsehoods and specious attacks on those who discovered her numerous instances of plagiarism.

Contrary to her assertion, she did not “promptly request corrections” in journals where she had failed to attribute work lifted from other scholars. In fact, she flatly refused to acknowledge what she had done and Harvard threatened the New York Post with legal action if they published reports about her plagiarism. She only corrected some of her thefts under duress. And she has not admitted her guilt even when it came to lifting entire paragraphs from another person’s work.

While she acknowledged that it was a “mistake” for her not to condemn Hamas terrorists in Gaza after Oct. 7, she didn’t own up to the fact that she treated anti-Israel and anti-Jewish demonstrations on her campus in the same way she had silenced those who disagreed with her beliefs. Nor was her disastrous congressional testimony, in which she said it would depend on the “context” if calls for the genocide of Jews would be judged as violating Harvard’s rules, a “trap.” While she later backtracked, she was quite defiant in the moment, clearly demonstrating that she was more worried about being seen as taking sides against antisemites and Israel-haters than labeled as someone willing to defend Jewish students being attacked in the same way she would other minorities.

Then came her attempt to claim the status of a martyr to racism. Her critics, who pointed out that there was something fishy about Harvard choosing someone with such an astonishingly thin record of scholarly achievement to be its president, were not engaging in racism. They were just stating the obvious about Harvard’s hiring process. There is no other rational explanation for Gay’s appointment other than the fact of her race, gender and leftist politics. Diversity and inclusion mean favoring the unqualified, provided they punch the right identity and ideological tickets.

The efforts of racial hucksters like Ibram X. Kendi and the Rev. Al Sharpton to bolster her image as a racial martyr is a flashing neon sign warning fair-minded persons what’s at stake here.

Just as bad are the arguments of those who seconded her belief that her downfall was attributed to a political plot.

The most egregious example of this was an AP article whose conceit was that the plagiarism charges were merely a “weapon” to discredit her that was utilized by ill-intentioned conservatives. In this account, the idea that she actually committed plagiarism was secondary to the fact that she was a black woman and that her opponents were opposed to woke ideology. The frame of reference was that if plagiarism could be used to undermine faith in institutions that have been taken over by progressives, then perhaps the longstanding belief that it is a serious offense should be rethought.

What going woke meant for Jews

This goes hand in hand with arguments that seek to distract us from what the progressive takeover of academia has meant for Jews.

Many liberals and moderates are rightly expressing concern about the way Jew-hatred has not just been tolerated but enabled and encouraged by college administrations, cultural and educational institutions, and the mainstream media since the Hamas attack on Israel. But our bifurcated political culture in which Americans are more divided than ever has influenced the debate about not just Gay, but the reasons why brazen antisemitism has become so prevalent on college campuses.

It was conservative political activists like author Christofer Rufo and others like him who have been leading the charge against the leftist ideas that people like Gay championed. And it was Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump and a possible running mate for him in the 2024 election, who exposed Gay to the world as a hypocrite when it comes to free speech who considered attacks on Jews unimportant. That has discredited their efforts in the eyes of those who identify as liberals or Democrats, or at the very least, caused them to try to separate the plague of woke leftist antisemitism from the factors that are fueling it.

Intersectionality, CRT and the DEI mantra have over the last several years been transformed from controversial left-wing ideas into an unchallengeable orthodoxy about race. Most liberals and Democrats acquiesced to the way traditional beliefs about equal opportunity have been discarded in favor of equity—a concept that is the opposite of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream about a nation where individuals would be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin—because they feared being called a racist. That became especially true after the moral panic about race set off by the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd, in which a heretofore deeply divisive and marginal force like the Black Lives Matter movement went mainstream in the summer of 2020. It even led liberal Jewish groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee to endorse BLM and DEI for fear of being out of sync with their allies on the left.

This was and remains a fatal mistake not just for Jews but for other Americans who remain blind to the consequences of empowering radical ideologues and their toxic ideas. The premise that the world is divided into two immutable groups—white oppressors and people of color, who are always the victims—is a recipe for endless racial conflict and threatens to undermine the progress Americans have made towards a more just society since the triumph of the civil-rights movement of the 1960s. While the DEI mantra has the sound of a philosophy of equality, it is nothing of the kind.

But it is particularly foolish for Jews since in this Manichean worldview, the woke falsely label them and the Jewish state as “white” oppressors. In doing so, they have granted a permission slip for antisemitism. While some of us have been pointing this out for years, most Americans didn’t realize it until a few months ago. It was only after Oct. 7—when progressives indoctrinated in the DEI faith demonstrated a knee-jerk willingness to condemn Jews who had suffered mass murder, rape, torture and kidnapping as oppressors and treat the Palestinian terrorists as victims—that evidence that the Jews were the canaries in the coal mine when it came to the perils of DEI became too obvious to ignore.

A choice is necessary

Yet too many moderates and liberals are still trying to argue that outrage about the mobs chanting for the destruction of Israel can be separated from the genocide of Jews. It is this warped view that has sent such “progressives” into the streets and onto campuses to vent their rage.

You don’t have to like Stefanik or Rufo, or plan to vote for the Republicans, to understand that so long as woke commissars like Claudine Gay—and her counterparts elsewhere—are dominating America’s college campuses, the virus of antisemitism will continue to grow. Democrats must understand that unless DEI rules are thrown out of academia, the corporate world, the media and the government (where an executive order by President Joe Biden put them in place throughout the federal apparatus), their party will be completely taken over by leftists who hate Israel and are indifferent at best to the spread of antisemitism.

The aftermath of Oct. 7 and the fall of Claudine Gay ought to be a turning point in this debate. But it won’t be if those who acknowledge that antisemitism is on the rise don’t draw the appropriate conclusions about why this has happened.

Gay’s fate or that of any other college administrator is secondary to whether their toxic ideas will be allowed to continue to be the official new secular religion of American civic life. On this question, there is no middle ground. There’s no way to make DEI less antisemitic since it is designed to divide and target some for opprobrium in this manner. Treating the impact of woke ideas as nothing more than a conservative culture war controversy won’t work anymore.

Americans have to choose and traditional political loyalties are no longer relevant. They can either join those seeking to roll back the woke tide and restore basic American values of equality and fairness, or they can stand by and watch as a neo-Marxist faith destroys American liberty piece by piece with the Jews just being the first victims.

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

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