In the latest issue of Commentary, Ruth R. Wisse’s article “Harvard’s Tragic Journey: How the ousting of Lawrence Summers led to the disgrace of Claudine Gay” provides an up close and personal look at the chaos ensnarling the lauded university. It is a fascinating exploration of how progressive ideas adversely influenced Harvard leadership and enabled campus antisemitism. It’s a lesson in what not to do.
The article details the campaign against Summers prompted by his outreach to the ROTC program, condemnation of antisemitism and BDS, and selection of several conservative professors. Ultimately, what Wisse calls an intersectional coalition charged Summers with stifling free speech—speech that not coincidently was often antisemitic. This led to a faculty “no confidence” vote that sealed Summers’s fate.
Decades later, after Hamas’s barbaric Oct. 7 attack on Israel and the ensuing war in Gaza, Harvard refused to support Jewish students and instead tolerated violent anti-Israel protests on campus. Then-president Claudine Gay testified at a high-profile congressional hearing at which she was asked, “Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate the code of conduct or rules regarding bullying and harassment?” She coyly replied, “It depends on the context.”
Gay, of course, portrayed herself as the victim. “I fell into a well-laid trap,” she falsely claimed. “I neglected to clearly articulate that calls for the genocide of Jewish people are abhorrent and unacceptable and that I would use every tool at my disposal to protect students from that kind of hate.”
It soon became clear that Harvard’s equality of outcome policy had sufficiently compromised the required qualifications to serve as president, given that the university chose to accommodate Gay’s mediocre academic credentials and blatant plagiarism. In the end, it was the plagiarism that led to her ouster.
What led her to heartlessly equivocate about Jewish genocide, however, was the pervasive corrupting woke climate on campus.
Wisse’s Commentary article is rich with examples of Harvard’s ideological corruption. She explains how liberal activists were looking for something to demonize after the end of the Vietnam War and settled on the oldest scapegoat: the Jews. The oppressor-oppressed woke card was played with the Palestinians as the oppressed and Israel/Jews as the oppressors. At Harvard, Stephen Walt of the Kennedy School of Government loudly accused the “Israel Lobby” of unduly influencing U.S. foreign policy. Walt did not disclose that the Hamas-supporting Qatari government had contributed more than $6 million to Harvard, and this was but a fraction of the billions of dollars Arab nations have given American universities in recent years.
Wisse joined Harvard in 1993, the same year her book If I Am Not for Myself … : The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews was published. Ex-president Gay, her predecessors and the Harvard leadership should have carefully read her prescient writing.
Wisse correctly diagnosed how liberalism had diminished the Jews’ willingness to protect themselves while at the same time obsessing over protecting others. Wisse chillingly observed that “Jews are the only American minority whose members do not as a matter of course support the land of their people, and some of whose members join in the political effort against it. The banner under which they manifest this aberrant political activity is liberalism or the left.”
Wisse sounded this warning 20 years before the election of President Barack Obama, who enjoyed the support of the great majority of Jewish voters. Yet Obama betrayed them all by forcing through the 2015 Iran nuclear deal with its $150 billion of sanctions relief. Those monies helped finance Iran’s regional terrorist network, including Hamas and Hezbollah. No doubt, Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre was aided by this infusion of cash. In Obama’s last days in office, he punished Israel with an abstention on the anti-Israel U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334.
In the third season of The Sopranos, mob boss Tony Soprano’s wife Carmela visits a no-nonsense Jewish psychiatrist: Dr. Krakower. She describes the pain of Tony’s serial infidelities. But at the same time, she knows that thanks to Tony, she enjoys a luxurious lifestyle in an affluent New Jersey suburb. The doctor suggests divorce, but Carmela only offers psychobabble: “define my boundaries” and “keep a certain distance.” Dr. Krakower tells her again to leave Tony, and then darkly warns, “One thing you can never say is that you haven’t been told.”
Wisse told us what would happen. We just didn’t listen.