Should Jews abandon the Ivy League

There are better remedies for antisemitism

Alma Mater, sculpture at the heart of Columbia’s campus

As longtime bastions of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, several Ivy League schools were once terrified of opening their doors to Jews. A. Lawrence Lowell, Harvard’s president from 1909 to 1933, contended that “where Jews become numerous, they drive off other people and then leave themselves.” He dismantled the university’s Semitics department and tried to introduce a quota for Jews, alarmed that the share of Jewish students grew from 6% to 22% between 1908 and 1922.

At Yale, a 1922 memo from an admissions chairman urged limits on “the alien and unwashed element,” a phrase from a document found in a university folder labeled “Jewish Problem.” Reflecting a general distaste for diversity, Yale medical school Dean Milton Winternitz in the mid-1930s said: “Never admit more than five Jews, take only two Italian Catholics, and take no blacks at all.” As it turned out, Yale in 1923 adopted an informal quota limiting Jews to no more than 10% of the undergraduate student body, a figure that held sway until the early 1960s.

Worried about the large share of Jews enrolled at Columbia, the school went so far in 1928 as to set up a separate preprofessional college in Brooklyn, Seth Low Junior College, where many Jewish students were routed. As the Columbia Spectator reported, SLJC was created expressly to reduce the number of Jewish students on the main Morningside campus. In “Stand, Columbia: A History of Columbia University,” Columbia historian Robert McCaughey notes that enrollment of Jewish students at Columbia College after the junior college opened dropped from 40% to 25%.

The two-year junior college was shuttered in 1936, but not before editors on the school paper, “The Scop,” derided Jews as displaying “sneering, hypercritical, protesting, and disloyal characteristics.” The editors added that “only a small limited number of Jews can be assimilated each year. They [the universities] often cite incidents, from past experiences, of disloyalty, redundant individualism, and undeserved disparagement which they claim have been characteristically displayed by large bodies of Jewish students.”

As reported by The Current, the editorial board at the paper was almost entirely Jewish, a discomfiting element that Jews who camped with today’s antisemites might take note of. “The fact that a predominantly Jewish group of students wrote such a virulently anti-Semitic editorial proves how deeply ingrained these impressions of Jews were within society at the time, or at least within the academic elite,” The Current noted. “The Scop editorial board internalized the unfavorable rhetoric about Jews that surrounded them, and believed it was smart for Columbia College to limit its number of Jewish students, for if it didn’t do that, it would end up as miserable as Seth Low.”

Issac Asimov

At SLJC, one student was a young Isaac Asimov, who later wrote of a bad conversation with an admissions officer: “The interviewer didn’t say something that I eventually found to be the case, which was that the Seth Low student body was heavily Jewish, with a strong Italian minority. It was clear that the purpose of the school was to give bright youngsters of unacceptable social characteristics a Columbia education without too badly contaminating the elite young men of the College itself by their formal presence.“

Given that background, the debate over the best response to Jews coming under siege – sometimes physically — amid pro-Palestinian encampments at such schools is especially painful. After decades of Jews having to hammer on the doors to get into the nation’s top schools, it is troubling to read impassioned arguments that they should stop knocking and go elsewhere.

Attacking several elite schools for antisemitism and a host of other evils that he conflates, for instance, Mosaic Magazine publisher Eric Cohen writes in “The Exodus Project:” “These colleges are controlled by true believers. Their faculties and administrators enthusiastically embrace the very world view – call it ‘intersectionality,’ call it ‘critical race theory,’ call it ‘wokism,’ call it ‘DEI,’ call it ‘social justice,’ call it whatever you want – that nurtured the civilizational assault that now treats the Jews and Israel as target number one and America itself as the big game.”

Cohen’s answer: Jews should abandon such Northeastern schools and instead head to Texas, Florida, Alabama and such. “We simply need to celebrate and encourage the new exodus; and we need to help make the best of these schools into true exemplars of academic excellence. ‘Wow Harvard!’ should give way to ‘Why Harvard?’”

Earlier, in a City Journal piece headlined “Columbia is Beyond Reform,” Tablet editor at large Liel Leibovitz similarly argued: “The administrators seem beyond redemption. Sad to say, but the students are, too: very few at Columbia, veterans of seminars about allyship and intersectionality, bothered stepping out and standing together with their beleaguered Jewish peers.”

Leibovitz, an Israeli who earned his doctorate at Columbia, concluded: “Maybe it’s time to let Columbia, Yale, and other elite schools become what they already basically are: finishing schools for the children of Chinese, Qatari, and other global elites. And let anyone interested in America’s future pursue education elsewhere. For some, this will mean applying to alternative institutions, like the University of Austin; for others, trade schools might offer a remunerative alternative.”

But is shunning such schools really the best course for Jews, for the schools, for American society? Would it not be better if, instead, more Jews attended them and if Jewish donors stepped up to fund programs aimed at educating all the students on such campuses about antisemitism and Jewish history (particularly in Israel)? Would it not be better if curricula such as Columbia’s famous core curriculum were modified to include such mandatory instruction?

Dara Horn, source: Jewish Boston

Indeed, amid a national rise in antisemitism, is fleeing to schools in Florida, Texas and elsewhere even reasonable? Dara Horn, a Harvard graduate and author of the nonfiction essay collection “People Love Dead Jews,” writes of her travels around the country in which she met many Jewish college and high school students who accepted the casual denigration of Jews as normal. “They are growing up with it,” she writes in a piece for The Atlantic. “In a Dallas suburb, teenagers told me, shrugging, about how their friends’ Jewish fraternities at Texas colleges have been ‘chalked.’ I had to ask what ‘chalking’ meant: anti-Semitic graffiti made by vandals who lacked spray paint.”

Horn served on a now-disbanded antisemitism committee created at Harvard by ousted president Claudine Gay, but has become a critic of the university’s efforts to combat antisemitism. She is also a member of a group of Jewish alumni examining Harvard’s courses for antisemitism, according to The Boston Globe. As reported by the Globe, she told the group that “there are entire Harvard courses and programs and events that are premised on antisemitic lies.” Horn cited the spring 2024 course Global Health and Population 264: ‘The Settler Colonial Determinants of Health’ as an example of one such class in her article for The Atlantic.

Would it not be better if alumni and others likewise scoured courses at Columbia, Yale and other schools – including many not in the Ivy League – in efforts to eliminate antisemitism? Would many courses in Middle East Studies departments survive such scrutiny? Should they? Already, Columbia has taken steps to review or oust academics who’ve violated school policies with antisemitic comments – see the cases of Mohamed Abdou, Hamid Dabashi and Joseph Andoni Massad – and should more such efforts not be encouraged? Would such departments do better for students and the research world with a faculty that is not overwhelmingly Arabist, but more balanced?

And would it not be better if, instead of abandoning appropriate efforts at education in diversity, equity and inclusion — a bête noire of the right — that DEI training be broadened to include Jews as a vulnerable group? Have the repeated instances of antisemitic violence not demonstrated such vulnerability enough?

To be sure, this would take some doing, as Horn implies:

“Many public and private institutions have invested enormously in recent years in attempts to defang bigotry; ours is an era in which even sneaker companies feel obliged to publicly denounce hate,” Horn writes. “But diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives have proved to be no match for anti-Semitism, for a clear reason: the durable idea of anti-Semitism as justice. DEI efforts are designed to combat the effects of social prejudice by insisting on equity: Some people in our society have too much power and too much privilege, and are overrepresented, so justice requires leveling the playing field.”

As she argues, antisemitism is a different sort of animal and one, I submit, that demands a different approach in DEI programming.

“It is a conspiracy theory: the big lie that Jews are supervillains manipulating others,” Horn writes. “The righteous fight for justice therefore does not require protecting Jews as a vulnerable minority. Instead, it requires taking Jews down. This idea is tacitly endorsed by Jews’ bizarre exclusion from discussion in many DEI trainings and even policies, despite their high ranking in American hate-crime statistics. The premise, for instance, that Jews don’t experience bigotry because they are ‘white,’ itself a fraught idea, would suggest that white LGBTQ people don’t experience bigotry either—a premise that no DEI policy would endorse (not to mention the fact that many Jews are not white).”

Apparently unlike the critics of DEI, I should note that I learned a lot from DEI programming at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Talking with Black colleagues about issues generally never aired was helpful; in fact, few white faculty members are aware of everyday slights that some Black colleagues face — one told me he routinely was questioned by police when he approached a university building in casual clothes on a weekend, something his white peers didn’t run into. I also read several helpful books that I otherwise would not have picked up.

And I learned a great deal co-teaching a course in which students examined past news coverage in Nebraska of racial and ethnic matters; it was a remarkable experience for me and my students alike. That course came about because issues of racial discrimination in the state were much on the mind of some administrators and faculty and a past Omaha World-Herald editor in the wake of the George Floyd killing.

Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, source: Columbia

As should be evident from my questions, I find the arguments for abandoning the Ivy League schools and others unpersuasive, even harmful. In part, this is because I have had warm ties to such schools – much of my professional and academic success came from my attending the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, a place that was eye-opening for me (in part because of a brilliant Jewish faculty member). Also, one of my daughters graduated from Columbia College and the other, who is now a rabbi, from the Jewish Theological Seminary, which associated with Columbia.

Source: Michigan State University Press

But I am not blind to the flaws at Columbia and elsewhere. They’ve been dramatically underscored by the encampments, which to me are evidence of poor education about Israel, Palestine and the Middle East. Personally, in fact, I felt the sting of some of the bigoted attitudes among faculty members; my book about Islamist terror, “Divided Loyalties,” was accepted a few years ago for publication by the Columbia University Press, only to be blackballed by a lone faculty member on the press’s advisory committee because the person objected to the university publishing anything on Islamist terror. (The Michigan State University Press, fortunately, did not share those objections).

Nonetheless, I believe the answer to the gaping flaws at such schools is not to boycott them, a response oddly reminiscent of the boycott Israel efforts so common among some academics now. Rather, the answer is to fix the schools, to implement curricula that would combat the ignorance that fuels the encampments and drives antisemitism. I believe the answer includes endowing positions for academics who can teach from the viewpoint of fostering coexistence between Israelis and Arabs in and around Israel.

In sum, I believe the answer is to engage with such schools, not to desert them. They are too important to leave to the antisemites.

Trump’s odd appeal

How a high school student council offers some insight


Source: Facebook

“History repeats itself, first as a tragedy, second as a farce,” as Karl Marx is reputed to have said.

I’m reminded of the maxim as I mull over the prospects of a second Trump term, though I wonder if the order of the tragedy-farce progression would be reversed if the former president takes power again. The man’s first term was a bad joke and his second seems to promise many truly ugly things. Just see the recent Time cover story for evidence of how bad things might go: using the military to evict undocumented millions, detention camps, immunity for harsh police action (and for himself), stiff trade barriers, and, as noted elsewhere, removal of protections against political retribution for government employeespresidential control of the independent Fed, etc.

So why might Trump win? Well, the hush-money trial in New York is far from a lock, even as it looks damning for Trump, with an accountant testifying that Trump signed checks from a personal account to reimburse his lawyer for the payment to his paramour, Stormy Daniels. Certainly, that trial has had plenty of farcical elements – reminders of a porn star and a Playboy model, marital infidelity, illicit payments, disregard of the law and ordinary decency, etc. It would be a laughable parody, if it weren’t distressingly real.

But it’s not clear whether the evidence produced so far will persuade a jury (beyond a reasonable doubt) that Trump broke the law personally by knowingly falsifying business documents. Did he do that or order that? Or did his minions just do that while he was busy running for president in 2016? Can the prosecutors prove the former? That seemingly boring detail is the pivot on which the case turns.

And, even if the jury does pronounce him to be a felon, it’s doubtful that his legions of fans will decline notably. Even as his sordid history is rehashed — as Times columnist Bret Stephens put it — Trump’s favorability ratings in polls still linger at or above 40%. Despite knowing about much of his seedy and dishonest behavior during his first campaign, his fans backed him then; indeed, evangelical supporters saw him then (and likely see him still) as G-d’s flawed instrument, a sinner who nonetheless would do their bidding on things such as abortion and gay rights. Against all odds, a cousin of mine, for instance, is still posting amazing imagery about the divine embrace of Trump:

Source: Facebook

What is Trump’s secret sauce? Well, the usual suspects are white fear of national ethnic change (of which illegal immigration is actually a small part), rage at economic dislocation (global trade eroding jobs), and social change. Trump is brilliant at exploiting all that, for sure. Unlike the tumultuous and complex present, he invokes a gauzy past in seeking to “Make America Great Again.”

But some part of this is something more subtle and, perhaps, more pernicious – and for that, I must hark back to a small-bore event of over a half-century ago. Bear with me, gentle reader, as I draw your attention to my central New Jersey high school student council election, of all things.

Len E. Carmella, Source: Loomis Funeral Home

In my junior year at the all-male prep school, a most unusual candidate ran for president of that council. Unlike his academically distinguished and sober-minded opponent – a boy who later went on to graduate from Wharton and become a health insurance company vice president – this candidate, Len E. Carmella, was described by a longtime friend as “a showman and an entertainer.” As the friend wrote in our school paper, Lenny sought his identity in applause, “in the warmth afforded all beloved clowns.”

Noting that Lenny’s campaign was marked by “a lack of depth,” this friend pointed to his ability, instead, to “make sweeping gestures and rhapsodize.” And he quoted him on his trenchant platform: “I’m going to be known as the entertainer-king. Every month, there’ll be a Dance, a Movie Night and a folk night. And we’re going to put on three shows, with costumes and everything. Movies, bus trips, anything like that, I’ll give money to. Anything that’s gonna keep them happy, that’ll take their minds off their problems, that’ll keep them entertained, is fine with me.”

Mind you, this was in the spring of 1971, when Nixon was still in office and the Vietnam War was still much on the minds of all of us of nearly draft age. Anything distracting would be welcome and Lenny, if nothing else, was remarkably distracting.

Lenny and some fans

Lenny won. And his time in office was notable for just one major thing, a dance night featuring Bruce Springsteen and his band. Also, at one point, Lenny somehow was photographed strutting in front of a line of dancing girls, certainly an improbable image at our school (one where girls in the halls caused many to gape, stumble and stagger). Few of us are sure to this day of how either thing came to be.

So what’s the connection to events now, 53 years on? Well, if nothing else, Trump is an entertainer, even if a far meaner spirited one than Lenny ever was (though Lenny did enthusiastically and — often with Trumpesque vulgarity — back Trump back in 2016). After all, Trump made his name in “The Apprentice,” where he looked every bit like a capitalistic dark clown. And he continues to entertain even today, grabbing center stage in the news as he faces an astonishing legal onslaught. Even as President Biden claims all sorts of real gains – for helping keep the economy afloat, rebuilding our infrastructure, etc. – Trump dominates the headlines.

Because of his personal style – his autocratic strongman image – Trump is the dominant figure in our politics today, lording himself over other Republicans and Democrats alike. Next to him, Biden looks pallid and old.

“Politicians’ language reflects their dominance orientations,” a writer in The New York Times contended in an unsettling opinion piece. “Mr. Trump uses entertaining and provocative parlance and calls opponents — and even allies — weakgutless and pathetic. Still, neuroscientists monitoring listeners’ brain activity while they watched televised debates found that audiences — not just Mr. Trump’s followers — delighted in the belittling nicknames he uses for his opponents. His boldness and provocations held audience attention at a much higher level than his opponents’ play-it-safe recitations of their policy stances and résumés.”

It’s as if Trump took a page from my high school student president’s handbook (which at times included taking shots at some fellow students). Substance – the sort of bland, by-the-numbers approach that marks Biden and other establishment pols – is nothing to many in the electorate. It’s all a matter of style, a question of keeping the masses entertained. Voters have a hard time with boring (see Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter).

It’s also a matter of offering the middle-finger to those establishment types in both style and content. As the writer John Ganz put it in a conversation in March with Times podcaster Ezra Klein: “Yeah. I think that there is no separating form and content, as you said. That the figure has to represent the middle finger in order to be effective and get the constituency behind them…. But I don’t think it works without the theatrical, outrageous parts of it. And I think that that is part of the reason why people gravitate towards it. I think you speak — you could speak to people, and they may not have very clear ideas about any given policy issue, and yet, what they do believe is that the political establishment sucks, and they like somebody who tells them to fuck off.”

We have a long history of raucous table-pounding figures appealing to voters. Klein pointed to Pat Buchanan, an anti-immigrant firebrand who in many ways paved the way for Trump,  and former KKK head David Duke, who was elected to the Louisiana State Legislature and made an unsuccessful run as a Republican for governor of the state. As Klein put it: “… there has long been demand for a right-wing populist showman in the United States. That demand has been at times unmet. It has been at times suppressed. These people were not given a candidate to vote for in a two-party system. But it never went away. Perhaps it will never go away.”

Oh, and there’s one more thing. At a time of seeming chaos in many quarters – see the many campus protests over the Gaza war – the strongman appeals to many. That’s no small part of the reason Nixon was reelected in 1972, when he ran as the law and order candidate against the dovish and gentlemanly George McGovern. In this, the campus protesters may inadvertently help Trump oust Biden from the White House, as writer David Brooks argues, and that is something that likely won’t go well for their cause.

Sadly, we lost Lenny a few years ago. He had many friends in our high school and later in college at Loyola in Montreal, where one person described him as a “genius at satirical graphics,” sharing his illustrations with staffers at The Loyola News. He was an entertainer and a mold-breaker in a small political way, but he had real talent and basic decency, something that the all-but-named GOP nominee lacked in 2016 and lacks even more now.

Hamas and Columbia — Part 5

Rooting out the rot in the faculty

Mohamed Abdou; source: Middle East Institute

Soon after the Oct. 7 atrocities by Hamas, a visiting scholar at Columbia University declared, “Yes, I’m with Hamas and Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.” The man, Mohamed Abdou, was brought onto campus for the spring 2024 semester and teaches a weekly class on “Decolonial-Queerness & Abolition.” A website at UC Berkeley, where he recently spoke, describes him as “a North African-Egyptian Muslim anarchist interdisciplinary activist-scholar of Indigenous, Black, critical race, and Islamic studies, as well as gender, sexuality, abolition, and decolonization.” 

Hamid Dabashi, Source: X

Another faculty member, Iranian studies and comparative literature Prof. Hamid Dabashi, in 2018 wrote on Facebook that “Every dirty treacherous ugly and pernicious happening in the world just wait for a few days and the ugly name ‘Israel’ will pop up in the atrocities.” As reported by the New York Post, in a separate post “Dabashi also allegedly bashed Zionists as ‘hyenas’ – sparking calls from a pro-Israel student group for the professor to be rebuked.” Critics circulated a petition calling for his firing.

Joseph Andoni Massad, Source: X

A third Columbia figure, Joseph Andoni Massad, last October described the Hamas attack of Oct. 7 as a “resistance offensive,” according to The New York Times. Massad, who teaches modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia, where he also received his doctorate in political science, has long been known for his anti-Israel positions, the paper reported. A day after the Hamas horrors, he published an article in The Electronic Intifada replete with adjectives such as “shocking success” and “astonishing.” “No less astonishing was the Palestinian resistance’s takeover of several Israeli settler-colonies near the Gaza boundary and even as far away as 22 kms, as in the case of Ofakim,” he wrote. “Perhaps the major achievement of the resistance in the temporary takeover of these settler-colonies is the death blow to any confidence that Israeli colonists had in their military and its ability to protect them.”

Is it any wonder, then, that otherwise intelligent students at the Ivy League school demonstrated against Israeli actions in Gaza? With such propagandists lecturing in classrooms otherwise known for careful and respectful scholarship, should we expect nothing else from students presumably ignorant of the long history of Hamas terrorism and the group’s origins and aims? What can we expect when professors recast the Oct. 7 monstrosity as “just one salvo in an ongoing war between an occupying state and the people it occupies” in a statement signed by more than 100 Columbia professors? When they say the massacre could be regarded “as an occupied people exercising a right to resist violent and illegal occupation,” as they did?

Nemat “Minouche” Shafik, source: Columbia Spectator

Belatedly, Nemat “Minouche” Shafik is taking aim at least at a few such toxic academics. At her April 17 hearing in Congress, the Columbia president said that Massad and a questionable law school professor, Katherine M. Franke (who is associated with the university’s Center for Palestine Studies) — were under investigation for making “discriminatory remarks,” the Times reported. She also said that Abdou “will never work at Columbia again.”

Of course, Shafik also took aim on April 30 at demonstrators who damaged and occupied Hamilton Hall on the campus. Her action in bringing in the NYPD to arrest the 40-50 occupiers was necessary, in my view, because they had gone well beyond setting up tents and chanting. They were, instead, disrupting the work of administrators whose offices were in the building, were damaging property and, in the case of outsiders, were criminally trespassing on university grounds. Far beyond merely exercising legitimate free speech, they posed a real danger on the campus.

Some number of them – and possibly some encampment demonstrators – were not even associated with Columbia, but were “professional outside agitators,” according to New York officials and university officials. Mayor Eric Adams blamed such outsiders for radicalizing students. For their part, Columbia officials said of the Hamilton occupiers: “We believe that the group that broke into and occupied the building is led by individuals who are not affiliated with the University. Sadly, this dangerous decision followed more than a week of what had been productive discussions with representatives of the West Lawn encampment.”

Columbia arrests, source: Financial Times

Indeed, it appears the occupiers were not even associated with Columbia University Apartheid Divest, the group that had been in talks with university officials. In a statement, CUAD identified the protesters occupying Hamilton as an “autonomous group.” In other words, these outsiders co-opted the students, using them as fodder.

Still, at best, the protesting Columbia students and probably many at other schools around the country are distressingly ignorant. I’m sure that many are responding to the ugliness of the Gaza war, an horrific affair that, in my view, is a necessary assault on a murderous and suicidal group that cannot be permitted within rocket range of Israel. It appears that the students, as they react to the ugly news of the day without any historical context, are responding to the propaganda spewed by some of their teachers.

It’s also possible that the students, both at Columbia and outside, are responding to what one researcher called “the ovation model.” Prof. Omar Wasow of the University of California, Berkeley, compares this effect to the response of a theater audience, saying “if some people in the front stand up, then other people start to stand up, and it’s a cascade through the auditorium.” By that theory, protestors in the media capital of New York City are mimicked by others who read and see about the action and are keen to join in.

Anti-Israel protest at UNL, source: The Daily Nebraskan

Even the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where I taught for 14 years, is apparently subject to this effect. A so-far small group of protestors gathered today on campus for a daylong series of “trainings and teach-ins.” The group, which includes outsiders from Nebraskans for Peace, does not appear to include in any of its “teach-ins” views from anti-Hamas groups or pro-Israel groups. No one, so far as I can tell, will be calling on Hamas to lay down its arms and seek peaceful coexistence. So, one must wonder what sort of education the Nebraskans will get on these matters?

Prof. Ari Kohen, source: Lincoln Journal Star

Will any of them be invited to take a course taught by a friend, Prof. Ari Kohen, that looks at the issues from other than a one-sided view? In that class, which he has taught for several years, Kohen acknowledges that “there is unlikely to be a single, simple solution to the many interrelated problems that we will identify…. But in recognizing the depth and complexity of those problems, we will undoubtedly learn a great deal about what any solution must include.”

Universities in the past have risen to the occasion when demagogues spewed hate. At UNL, for instance, Nazi appeared on campus a few years ago. “When one of these students was ‘outed’ by groups like Unicorn Riot and the Nebraska Antifascists, many students called for removing him from campus for his speech,” Kohen wrote last fall. “University leaders considered the demands and rejected them. Instead, the university threw itself behind more speech, namely rallies against hate and a campaign about the inclusivity we want to promote on campus. A “Hate Will Never Win” rally drew 1,500 people to the school’s basketball stadium, and the school helped distribute T-shirts with that message to anyone who wanted one. The message could be seen all over our campus.”

Alex Chapman leads the Hate Will Never Win rally at the Coliseum. February 14, 2018. Photo by Craig Chandler / University Communication

“Jews are being asked to deal with a level of hostility that feels like targeted harassment due to its repetition, intensity and pervasiveness,” Kohen wrote. “And, rather than people telling us they’ve got our back, we’re being told, especially on social media and especially from people on the left, that perhaps we’re being overly dramatic about our feelings. The university presidents should have been able to explain that people can say odious things but that all of the rest of us must respond by calling out those things for being odious. They should also have been able to explain that calling for genocide almost certainly would amount to harassment and an unsafe environment but that we have to work together to be clear about what is and what isn’t targeted harassment.”

Should Columbia distribute pro-Israel T-shirts? Would large-scale rallies denouncing Hamas as murderous and suicidal be effective? So long as there are faculty members at the school who espouse noxious views, such measures would be fruitless, except for those from on or off campus who think otherwise. Indeed, Jews on campuses including Columbia initially protested for Israel last fall, but they’ve largely been driven into fearful silence, sad spectators in the latest uproars. “I think people make uneducated assumptions,” a young Jewish leader at Columbia told The Washington Post. “They look at Jewish students and assume what they believe. They assume [the Jewish students] want a certain group of people dead, which isn’t true at all, whatsoever. What everyone wants is peace.”

A friend has suggested that the pro-Hamas demonstrations are clarifying and that they have served to reveal the underlying anti-Semitism at some of the nation’s leading universities. Indeed, the growth of such anti-Semitism around the country may be simply on display now at schools, bubbling up from the thugs to the academy, where people should know better. He pointed to a piece by Tablet editor at large Liel Liebovitz, an Israeli who earned his doctorate at Columbia, that argued: “Maybe it’s time to let Columbia, Yale, and other elite schools become what they already basically are: finishing schools for the children of Chinese, Qatari, and other global elites.” Referring to “four years in an airless, ideological gulag,” he argued that such schools are “national security threats that we must address forcefully” and complained that the Columbia faculty “long ago lost its decency, its courage, and its reason.”

Clearly, some of the faculty have lost their ability to reason and to teach students to do so, based on facts. But I’m not ready to toss them all. If this moment gives universities the opportunity to replace the pro-Hamas zealots with real scholars, it will serve us all well. That will take time.

The academic ranks have been infiltrated for years by anti-Israel colleagues who have masterfully driven the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions effort to the forefront on campuses. It is not accidental that the protestors on many campuses are pressing their schools to divest themselves of securities in companies tied to Israel and to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The idea is to isolate the Jewish state and ultimately destroy it.

Undoing the work of the BDS-supporting faculty will take time. Perhaps driving out the likes of Abdou will be a start.

Hamas and Columbia — Part 4

How should the student protestors be dealt with?

Khymani James, source: The New York Times

Khymani James, one of the student leaders in the anti-Israel protests at Columbia University, turns out to be a rather confused and angry young man.

Apparently uncertain about his gender (preferring “they” to “he”), James once acknowledged hating white people, has called for the deaths of Zionists and suggested university officials should be thankful he was not murdering any. Earlier, as a student at the prestigious Boston Latin School, the now 20-year-old James quit a city high school student advisory group in Boston, citing “adultist rhetoric.”

So, is he the perfect face of the Columbia protests? Well, James has certainly been its major voice at times. In a video shot by student journalist Jessica Schwalb, he leads students in the encampment as they face down Schwalb and others they label as Zionists, moving forward in lockstep, seemingly to drive out the interlopers. He leads the protestors in various chants as they repeat them after him in sheeplike fashion.

Barred from the campus now, however, and apparently facing disciplinary action for his rhetoric, James has since apologized and has not been seen at the demonstration. When he made the statement that Zionists didn’t deserve to live, he says now, it was because “an online mob targeted me because I am visibly queer and Black,” Newsweek reported.

Jessica Schwalb, source: New York Post

And, despite the threatening steps forward against students named as Zionists, Schwalb, a reporter for Columbia Spectator, said she never felt in danger. After all, these were Columbia students, whom she told The Atlantic were “too nerdy and too worried about their futures to hurt us.”

There are plenty of lessons in the James situation, not least of which is that university administrators should remember who they are dealing with in many of the students – at least the undergrads. While teaching such young people for 14 years, I learned that many of them are essentially still children. Their worldviews are malleable and changeable and their maturity levels – especially among young men – are pretty low. And they are often captive to fads and peer pressure.

And this is not just me talking. The Center for Law, Brain and Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital reported: “Scientists know that the adolescent brain is still developing, that it is highly subject to reward- and peer-influence, and its rate of development varies widely across the population…” The center used insights from studies on the point to argue for cautious and specific treatment of teens and people in their early 20s in the justice system.

I referred to the center’s work in my book “Divided Loyalities,” which charted the paths and fates of a group of young men in Minnesota who joined or attempted to join ISIS in Syria in and around 2014. The federal court dealt severely with the men, sentencing one 22-year-old to 35 years in prison, two others to 30 years each, and still others to sentences of 10 years or less. Essentially, they had ruined their lives and the court showed little mercy.

So, how severely should Columbia deal with James and his fellow travelers? Would suspension or even expulsion be appropriate for those who violated university policies against antisemitism? More than 100 have been arrested, so should criminal charges be pressed, giving them records for life?

One general approach, suitable for all, I believe, is that if they are allowed to stay in school they should be required to take a special semester-long or yearlong course in Israel-Palestine history and relations. Such a course would be developed with scholars on or off campus who are committed to peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East. Dartmouth has had great success with such a class.

I suggest that the class include being required to watch the video produced about the Hamas savagery of Oct. 7. The students should be required, too, to read the report from the UN about the sexual violence in that assault, and similar materials. They should be required to learn about lives and fates of the hostages the terrorists took and still hold.

With their chants of “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” the support some show for the murderous and suicidal Hamas, and their “anti-colonial” and anti-Zionist pablum, it seems clear that most of the students know precious little about Israel and the Palestinians. Instead, sheeplike, they parrot the nonsense they hear from peers and others (perhaps even including some dimmer faculty members).

Mahmoud Khalil, source: New York Post

Beyond that, the approach will have to vary by individual student. There needs to be a distinction drawn between graduate students, who generally are older and should know better, and the undergrads. One of the student leaders, for instance, is Mahmoud Khalil, a former political affairs officer with the widely discredited United National Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) who earned an undergraduate degree in Beirut, according to the New York Post. Another is Aidan Parisi, a 27-year-old postgrad whom the paper reported was suspended for his activities in the incendiary Columbia Apartheid Divest Group. “Que viva la intifada,” Parisi wrote in an Instagram post addressing his original suspension — “long live the rebellion.” And “Good night. Fuck israel,” Parisi wrote on X.

It’s not clear whether education will make a difference with such older students, though all should be required to take and pass the course I mention. But education is what a university is about, after all. Such a class would also provide a forum where all views — respectfully delivered or the students would be expelled — could be aired.

Would such schooling make a dent in the antisemitism that underlay at least some of the protests? That’s not clear. The student protestors seem mainly motivated by revulsion at the losses of life in the horrific war in Gaza. Just why they aren’t motivated by the horrors of Hamas to oppose its terrorism is a mystery, but that may be rooted in the simplistic oppressor/oppressed binary lens through which some of them – particularly the less mature ones — may see the world. In such a worldview, today’s Jews cannot be seen as victims, irrespective of the history of the Holocaust.

But in the face of widespread and growing antisemitism, especially among the young, a fuller understanding of Jewish history and the challenges Israel contends with seems essential for Columbia students such as James and many others. Along with generally being bright, the Columbia students should be educable. And testing just how much they can learn would be a start.

Hamas and Columbia — Part 3

Should Minouche Shafik keep her job?

Nemat “Minouche” Shafik, source: AFP, via The Forward

Ah, leave it to the politicians to make an already troubling situation worse. House Speaker Mike Johnson and some cronies parachuted into Columbia University the other day to call for University’s President Nemat “Minouche” Shafik’s scalp “if she could not immediately bring order to this chaos.” He even suggested that the National Guard be called onto campus. Earlier, Sens. Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley had called on President Biden to order in the guard.

The pithy response from students to Johnson’s appearance on the Low Steps was blunt: “Mike, you suck,” the crowd chanted.

Of course, Republican politicians in D.C. had already stoked the fires at the school with their grilling of Shafik on April 17, followed soon after by demands that Shafik step down. In an April 22 letter, several GOP politicians led by Rep. Elise Stefanik argued that she must quit because “anarchy has engulfed the campus.”

So, are these politicians being helpful? As they poke, prod, provoke and use inflammatory rhetoric, are they clarifying the underlying ugliness of antisemitism at the university? Are they casting oil on troubled waters or, instead, throwing gasoline on a long-burning fire? And should Shafik resign?

To the first point, the political grandstanding – part of a longstanding GOP attack on higher education and particularly on elite schools – is anything but helpful. As they ensnare university leaders in rhetorical traps (see “it is a context-dependent decision”), they embarrass such officials and feed red meat to their bases. But do they really reveal the sentiments of such university leaders, who struggle to thread the needle between permitting free speech and academic freedom and tolerating unacceptable rhetoric and action?

Source: 6ABC

Shortly before being forced out as president of the University of Pennsylvania, Liz Magill delivered an impassioned speech in which she said: “Our Jewish community is afraid… Our Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian communities feel unseen and unheard. I condemn the death threats and doxing that many at Penn are experiencing based only on their identity, their affiliations, or their views of the suffering in this war … This is a dark and difficult time for the world. And it is a dark and difficult time for Penn.”

Does that better reflect her sentiments than her poor performance in Congress did in December? Her inquisitors, polished in the ways of Washington, had their knives sharpened for her, of course, and they sent their blades home with a vengeance. The academics looked, well, academic in response and it served them poorly.

After she drove out Magill, Stefanik crowed: “One down, two to go.” She referred to former Harvard President Claudine Gay, who was subsequently ousted, mainly in a plagiarism scandal, and to MIT head Sally Kornbluth, who remains on the job. This was all before Shafik testified, of course.

Nominally, the right claims that the administrators must go because they are failing to protect Jewish students. But are such students really their concern? Or is it, rather, the “woke” agenda they’ve been deriding for years, particularly at elite schools? Are they, in fact, demagogues intent on riling up their often-undereducated supporters? Are they merely opportunists?

Source: Getty via Independent

That brings us to the question of Shafik’s job performance. Should she quit? Many lawmakers, mostly on the right, think so. No doubt, they see the blood in the water and are loving it. From the rightist perspective, Shafik has been too weak and should have crushed the protests. With their calls for a military intervention, one wonders whether they would have applauded the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.

But Columbia’s faculty, through the school senate, has so far stopped short of demanding Shafik’s resignation. The group could censure her for bringing the NYPD on campus to arrest students, something many find to be an unacceptable intrusion on academic freedom and free speech.

Indeed, it’s for such reasons that some on the left want her out. Former Columbia Spectator executive editor Oren Root, for one, demanded that she leave in an op-ed in the school paper: “She has disgraced the good name of Columbia, caused incalculable nationwide injury to increasingly fragile academic freedoms, and wreaked unjustifiable harm on students and faculty members who are protesting the wanton killing of defenseless men, women, and children—many thousands of children—in Gaza.”

So far, the university’s trustees are siding with Shafik, a most accomplished person whom they hired just in January of 2023 and who took her post on last July 1. “During the search process for this role, President Shafik told us that she would always take a thoughtful approach to resolving conflict, balancing the disparate voices that make up a vibrant campus like Columbia’s, while taking a firm stance against hatred, harassment and discrimination,” the trustees said. “That’s exactly what she’s doing now. We are urgently working with her to help resolve the situation on campus and rebuild the bonds of our community; we encourage everyone who cares about Columbia to join us in that effort.”

For now, I much hope Shafik keeps her post, mainly because feeding the right-wing attack on higher education is far too unsavory. Politicians of whatever stripe, moreover, should not have the right to dictate who can lead a private university (or public ones, for that matter). The trustees should stick to their guns and stick it in the eye of the likes of Speaker Johnson.

But Shafik’s actions in coming days and weeks will really determine her fate. Calling in the NYPD was a mistake, in my view; letting the protest peter out in advance of graduation would have been a smarter course.

But if she can negotiate a peaceful end to the demonstration well in advance of the university’s May 15 graduation, the school will be better served. Disappointingly, the graduation – and those at other schools around the country – will almost certainly be marked by protests. And repulsive as they are, academic freedom permits them.

Rightists rally in Charlottesville, 2017, source: AFP Getty via USAToday

A troubling amount of antisemitism, no doubt, underlays much of those protests. We have seen a rise in that pathology across the country, emboldened years ago by then-President Trump’s disgraceful response to the Charlottesville Nazis. But I suspect students are driven more by revulsion at the bloodshed in Gaza. In that respect, I suggest that the universities have failed in their primary mission – to educate. They have not adequately schooled the young about the horrors of Hamas and the reasons Israel has acted so aggressively.

This academic year will soon end and, indeed, the war in Gaza will eventually end. Will our universities rise to the occasion in the fall to make sure students really understand the issues they are demonstrating about?

Can Noise Give Way to Civility?

An exploration of the limits of free speech

Source: Democracy and Me

One my favorite legalistic maxims goes like this: my right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins. The idea, of course, is that we all have a marvelous amount of freedom in the U.S. – much more than in many other countries — but we also must live amongst others. And that “living amongst” part means our individual freedoms go only so far; they are not unlimited.

In physical terms, the limits are easy to define. Along with not having the unfettered ability to toss our hands about, we can’t drive the wrong way down a one-way street. We can’t run naked through our neighborhood, no matter how entertaining that might be for some folks. No matter how much we like the Stones, we can’t blast loud music at all hours in most communities. And we can’t, of course, shout fire in a crowded theater.

But when the subject is intellectual freedom, what are the boundaries? When does one’s ability to argue, to question or to demonstrate cross a line into harassment or intimidation? And what ideas or values are simply beyond the pale, too extreme to tolerate even on a college campus dedicated to academic freedom? When do noxious notions become the equivalent of shouting fire?

Since the atrocities of October 7th in Israel, we have heard much shouting, particularly by pro-Palestinian groups at campuses nationwide. We have also seen efforts to suppress or to contain such outpourings, in part because administrators fear violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires schools to provide all students an environment free from discrimination based on race, color, national origin or shared ancestry.

The noise has grown since the federal Department of Education on Nov. 7 issued a letter reminding schools of their obligations under the law. The DOE has also launched a bevy of investigations, including into a slew of K-12 districts around the country and at least 44 universities and colleges for alleged violations of that law. The allegations include incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia, often as a result of demonstrations that make Jews or Arabs feel threatened.

Source: Harvard Gazette

Indeed, at Harvard dueling investigations have been spurred by students or alumni who feel aggrieved. The DOE on Feb. 6 announced an investigation into whether the university failed to protect Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students and their supporters from harassment, threats and intimidation. This came on the heels of probe announced in November alleging that the school failed to respond to antisemitism on campus.

The Muslim Legal Fund of America filed the complaint that generated the early February inquest on behalf of more than a dozen anonymous students. A lawyer for the group told The Harvard Crimson that the students complained of “negative treatment by both the administration and Harvard officials as well as fellow students on campus.” The most common complaint was that students were verbally abused for wearing a keffiyeh, a scarf that has become a symbol of advocacy for Palestinians.

“When they simply walk around campus wearing the keffiyeh, they have been verbally attacked, they have had things thrown at them,” the lawyer said. “They have had students and others accuse them of being terrorists for what they’re wearing.”

On the flip side, the department’s investigation begun in the fall followed a complaint by several alumni that Harvard failed to protect students from antisemitism. And separately, a group of students at the school sued on Jan. 30 in federal court, alleging that Harvard “has become a bastion of rampant anti-Jewish hatred and harassment.”

As the lawsuit describes it, Harvard seems like a hellish place.

“Mobs of pro-Hamas students and faculty have marched by the hundreds through Harvard’s campus, shouting vile antisemitic slogans and calling for death to Jews and Israel,” the suit says. “Those mobs have occupied buildings, classrooms, libraries, student lounges, plazas, and study halls, often for days or weeks at a time, promoting violence against Jews and harassing and assaulting them on campus. Jewish students have been attacked on social media, and Harvard faculty members have promulgated antisemitism in their courses and dismissed and intimidated students who object.”

While the lawsuit maintains that Harvard refused to “lift a finger to stop and deter this outrageous antisemitic conduct and penalize the students and faculty who perpetrate it,” in fact Harvard has created two presidential task forces to combat Islamophobia and antisemitism on campus. In a wrinkle curious because of its academic freedom overtones, one task force is co-chaired by Derek J. Penslar, who heads the school’s Center for Jewish Studies and who became a lightning rod for critics who damn him as too critical of Israel. Ironically, Penslar’s book “Zionism: An Emotional State,” was named a finalist for the 2023 National Jewish Book Award by the Jewish Book Council, and he was widely defended by scholars and rabbis.

Setting up task forces to develop policies to curb Islamophobia and antisemitism has become a common first step at several campuses. But some schools have also taken aggressive action — action that troubles free-speech advocates.

MIT, Source: The Times of Israel

As reported by Inside Higher Ed, MIT, Stanford and Brown, for instance, have all cracked down on pro-Palestinian actions that they said flouted university rules. MIT, along with several other schools, recently suspended student groups for failing to follow rules about protests and Stanford quashed a 120-day sit-in on a campus plaza by first threatening disciplinary action and then by agreeing to talk over the student concerns. At Brown, 19 students taking part in a weeklong hunger strike for Palestine claimed that university officials removed “memorial flags” and washed away chalk messages at recent gatherings as they urged the university to divest its endowment from arms manufacturers.

The question this raises is: just what is acceptable speech and action on campuses? Where does one draw the line?

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression takes a maximalist view: “The mere expression of an opinion — however repugnant — is always protected. The authority to regulate ‘hate speech’ — an inherently vague and subjective label — is a gift to those who want an excuse to stamp out views they personally detest. FIRE knows from its long history defending free speech on campus how often both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian debate face censorship under this rationale. The target simply depends on who holds power at a given time and place.”

But when does free expression slip into harassment and intimidation? Some cases seem clear. For instance, at the University of Denver, religious items affixed to student doorposts – mezuzahs – were recently torn down from couple dorm rooms and one was defaced. Those are incidents of vandalism, not matters of acceptable expression, and the school administration deplored them. At one dorm there, moreover, pork, which observant Jews shun, was left at a student’s door – a clear case of harassment, it would seem.

Is that the same, however, as people marching and carrying banners that decry the deaths of members of various groups, whether Jews or Palestinians? Should it be illegal to stand up for one’s group, even loudly? And if those marches make members of one group or another feel threatened, should such feelings be the test? Is the freedom to speak one’s mind in an academic setting a value to be protected, regardless of whether it discomfits some students?

Surely, some expression can go over the line. For instance, would any responsible university tolerate students marching with Nazi banners? Indeed, would any tolerate marches with explicitly pro-Hamas or pro-ISIS imagery? The advocates for Palestinians seem mostly to avoid such sentiments as they instead protest “genocide”  or call for ceasefires or an end to the killing in the Israel-Hamas war. Sadly, they often seem ignorant, though, about how phrases such as “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” are calls for the eradication of Israel.

As Ari Berman, president of Yeshiva University, contended in a recent U.S. News and World Report commentary, “Students can and should debate important matters like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the ethics of war in civilian areas.” Disagreeing, protesting and robustly exchanging ideas are appropriate, he suggested.

Still, as Rabbi Dr. Berman also noted, it would be useful to have “moral clarity” about the war on the agenda at campuses all across the U.S. Making his point, he argued that those who protest for a “free Gaza” should also want it free of Hamas. “In fact, being clear about this distinction could actually help calm campus waters and enable more productive conversations,” he maintained.

Certainly, defenders of Israel will agree that the nation has the right to quash a terrorist group whose barbarism is on par with that of ISIS or other similar groups. Indeed, that may be where well-informed faculty need to step up and educate those who are doing much of the shouting.

Of course, such schooling won’t end disagreements. If education could “calm campus waters” such that civil discussion can replace shouting, we’d all be better off. Sadly, however, at a time when many are dying, emotions are understandably running hot. And that makes free speech difficult.

“People are unrealistic when they say, ‘We want free speech, we want debate, we want difficult conversations,’” legal scholar Randall Kennedy recently told The New York Times. “But then we want all smiles.”

Source: The Philadelphia Citizen

Indeed, the arguments over free speech are slipping into debates over academic freedom, which has come under threat from conservative politicians such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. As the Times noted, DeSantis “has led the passage of laws that restrict what can be taught and spearheaded efforts to reshape whole institutions.”

As the newspaper reported, the Israel-Hamas War has upended longstanding campus arguments over whether conservative voices and ideas were being suppressed. Now, it seems, liberal defenders of Palestinians are making the case that they are being muzzled.

“Some ask why, after years of restricting speech that makes some members of certain minority groups feel ‘unsafe,’ administrators are suddenly defending the right to speech that some Jewish students find threatening,” the paper wrote. “Others accuse longtime opponents of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts of cynically weaponizing those principles to suppress pro-Palestinian views.”

Still, academic freedom, too, must have limits. Such freedom, some note, depends on expertise and judgment – and is not just the right to say whatever one wants. As legal scholar Robert C. Post put it, free academic inquiry depends on the notion that “there are true ideas and false ideas,” and that it is the job of scholars to distinguish them.

The protests and, perhaps, the counterprotests will continue. Arguments over Islamophobia and antisemitism will rage, too, perhaps to be clarified by lawsuits and policies that various task forces can develop. One hopes that amid all the noise, education about truth and falsity can emerge.

Ugliness on Campus

A deeper look at the Israel-Hamas war protests

Source: Harvard Crimson

As we all know, many colleges erupted in protests and counterprotests following the October 7th atrocities in Israel. Some universities in areas with substantial populations of Jews and Arabs, particularly Palestinians, slipped into violence from scuffles, thankfully minor in most cases. Members of both groups raised alarms about fearing to walk on the campuses or even attend classes because of the tensions and some people even sued about it.

While most schools seem to have settled down, as the war goes on and the new term wears on, it’s reasonable to expect still more unrest. Pro-Palestinian student groups, including reorganized unofficial ones that replaced those banned at some schools, were disrupting classes at Harvard as recently as last month. At best, we can hope the tactics of such groups remain peaceful.

As I’ve prepared for a Jan. 24 presentation about the campus reactions for the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, I’ve been struck by a few key points about these protests. Let me share a few:

First, it is stunning that the pro-Palestine students refuse to condemn Hamas, both for the vile attacks of October and for the group’s heartless approach to the innocents of Gaza. Even women have turned a blind eye to the savagery targeting Jewish women. Hamas knew, of course, that it was inviting the retaliation it has gotten, seemingly unconcerned and willing to treat its own people as welcome cannon fodder.

Source: Spectre Journal

Instead of protesting against the terrorists, the demonstrators seem to either ignore their monstrous actions and their perversions of Islam or to celebrate them. It’s one thing to stand up for one’s people — the innocents in Gaza caught in the crossfire — but it’s another to misplace the blame. It’s as if the demonstrators’ moral calculations are upside down. And we see absurdities such as LGBTQ community members defending Hamas, a group that would toss them from the highest buildings if they lived among them.

Source: Nemo

The moral inversion of these protestors is just as perverse as South Africa’s claim that Israel is guilty of genocide and its backwards arguments before the International Court of Justice. To argue that a nation defending itself against terrorism is intending to wipe out a couple million people even as the terrorists continue to hold that nation’s citizens hostage is obscene — especially when that nation, Israel, has repeatedly warned Gazans to leave Hamas-infested areas. Why is Hamas not on trial instead for its barbarism?

Second, I’m struck by how widespread the ignorance about the complex history of Israel-Palestine relations is, particularly among young people. When they chant “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” many don’t seem to realize that is a call for the eradication of Israel, that it is the ultimate in antisemitism. As a recent column in The Wall Street Journal noted, many of the students chanting this nowadays don’t even know what river or sea are being referred to.

In addition, ignorance about the Holocaust is extraordinary only 80 years after that monstrosity. One-fifth of U.S. citizens between the ages of 18 and 29 believe that the Holocaust is a myth, according to a poll by Economist/YouGov.

And, as the Israeli military has grown into one of the most powerful forces in the region, there’s also a peculiar underdog sympathy taking hold – one that affects Jews worldwide, not just in Israel. A Harvard-Harris poll in December reported that 44 percent of Americans ages 25 to 34, and a whopping 67 percent of those ages 18 to 24, agreed with the statement that “Jews as a class are oppressors.” By contrast, only 9 percent of Americans over 65 felt that way. This is concomitant with a rise in antisemitic incidents, including over 500 on campuses since early October.

Derek Penslar teaching about the Middle East, Source: Penslar via Inside Higher Ed

On the positive side, some schools have seen a surge in interest in courses dealing with the Middle East. Among these are Bard College, the University of Washington, and the University of Maryland. Even at Harvard, Derek Penslar, a professor of Jewish History, has seen substantial demand for a course he teaches, for instance. “The students who walk in my door are not necessarily the same ones as those who are in Harvard Yard screaming,” he told Inside Higher Ed. “More often than not, my students are curious, intelligent, and they usually do have a political view at one point or another. But they’re open-minded or else they wouldn’t bother taking my class.”

Third and finally, the problems on campuses are both short-term and long-term. In the coming few months, the challenges will be to allow for free speech — an essential part of a university experience — but also to assure student safety. Both Arab and Jewish students need to be able to feel physically safe and comfortable enough to have civil conversations inside and outside class. The war is ugly enough without bringing its effects here.

Longer-term, the challenge is for universities to teach more students — especially those most in need of knowledge — about the complexities of the Middle East and about the ugliness of antisemitism. One approach is to improve diversity, equity and inclusion programs to include mandatory sessions about Jewish and Arab history, much as they do now about Blacks and whites. After all, what is higher education about, if not education?

We’ll have a chance to look in depth at these issues in the upcoming FJMC webinar. It’s likely that this will be a sobering look, but an informative one, I hope.

Is Free Speech Really Free?

Taking stances can cost one a job

Doxxing truck, source: Harvard Crimson

As anti-Israel forces on and off campuses continue to protest, some employers are launching counterprotests of their own – firing or refusing to hire those who go public with pro-Palestine stances. The trend reflects an unsettling truism about free speech: it may be anything but “free,” as speakers have to live with the consequences.

Take, for instance, the cases of two global law firms – New York-based Davis, Polk & Wardwell and Chicago-based Winston & Strawn. Davis Polk revoked job offers to three law students at Columbia and Harvard because they were leaders in student organizations that had backed letters blaming Israel for Hamas’s savage Oct. 7 attacks. Similarly, Winston & Strawn revoked an offer to an NYU student, the former president of the school’s University Bar Association, who had written a message to the group, saying “Israel bears full responsibility for this tremendous loss of life.”

Neil Barr, chair and managing partner of Davis Polk, told The New York Times that the firm did not want to employ anyone who endorsed the Hamas atrocities.

“The views expressed in certain of the statements signed by law school student organizations in recent days are in direct contravention of our firm’s value system,” the firm said in a statement. To ensure that “we continue to maintain a supportive and inclusive work environment, the student leaders responsible for signing on to these statements are no longer welcome in our firm.”

Davis Polk noted that in two of the cases, it was considering reversing course and hiring them because they said they had not endorsed the criticism of Israel. The letters blaming Israel for Hamas’s attack did not include individual names. It’s not clear what the law firm knew or didn’t know about the students, other than that they were leaders in the group or groups that backed the statements.

Ryna Workman, source: ABC News

As for the NYU student who lost an offer at Winston & Strawn, that person has doubled down on the criticism of Israel. Ryna Workman, who appeared on ABC defending Palestine and criticizing Israel, was caught on camera covering up posters of Israelis kidnapped by Hamas with pro-Palestine signs. Appallingly, Workman repeatedly ducked questions about whether she – or “they” as Workman prefers – had any empathy for Israeli victims.

Workman was ousted by NYU law school Dean Troy McKenzie as head of the student bar association. Other members of the group had quickly distanced themselves from Workman, saying they mourned “the tremendous loss of human life,” while sidestepping any specific condemnation of Hamas. Subsequently, all members of the association quit, saying they feared for their safety, and the group disbanded.

As many American business leaders remain horrified by the Hamas atrocities, some say they will refuse to hire students who take stances similar to Workman’s. Some major Wall Street investors, including hedge fund chief William Ackman, have called on companies to blacklist members of groups that have taken pro-Hamas stances. Ackman, a Harvard graduate, also demanded that Harvard release the names of such students.

As reported by Forbes, Ackman tweeted that “a number of CEOs” approached him, asking for the student names to ensure “none of us inadvertently hire any of their members.” One CEO, Jonathan Neman of the healthy fast casual chain Sweetgreen, responded to Ackman’s post on X, saying he “would like to know so I know never to hire these people,” to which healthcare services company EasyHealth CEO David Duel responded: “Same.”

David Velasco, source: ArtReview

Still other outfits have canned those who refused to condemn Hamas or backed Palestinians. Artforum fired its top editor, David Velasco, after a call for a ceasefire, signed by thousands of artists, appeared on the publication’s website.

“We support Palestinian liberation and call for an end to the killing and harming of all civilians, an immediate ceasefire, the passage of humanitarian aid into Gaza, and the end of the complicity of our governing bodies in grave human rights violations and war crimes,” the letter said.

As reported by ARTNews, a sister publication, Artforum publishers Danielle McConnell and Kate Koza in a statement wrote, “On Thursday, October 19, an open letter regarding the crisis in the Middle East was shared on Artforum’s website and social platforms without our, or the requisite senior members of the editorial team’s, prior knowledge. This was not consistent with Artforum’s editorial process. Had the appropriate members of the editorial team been consulted, the letter would have been presented as a news item with the relevant context.”

Velasco was fired soon after high-profile dealers, artists, and other signed another letter that referred to “an uninformed letter signed by artists who do not represent the artistic community at large,” ARTNews reported. This new letter, titled “A United Call from the Art World: Advocating for Humanity,” referred to the Hamas attack, but not to Gazans caught up in the warfare.

For his part, Velasco, who had worked at the publication since 2005 and served as editor since 2017, was unrepentant in comments in The New York Times. “I have no regrets,” he told the paper. I’m disappointed that a magazine that has always stood for freedom of speech and the voices of artists has bent to outside pressure.”

As the Times reported, the initial letter was widely condemned, drawing responses by figures in the art world. On WhatsApp, campaigns were organized to dissuade advertisers from working with the magazine.

Similar actions are occurring at other media outlets. The board of the British-based biomedical and life sciences journal eLife fired editor-in-chief Michael Eisen, after he praised The Onion for a satirical post headlined “Dying Gazans Criticized For Not Using Last Words To Condemn Hamas.”

As reported by NBC News, Eisen, who is Jewish and has family in Israel, posted that he had been fired “for retweeting a @TheOnion piece that calls out indifference to the lives of Palestinian civilians,” he wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

“I expressed my opinion, an opinion about the way that American institutions, especially universities, have been kind of not expressing equal concern for the deaths of Palestinians as they have Israelis, which I think is a moral mistake and a political mistake,” Eisen told NBC. “I don’t think that Israeli scientists should feel like the scientific community does not have their backs. The support has been very strong — I thought it was obvious. People don’t always express themselves well in these situations. I wish I made clear how I empathized with them, too.”

Similarly, PhillyVoice.com canned a sports reporter after he tweeted his “solidarity” with Palestine. The Philadelphia 76ers organization tweeted on X: “We stand with the people of Israel and join them in mourning the hundreds of innocent lives lost to terrorism at the hands of Hamas,” along with the hashtag #StandWithIsrael. As The Guardian reported, journalist Jackson Frank, who covered the team, responded: “This post sucks! Solidarity with Palestine always.”

And then there are the doxxing trucks. Operated by the group Accuracy in Media, these mobile billboards have shown up at campuses including Columbia, Harvard and Penn showcasing the faces of members of anti-Israel campus groups. The trucks are emblazoned with legends such as “Harvard’s Leading Antisemites.”

Adam Guillette, source: C-Span

While AIM leader Adam Guillette argues the trucks merely “amplify” information, they have drawn heat as amounting to harassment. The Harvard Hillel Jewish center “strongly condemns any attempt to threaten and intimidate” students who signed the letter, Harvard’s student newspaper the Harvard Crimson reported. And the University of California Berkeley law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky called the truck “despicable,” the New York Times reported. Columbia University president Minouche Shafik issued a statement before the latest truck appeared on the university’s campus, saying some Columbia students “have been victims” of doxxing, calling it a “form of online harassment” that will “not be tolerated,” according to Forbes.

Some demonstrators at Drexel and Penn universities covered their faces and declined to speak publicly, saying they feared being targeted by university officials or losing financial aid, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Some noted the doxxing trucks and pointed to a man filming demonstrators on his phone. A Penn alumna at the rally complained, “The surveillance, harassment, and intimidate of these young people is like no other.”

In the academic world, few would dispute that the free exchange of ideas – even noxious ones – should be free of punishment. Students, especially, should be able to speak their views and debate without fear.

However, employers are also free to shun those whose views they find reprehensible. The world off campus is a lot harsher.

As the New York Times reported, in another social media post, hedge fund manager Ackman said he was “100% in support of free speech.” But, he added, “one should be prepared to stand up and be personally accountable for his or her views.”

If Not Now, When?

Dissension on campuses over the Mideast makes for a teachable moment

Demonstrators at Columbia University, source: Getty Images via NBC New York

As backers of Israel and Palestine mount increasingly strident opposing demonstrations on campuses and angry donors withhold their funds, educators find themselves in a bind more difficult than anything they’ve seen since the Vietnam War. For university leaders and academics, the Mideast war raises troubling issues of free speech and the teaching of history, and matters of simple civility. It even poses threats of physical danger.

Consider Columbia University, which cancelled its annual fundraising campaign because of turmoil on the campus. An Israeli student suffered minor injuries on Oct. 12 after a young woman hit him with a stick, breaking a finger, when he approached her as she tore down posters of Israelis kidnapped by Hamas in its Oct. 7 assault. The university also closed its campus to the public because of competing rallies on its grounds.

The school drew international headlines when Columbia business school professor, Shai Davidai, on Oct. 18 delivered an impassioned video in which he decried the university’s president for failing to speak out against student groups that support Hamas. Davidai, an Israeli, said such groups look on his 2-year-old and 7-year-old children as legitimate targets in the war. “You can be pro-Israel and pro-Palestine and anti-terror,” he said. “I know, because I am.”

On the same day, Columbia’s president, Minouche Shafik, appeared to strive for even-handedness in a statement:

“Unfortunately, some are using this moment to spread antisemitism, Islamophobia, bigotry against Palestinians and Israelis, and various other forms of hate,” said Shafik, an Egyptian-born British-American economist. “I have been disheartened that some of this abhorrent rhetoric is coming from members of our community, including members of our faculty and staff. Especially at a time of pain and anger, we must avoid language that vilifies, threatens, or stereotypes entire groups of people.”

While conspicuously avoiding any criticism of Hamas, she blasted so-called doxxing efforts, in which students have been shamed publicly for supporting statements that blamed Israel for the Hamas attack. A group recently drove a truck near the Columbia campus displaying the names and faces of such students on a mobile billboard. A similar truck had appeared near Harvard University and was condemned by the campus Hillel, among others.

Pro-Israel rally, source: The Philadelphia Inquirer

Then there’s the University of Pennsylvania, where leading Jewish donors were first incensed about a Sept. 23 Palestinian literary conference that featured prominent antisemites and later were enraged at the administration’s slowness in condemning the Oct. 7 Hamas atrocities in southern Israel. University officials waited three days before issuing a statement calling the assault “horrific” and “abhorrent” – a reaction some donors regarded as too little, too late. Donors of tens of millions of dollars are now withholding funds and demanding that administrators resign.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Penn, Drexel and Temple University pro-Palestinian students on Oct. 25 rallied against what they argued was a lopsided pro-Israel atmosphere on their campuses. “Folks have to censor what they say,” a Drexel graduate student told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “They have to not speak about certain things because they’re afraid of how professors will react, they’re afraid of how the administration will react – and the reason this fear exists is because they’ve seen it happen to others.”

All this has been red meat for opportunistic politicians, who are calling for deportations of any students who support Hamas.

“In the wake of the attacks on Israel, Americans have been disgusted to see the open support for terrorists among the legions of foreign nationals on college campuses. They’re teaching your children hate,” former President Donald J. Trump said in a speech in Iowa. “Under the Trump administration, we will revoke the student visas of radical anti-American and antisemitic foreigners at our colleges and universities, and we will send them straight back home.”

Others parroted his sentiments. On “The Megyn Kelly Show,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said that “any of those students who are here on visas, those visas should be canceled, and they should be repatriated back to their home country. That’s a no-brainer.” As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education, he told a Fox News interviewer, “You don’t have a right to be here on a visa. You don’t have a right to be studying in the United States.”

Florida officials went even further. The head of the Florida state university system, Chancellor Ray Rodrigues, acting in conjunction with DeSantis, ordered campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine to shut down. Rodrigues’s letter said it was felony in Florida to support a terrorist organization. As reported by Inside Higher Ed, the University of Florida and the University of South Florida host such chapters, though other campuses may have chapters that are not recognized as official student organizations.

Ben Sasse, source: CNN   

Several university officials, particularly in Ivy League schools, have been criticized either for refusing to condemn the terrorists who attacked Israel on Oct. 7 or for doing so late. This came in stark contrast to an email to alums from University of Florida President Ben Sasse, a former U.S. senator from Nebraska, who earned national attention for his blunt reaction shortly after the attack.

“I will not tiptoe around this simple fact: What Hamas did is evil and there is no defense for terrorism,” Sasse wrote. “This shouldn’t be hard. Sadly, too many people in elite academia have been so weakened by their moral confusion that, when they see videos of raped women, hear of a beheaded baby, or learn of a grandmother murdered in her home, the first reaction of some is to ‘provide context’ and try to blame the raped women, beheaded baby, or the murdered grandmother. In other grotesque cases, they express simple support for the terrorists.… This thinking isn’t just wrong, it’s sickening. It’s dehumanizing. It is beneath people called to educate our next generation of Americans.”

Sasse added that he expected anti-Israel demonstrations on campus, which he promised would be protected as a matter of free speech. And, indeed, pro-Palestinian students staged a walkout and demonstration on Oct. 25. During that protest, one man briefly tried to lead the chants, shouting, “Long Live Hamas,” the public radio station WUFT reported. But, as it reported: “The large crowd then became silent, with audible pushback coming from within the group. The man then left in anger.” An organizer said the man was not part of the event.

At some schools, such as Manhattan College and Fordham University, interfaith organizations have tried to bring pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel students together to try to find common ground, an effort met with mixed results, according to Inside Higher Ed. Fordham’s Muslim Student Association, for instance, refused to take part in a vigil planned after the Hamas attack as a symbol of solidarity with Palestinians, arguing that there have been no such vigils for long-suffering Palestinians.

As Israel bombards Gaza and seems to be inching toward an invasion aimed at uprooting Hamas, competing passions on university campuses are sure to grow. They will test the ability of university leaders to be morally clear about such matters as Hamas’s savagery, as well as compassion for Gazans who have long suffered under the terrorist group and who now are suffering more as a result of its actions.

Indeed, the war sadly raises the need on campuses for better education about the Mideast conflict, a bloody story of two peoples with legitimate claims to the same land – much as either might deny the other’s claim. Well-schooled academics should refute Palestinian claims that Israel is a case of “colonization” by Jews, who after all have been in the land for millennia. But they also need to recognize and teach about the rights of Palestinians who should be able to share the land.

Some of the most illuminating views on the Mideast recently have come from New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who touched on the campus demonstrations. He chided pro-Palestinian protesters for the “anti-colonial” pap they espouse, even as he criticized Israeli West Bank settlements that he has no use for. Friedman wrote: “These progressive demonstrators seem to believe that all of Israel is a colonial enterprise — not just the West Bank settlements — and therefore the Jewish people do not have the right either to self-determination or self-defense in their ancestral homeland, whether it’s within post-1967 borders or pre-1967 ones.”

“To reduce this incredibly complex struggle of two peoples for the same land to a colonial war is to commit intellectual fraud,” he wrote. “Or as the Israeli writer Yossi Klein Halevi put it in The Times of Israel on Wednesday: ‘To blame the occupation and its consequences wholly on Israel is to dismiss the history of Israeli peace offers and Palestinian rejection. To label Israel as one more colonialist creation is to distort the unique story of the homecoming of an uprooted people, a majority of whom were refugees from destroyed Jewish communities in the Middle East.’”

Ned Lazarus, source: WJLA

And then there are insightful scholars such as Ned Lazarus of George Washington University, an international affairs professor who had long worked for Seeds of Peace in Jerusalem. There, he promoted peaceful conflict resolution between Palestinians and Israelis, and he has since written extensively about Israeli-Palestinian peace-building efforts. He bemoans the loss of innocent lives in Gaza, but in clear-eyed fashion he fixes the blame for that squarely on Hamas.

In a recent Atlantic piece, Lazarus sadly wrote: “I don’t see how the cycle of hatred, killing, and suffering ends while there is a fundamentalist terrorist organization explicitly dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews—read its 1988 founding charter; the message is not subtle—equipped with legions of fighters ready to kill and die to achieve its goals, an arsenal of missiles, and a powerful state sponsor, Iran, that enables its violence and shares its explicitly genocidal agenda.”

The war is testing the rights of all on campuses to free speech, even when their arguments may be ill-informed, wrong-headed and blind to Hamas depravity. As the folks at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression put it, tearing down posters on campuses or otherwise stifling expression is misguided and unacceptable.

“While FIRE takes no stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we staunchly support free speech and oppose censorship in all its forms,” the group said. “In doing so, we oppose tearing down expressive materials and meeting speech with violence, no matter how upsetting public discourse or current events may be. Such tactics stifle debate and chill conversation, and they have no place anywhere in a free country, least of all on a college campus.” 

Unsettling as the campus protests are, they also present a teaching moment for anyone who cares about innocents on both sides and who cares about history and justice. Some may argue that now is not the moment; emotions are running high and raw. But, if not now, when?

Where are the Palestinians Appalled by Hamas?

Some students on U.S. campuses appear extraordinarily callous

Demonstrators at Cambridge City Hall, Source: Boston Herald

As Palestinian voices have grown more strident at universities all across the country in recent years, misinformation has flourished. But the latest spate of statements from organizations on campuses ranging from Ohio State to Harvard reflects astonishing insensitivity to the brutality and immorality of Hamas.

At Ohio State, the campus affiliate of the Students for Justice for Palestine praised the “heroic resistance in Gaza.” At Harvard, over 30 student organizations signed a letter written by the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and Harvard Graduate Students for Palestine saying they “hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence,” as reported by Inside Higher Ed.

At the University of Pennsylvania, a group has called for a protest against an alleged “pro-Israel narrative” at media outlets including the NPR affiliate WHYY. At the University of Virginia, Students for Justice in Palestine celebrated the Hamas attacks as “a step towards a free Palestine,” as reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

At Tufts University, a Jewish student leader, Micah Gritz, told The Hill that the “campus environment” has been “horrifying.” He added: “On campus, we’re seeing students either turn a blind eye to the conflict, or we’re seeing those who are openly celebrating our pain, you know, glorifying it, justifying it … They’re casting the murder of Jews and Israelis as progressive, as liberation. It’s just honestly very, very scary as a Jewish student on campus who has friends and family in Israel.”

The moral blindness among some members of Palestinian student groups leaves one aghast. Have they not seen the horrors inflicted on innocents by Hamas? Surely, they cannot truly celebrate the ghastliness, as reported by The New York Times and media around the world.

Certainly, Palestinians have reason to protest conditions in the West Bank and in Gaza and to demand better. But for them to side with the wanton murderers of Hamas beggars belief – especially when the terrorists have done nothing to improve the lot of Gazans since Israel left the area in 2005. Instead, the group has focused on building rockets and arming their deluded followers. Siding with such vicious murderers boggles the mind.

Where are the Palestinian voices on campus calling for an end to Hamas terrorism, demanding an end to its undemocratic tyranny in Gaza? Where are the Palestinians calling for peaceful coexistence with Israel (a prospect Hamas has all but destroyed for now)? Where are the Palestinians at U.S. universities decrying the savagery of recent days? Where are the Palestinians condemning Hamas for the awful retaliation to come, as Israel moves on Gaza to root out terrorists who surely knew they would bring such devastation on their own people?

Lucy Aharish, source: The Forward

Some Arabs have courageously spoken out against the actions of the terrorists. Perhaps the most eloquent is Lucy Aharish, an Arab-Israeli who spoke of “our beloved country” – Israel – and lambasted those who failed to condemn the Hamas attack. Hear her moving comments here.

Have similar sentiments been stifled, with Palestinians cowed into submission, as so many Gazans have been suppressed by Hamas? Public support for the terrorists has been common around the world, as The Times of Israel has reported: “From Ramallah to Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo, people have distributed candies, danced and chanted prayers in support of the ‘resistance’ to Israel’s long-standing control of Palestinian land.”

And yet, backing for Hamas is hardly universal in Gaza. Half of Gazans agreed with the statement “Hamas should stop calling for Israel’s destruction, and instead accept a permanent two-state solution based on the 1967 borders” in a poll by The Washington Institute. As the FIKRA Forum reported: “In fact, Gazan frustration with Hamas governance is clear; most Gazans expressed a preference for PA administration and security officials over Hamas—the majority of Gazans (70%) supported a proposal of the PA sending ‘officials and security officers to Gaza to take over the administration there, with Hamas giving up separate armed units,’ including 47% who strongly agreed. Nor is this a new view—this proposal has had majority support in Gaza since first polled by The Washington Institute in 2014.”

Is anti-Hamas sentiment more common among Palestinians on campus than the latest headline-grabbing pronouncements by some groups suggest? Are they too fearful to speak out? A member of the Palestinian Solidarity Committee at Indiana University, asking for anonymity out of safety concerns, told the student newspaper: “We just stand for peace, it’s an emotional conflict … We don’t represent Hamas, and we don’t condone the actions of Hamas. But we also don’t condone the actions of the Israeli military. We do not want to see Palestinian children or Israeli children killed in this siege. It is a tragic event, and we hope things deescalate as soon as they can.”

One can only hope that there are other Palestinian students in the U.S. with more humanity than some of their local leaders and spokespeople appear to have. Surely, there are more Palestinians at such schools who share the revulsion of most in the civilized world. It would be heartening to hear more from them.