Gaza War: Academic Fairy Tales

(Scroll down to see earlier posts in this series, beginning January 14th.)

Fair Harvard, thy sons to thy jubilee throng,

And in faith with thy glorious past,

By these odious rites now surrender thee o’er

To the murders and rapes of Hamas.*

This rewrite of the first stanza of Harvard’s alma mater—find the original wording and the history here—is impolite but not unfair, given the recent outpouring of hatred of Israel and, to a lesser extent, of Jews, on this nearly 400-year-old American campus. Most pointedly, Harvard’s students and faculty have supported a terror group whose grotesque atrocities against Jews and others in Israel are unprecedented in modern times. Can Harvard students and faculty be useful idiots, shills for Hamas mass murderers?

Don’t get me wrong. I have no desire to limit the free speech of deluded or even malicious faculty and students. Only a few have gone so far as to merit a legal crackdown against them. I’m not saying it’s fine to spew hatred of Israel, Zionism, and Jews, merely that I have to weigh these wrongs against the wrong of muzzling them, and given the first amendment’s protections, letting them puke up their lies is the lesser of two evils. But that doesn’t mean there are no remedies.

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wisely said that the remedy for noxious speech is more speech, and Jewish students on these campuses can avail themselves of that opportunity—although at a risk of harm if they do or even if they let it be known that they are Jewish. They of course cannot have anything like the kind of college experience they signed up and paid for, just to stay in their rooms and go warily to class in groups and in daylight hours. That is the price they must pay for the first amendment protections of others, and ultimately their own, if they go to those schools.

These fears, hurts, losses, and self-restrictions need not be suffered so greatly by students who attend schools where there is less antisemitism (it is never nonexistent) and who divert their tuition accordingly. Nor can anyone limit the speech of alumni and faculty who are free not only to withhold donations but to legitimately tarnish the reputations of these once-revered institutions. This is part of what Justice Brandeis surely meant by “more speech.”

What Justice Brandeis could not have envisioned are the billions of dollars in US government funds that these institutions now depend on. American taxpayers do not have to pay for antisemitism, and I think most would rather not. True, Harvard and a few other institutions could theoretically operate from the interest on their endowments, combined with a suitable increase in the millions they already get from foreign governments that support Hamas and other terror groups. Jews are not as rich as Qatar, but I suspect that, among Americans—even in an age of rising antisemitism—they enjoy more goodwill.

Can an institution like Harvard be induced to rethink their policy of having more than ninety percent left-of-center faculty, and enabling some of those faculty to teach lies about Israel and Jews? This is not a free speech question, it’s a question of how to build an institution of higher learning that offers balanced and truthful knowledge about the world. Let me be clear. Harvard’s faculty is as biased to the left as Oral Roberts University’s faculty is to the right, and the fact that Harvard is so much better on various metrics does not mitigate the bias. Decades of politically-shaped hiring have made Harvard’s rise in antisemitism inevitable. It was only a matter of time before something like the Gaza War brought it out in a burst of dark glory.

I am not trying to restrict the speech of Harvard students and faculty, however deluded, ill-intentioned, or damaging they may be. I am trying to follow the Brandeis dictum by speaking back in such a way as to help give them the sullied reputations they have earned.

But why give all the credit to Harvard? At UCLA posters showing kidnapped children were stabbed with long knives as a “tool” to remove them. A third year medical student received an anonymous warning from “concerned fellow students” demanding that she retract the “lies” she had told in an email accusing Hamas kidnapping and killing door to door. Columbia is being sued for “severe and pervasive antisemitism.” Cornell had to suspend classes after antisemitic online threats by a student, and was the subject of moving Congressional testimony by a threatened Jewish student before that. A sign posted near Yale’s campus—hardly the first evidence of antisemitism there—read, “YALE IS  A JEW HOLE. Let’s Round Them Up!!” And or course many institutions erupted in mass demonstrations in which hundreds or thousands of students screamed hatred of Israel and Zionism and support for what Hamas did on October 7th.

Let me be clear: criticism of Israel’s actions, however severe, is not antisemitism, although when the criticism is utterly false and deliberately misleading, the line can become hard to draw. However, anti-Zionism, the denial of the Jewish state’s right to exist in its ancient homeland, and the absurd characterization of the Jews’ return to Zion as “a colonialist enterprise,” certainly is antisemitism. This equivalence follows from the most basic understanding of Judaism, and for those who don’t know what and why that is, I’ll explain in a later post.

*Set to the tune of the Irish air “Believe me if all those endearing young charms,” although the music is much older than those words.

2 thoughts on “Gaza War: Academic Fairy Tales

  1. “Decades of politically-shaped hiring have made Harvard’s rise in antisemitism inevitable. It was only a matter of time before something like the Gaza War brought it out in a burst of dark glory.” – beautiful description.

    By the way, I’m enjoying this series as a beacon of rationality, integrity and critical thinking amidst a swirling sea of utter nonsense that is the internet today. Thank you for continuing to publish.

    • Thank you so much, Emily, comments like yours help me keep doing this and stave off despair. Let us keep hoping for light at the end of this tunnel. Mel

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