Thursday, October 18, 2012
A university’s negative view of the Jewish state
Richard Cravatts’ new book, “Genocidal Liberalism: The University’s Jihad Against Israel and the Jews,” concludes that across America, “it is the academics who lead the charge against Israel.” This seems confirmed by our experience at Northeastern University (NEU), where anti-Israel (and anti-Semitic) professors have taught hundreds if not thousands of America’s future leaders a negative and at times demonic view of the Jewish state and its supporters.
Apart from the damage this does to American support for Israel, it can also create a hostile climate on campus for Jews. Indeed, the Jewish students who appear on our NEU videos (www.shameonneu.com) complain that they feel culturally and ethnically assaulted in some classes.
But why are so many American college professors hostile to Israel? Cravatts explains that anti-Israelism fits perfectly into the worldview of many liberal professors as a twisted extension of the left’s standard critique of the West. A simplified version goes like this: Western power, racism and xenophobia stand in the way of world peace, justice and equality. Israel is a projection of Western power, a European colony in the heart of indigenous, brown, impoverished innocents. Israel is bad because the West is bad, but also Israel’s “oppression of the Palestinians” makes Westerners accessories to a crime which leftists insist is the most significant crime on the planet. Western holocaust guilt created this problem; decent Westerners must fight to right this wrong. The attacks on Israel and Jews attract non-leftists as well; Leftists now join with a growing influx of Muslims on U.S campuses for a powerful coalition.
On many campuses across the country, “Palestinianism” – the view that the greatest humanrights sin on the planet is Jewish “oppression” of the Arabs – has become the reigning doctrine. Indeed, events such as the mass murder of civilians in Syria and horrific assaults on Christian communities in Sudan, Egypt and Iraq, or the subjugation of women, gays and minorities in the Muslim world, which don’t fit the paradigm are mostly ignored.
Universities have become saturated with this thinking. Sadly, the Jewish response has been mostly silent acquiescence or denial.
Beginning in 2001, some Jewish activists, seeing that mainstream Jewish organizations were failing to act, launched grassroots organizations to address the campus problem. For the most part – but with some important exceptions – their strategies focused exclusively on educating Jewish students on campus about the Israeli-Arab conflict and preparing Jewish high schoolers for the campus battles that lay ahead. The unspoken assumption was that Jewish students could counter the leftist, often tenured faculty. If it wasn’t clear then, it’s obvious now that this was a false assumption.
While it is absolutely necessary to educate Jewish students – indeed, several of the grassroots groups do a fine and important job of it – given the forces arrayed against Israel on campus, it is simply insufficient. Without significant support of their communities, Jewish students – no matter how well-versed in historical truths – cannot possibly take on anti-Israel professors and the weak administrations that cower before them. In the face of an implacable combination of factors lined up against pro-Israel students on campus, viz., the professors, the weak administrators, leftist and “human rights” groups, Islamic groups and Islamic funding of universities – the Jewish community has left Jewish students virtually alone on the battlefield. There are exceptions that can be detailed in a later column.
But, one should ask, what about “our” professors – the Jews who teach on campus? Don’t they help Jewish students confront the forces arrayed against them? Not so much – and it is a sad tale.
When we produced “Columbia Unbecoming” in 2004 about the intimidation of Jewish students at Columbia University, many Jewish professors validated the complaints we heard from Jewish students. Yet not one of them would publicly speak out in their defense. (We were tempted to rename the film “The Marranos of Morningside Heights.”)
Since then I’ve spoken to dozens of Jewish professors, many of whom agree on the factors that explain their silence:
• Protect “academic freedom” at all costs. This is a red line which, if breeched, invites no end of possible interference from outside the Ivory Tower walls. Professors love their autonomy (and, I assume, their lack of accountability to the outside world). But Academic Freedom was granted to scholars so they could pursue the truth in a scientific, rigorous manner. Now with the triumph of relativism it has become a wild card, giving license to preach partisan biases as scholarship, undeterred. It is hard in today’s academy to defend the idea of truth, or the existence of objective methods to distinguish lies and errors from true representations of reality.
• Anti-provincialism. “I didn’t study so hard to become “the AIPAC professor of the Middle East.” As liberals, Jewish professors have much criticism of Israel. Fair enough. But many have adopted a strictly universalist posture where defending one’s own small tribe is seen as selfish and provincial. Better to be seen as caring for “everyone.” For many of these academics to be Jewish is to be for the “other.”
• Personal Peace Uber Alles: Professors are people who chose the contemplative life and do not wish to be embroiled in sour or hostile relations in their places of work.
• Job security and maximizing career opportunities. No disrespect intended, but perhaps this should be at the top of the list.
I understand that Jewish professors at NEU recently met to discuss our videos. We can only hope that some will decide to tell the public what they know, and stand up for honesty and academic rigor.
Powerful forces press people to remain loyal to their institutions – and their employers. Powerful forces have pushed Jews to express how non-tribal they are. These things might even prompt a Jewish teacher from Northeastern to write in to the Advocate defending and praising Professor Denis Sullivan, whose lectures, syllabi, curricula, and invited guests are shown on our video to be clearly designed to poison the minds of students against the Jewish state. Professor Sullivan typically invites a token Jewish professor to lecture in his class so he can say he’s shown both sides. Perhaps this Jewish professor can claim to present “all sides.” Perhaps this Jewish professor didn’t know that. Perhaps now he will develop a regard for his dignity. Such a shift is not without precedent.
The Hillel rabbi at Columbia, Charles Sheer, was the one Jewish campus leader with courage. He agreed to be interviewed on our film to defend the truths that the Jewish students expressed. He admitted he was sorry for his long silence. Here’s what he said:
“I remember what would happen when a student would come to me, and report these incidences, and what could I really say to them other than ‘well, first of all, you have to go back to the professor; maybe you misheard them; talk it through.’ Then, if that’s not the case they actually said that, the next thing I would say to them is ‘you have to talk to the chair of your department.’ And if that gave you no recourse you’d have to go and talk to the dean. Honestly I know what happened after I gave them my carefully, softly, gently-couched advice. None of the students would ever do that. You know it takes an awful lot of ego strength for a 17-, 18-, 19-, 20-year-old student to go back to a professor and to challenge him. I was very disappointed and disappointed in myself not to be able to get more people to speak out against these issues.”
Rabbi Sheer tried to redeem himself by ending his silence. I truly hope that some (right now I’d take even one) of NEU’s Jewish professors will say in public what they know and say among themselves: that their Jewish students are right to complain and should be helped.
Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., President
Scholars for Peace in the Middle East