How anti-Semitism became a virtue on American campuses

The anti-Israel camps taking over elite universities are a physical manifestation of the DEI agenda.

Joanna Williams

Joanna Williams

Topics Politics USA

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First it was Columbia, now anti-Israel protests have spread across America. Over the past week, students have set up camps at elite universities, including Harvard, the University of Michigan and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Yesterday, dozens of student occupiers were arrested at the University of Southern California on trespassing charges. The ‘rage of the privileged against the world’s only Jewish nation’, as Brendan O’Neill described the Columbia protests on spiked earlier this week, now rings out on leafy campuses from California to Boston.

In these ostensibly ‘anti-war’ protests, students have demanded the total destruction of Israel, while waving placards in support of Hamas and singling out Jewish professors and students for abuse. The terrifying orgy of anti-Semitism that has been unleashed in America’s top universities should disturb everyone. There is an urgent need to condemn the actions of these students. Yes, we should defend their right to protest. At the same time, it is vital that we engage in an honest reckoning with how the anti-Semitism they demonstrate has been allowed to fester unchallenged.

Unfortunately, so far, the response to the campus protests has been far from level-headed. Students have been flattered and appeased in one instance, and then subjected to violent police crackdowns the next. Yesterday, police sought to squash protests at the University of Texas in Austin. Students were manhandled and a journalist was thrown to the ground in a disproportionate response to what was a seemingly peaceful protest. This display of police force risks turning student protesters into martyrs and lending moral weight to their cause.

Meanwhile, far from condemning the bigoted outbursts of student protesters, professors are coming out in their defence. At Columbia this week, hundreds of faculty members demonstrated in solidarity with the students. Staff held a mass walkout after police were allowed on campus to arrest previously suspended students. A law professor said he was defending the student protesters because: ‘It’s not any different from everyday life on campus.’ When anti-Semitism is trivialised in this way by academics, students are emboldened in their beliefs. It should be possible to defend the right to protest while, at the same time, strongly criticising the students’ statements and behaviour.

This uncritical endorsement of student activism was also a feature of the 2020 campus protests in support of Black Lives Matter. Universities around the world issued lengthy statements condemning the killing of George Floyd and in support of the BLM movement. When student protests are backed by professors and university managers, they are less a challenge to elite ideology and more a practical demonstration of institutional values.

All too often, anti-Semitism seems to go unchallenged by university managers. Late last year, the then presidents of Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania quibbled over whether ‘calling for the genocide of Jews’ violated institutional codes of conduct during a congressional hearing on campus anti-Semitism. It is unimaginable that any other ethnic group could be discussed in such legalistic terms. The president of Penn quickly resigned and Harvard’s woefully under-qualified president, Claudine Gay, was ousted soon after, following accusations of plagiarism. This sorry episode showed the extent to which casual anti-Semitism has become normalised within elite institutions.

The institutional endorsement of Black Lives Matter – and the hiring of presidents, like Gay, seemingly for their diversity credentials – shows that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has become campus orthodoxy. Campus protests that have taken place since 7 October make clear, however, that these supposedly ‘anti-racist’ policies do not extend protection to Jews. It is tempting to cry hypocrisy, but this misses the point. It is not the case that the identity politics that fuels DEI initiatives simply has a blind spot for Jewish people. Far worse, in casting Jews as ‘hyper-white’ and therefore racially privileged, identity politics actually legitimises anti-Jewish bigotry.

Since the start of their education, today’s students have imbibed a crude understanding that people can be sorted into different groups according to skin colour, gender and sexuality, with each group afforded a distinct status as either privileged or oppressed. Critical race theory-inspired exercises designed to get children to ‘check their privilege’ sit alongside history lessons that encourage pupils to dwell only on the shame of erstwhile colonial powers. Rather than considering the gains of the civil-rights era, students are taught to see racial injustice as a never-ending continuum, running from slavery through to Jim Crow laws and ending up with the killing of George Floyd.

Students have been indoctrinated into a view that the world can be divided between oppressors and the oppressed. Those at America’s elite institutions have imbibed this message most successfully of all. These young adults have been taught to loathe their own country and made defensive of their privilege. In this context, aligning with Palestinians and demonstrating hostility to Israel makes perfect sense. It allows students to identify with an oppressed group and distance themselves from their own nation and culture. That such sentiment can so easily tip over into anti-Semitism is unsurprising. Students have been deluded into thinking that the more extreme their demands for the abolition of Israel, and the more vile their targeting of Jews, the better they show their own virtue. Horrendously, anti-Semitism comes to be seen as a morally virtuous position. Indeed, it is more likely to be appeased than challenged by staff.

Anti-Semitic campus protests must be loudly and widely condemned. University managers should not be calling in the cops on peaceful protests, but morally and intellectually challenging their students’ bigotry. They could start by ditching the identitarian DEI agenda that legitimises such vile prejudice.

Joanna Williams is a spiked columnist and author of How Woke Won. She is a visiting fellow at MCC Budapest.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics USA


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