AMERICAN universities and colleges are known throughout the world for their intolerance and ongoing wars against free speech and the open exchange of ideas. Unless one holds the ‘correct’ views – those which conform to the poisonous far-left drivel being rammed down our throats by the elites who seem intent on tearing this magnificent nation asunder – life in academic circles can be fraught with peril.
Institutions which are obligated to celebrate the marketplace of ideas and foster intellectual curiosity have become centres of fear and self-censorship where honourable men and women can have their professional careers destroyed over a misplaced word or two, or the defence of an unfashionable view.
Examples of individuals falling foul of this increasingly authoritarian and unforgiving system abound. Even those who have little or no contact with life in American academia are familiar with the more outlandish examples as they are regularly reported in the popular media, especially those outlets which lean towards the right. Many conservative students and faculty members known to me personally keep their views to themselves, going along to get along, like Elizabethan church-papists, attending the required Anglican services but remaining mostly silent and evincing little enthusiasm.
What is far less known is the increasingly dire plight of Jewish students in the United States. A former student of mine is a young man who leans towards the liberal left but is proud of his Jewish heritage and, despite his animus against Benjamin Netanyahu, is a supporter of Israel. He told me of the high-intensity pressure, bordering on physical intimidation, he was placed under at Columbia University to endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, whose intention is to destroy Israel by strangling it economically. The young man in question has one of the finest minds and characters of any student I’ve ever taught, and I was deeply saddened by his evident distress. No doubt there are many similar stories.
But a recent report by the AMCHA Initiative, a ‘non-profit organization dedicated to investigating, documenting, educating about, and combating antisemitism at institutions of higher education in America’, goes far beyond individual anecdotes and paints a much broader picture.
According to the report, being a Jew at an American university or college in the third decade of the 21st century can subject you to bullying, abuse and intimidation by fellow students and faculty alike. The message to young Jews on campus is clear: leave your yarmulkas and Stars of David at home, remove the mezuzahs from the doors of your dorms, and on no account advertise your support or affection for that most despised and denigrated member of the family of nations, the state of Israel.
While it is entirely reasonable to criticise the Israeli government, as it is for any other nation-state in the world, criticism of Israel is often couched in the language of anti-Zionism and post-colonialism, with lots of incendiary and ahistorical talk about Israel being an apartheid state. Being opposed to Zionism was perfectly respectable until the founding of the Jewish State in 1948. Indeed, many prominent British and American Jews opposed the foundation of a separate Jewish state going as far back as the 1917 Balfour Declaration, many preferring greater assimilation in the societies where they lived, an idea born during the European Enlightenment when Jews were earning citizenship and the same rights as their Christian fellow citizens. But being anti-Zionist in 2023 means something altogether different. It means supporting the ultimate destruction of the Israeli state itself, and I’m not talking about those who opposed its foundation before 1948. It must be affirmed that one can believe that the founding of Israel in the Holy Land was a mistake without being remotely anti-Semitic.
The AMCHA Initiative report quotes polling data indicating that more than 80 per cent of American Jews regard Israel as central to their Jewish identity. As I indicated above, Jewish students at American universities and colleges, many of them liberal and champions of social justice, are finding it increasingly difficult to function on US campuses.
A study by the Louis D Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law paints a grim picture: nearly 70 per cent of the students surveyed personally experienced or were familiar with an anti-Semitic attack in the previous 120 days. More than 65 per cent of these students have felt unsafe on campus due to physical or verbal attacks, with one in ten reporting they have feared they would be physically assaulted. Roughly 50 per cent have felt the need to hide their Jewish identity.
Young men and women, including former students of mine, having to hide their Jewish identities on American campuses makes me sick to my Gentile stomach. That university administrations are aiding and abetting this fascistic nonsense makes me deeply ashamed of being an American. Just recently, UC Berkeley Law School’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) introduced a bylaw banning any speaker that supports ‘Zionism, the apartheid state of Israel and the occupation of Palestine’, thereby excluding, in addition to outside speakers, more than 90 per cent of Berkeley’s Jewish students, according to one estimate.
Yes, I know, German Jews have been advised not to wear their kippas in public spaces and Jews throughout Europe are being urged to hide their Jewishness, but that is happening in Europe with its long history of anti-Semitism. I was naïve enough to believe that America is different. Recent developments are proving me wrong. At a time when a person’s real or imagined identity has assumed the status of holy writ, American Jews at some of the most respected establishments of higher learning in the world are being told that their identities do not count and are deeply offensive to their fellow students.