by Sarah Stern
(JNS) — The summer of 2020 is officially over. It will always be remembered as the summer of COVID-19 and of a painful period of national introspection about whether or not there is a problem of systemic racism in the United States. I certainly can claim no expertise on the issue of race. However, after years of arduous study and advocacy on the issue of antisemitism and of bias in our nation’s school systems, I am forced to conclude that systemic antisemitism exists throughout the United States on our nation’s university campuses.
For decades now, behind the ivory-covered towers of our universities, bias has reared its head against Israel and the United States, particularly within Middle East Studies programs, as is well-documented in Martin Kramer’s seminal book, “Ivory Towers on Sand.” This has led to one-sided politicization of an entire discipline, where paltry propaganda has been substituted (at the taxpayer’s expense) for a good, well-rounded education.
This tendency has become even more pronounced as of late because of the phenomenon of “cancel culture,” where there is an implicit rigid orthodoxy of “acceptable thought.” Our students are the real losers here. Today’s university experience is a far cry from John Stuart Mill’s description as “the marketplace of ideas.”
This will ultimately be to America’s detriment. Our society is already showing the pernicious effects of this as our citizens have been taught to value “group think” and group conformity over independent inquiry, rigorous analysis and debate. A recent poll shows that 62 percent of Americans are afraid to express their political views. This anticipatory self-censorship portends an appeasement to the tyranny of one societally accepted point of view.
In particular, our Jewish students are the first and biggest losers here. There are three basic categories of Jewish students: Those who passionately care about the existence of Israel and have the sufficient vertebrae to stand against the prevailing wind of hatred and risk the consequences. (After all, the power structure is skewed, here. There is a tacit threat that the professor can always punish students with a poor grade and stand in the way of their future). Those who just “lay low” and assume our rightful place in history can be called “shtetl Jews” (the obsequious European Jews prior to the Holocaust). And a growing proportion who unfortunately are so assimilated that they really don’t care about Israel and often seem inclined to join in with the anti-Israel protesters.
As is the case in history, the Jews are the proverbial “canary in the coal mine.” As Rabbi Jonathon Sacks famously said, “That which starts with the Jews never ends with the Jews.” And our history has taught us that whenever antisemitism exists, it presages a deeper corrosion within our society.
On Dec.11, 2019, I was ecstatic to have been invited into the White House and to witness President Donald Trump signing of an Executive Order prohibiting discrimination based on antisemitism. For years, I had been working for the passage of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which would have given Jewish students the same constitutional protections as black, Hispanic, handicapped and other minority students. The bill had been held up in the House. In fact, despite assurances to me from some Democrats, it failed to get even a single Democratic congressional member to sign it.
I felt, therefore, that this Executive Order would make the atmosphere for Jewish and Zionist students on our universities much more comfortable. However, we still see antisemitic professors and speakers welcomed onto our college campuses continuing to make outrageous statements about Jews and Israel with near total impunity.
If this is acceptable to you, then I invite you to try this thought experiment: Just substitute the word “racist” for the word “antisemite.” Would you be comfortable allowing your son or daughter to be influenced in the classroom by such notoriously racist figures as Dylann Roof, who murdered nine black people in a Charleston church, or David Duke, the notorious Holocaust denier and white supremacist? And, no less, in a class or a program when there is virtually no diversity of viewpoint or balance of ideas?
The E.O. used as a definition of antisemitism the working definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which includes among its examples, “ …denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. claiming that the State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
Would one then label a person who has called the random stabbing acts of Israeli citizens by Palestinian terrorists “self-defense” as an antisemite? Would one label a person who has declared that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is “a war criminal that’s not worth the bullet it would take to shoot him” as an antisemite? Would one call a person who erroneously declares “Israel is deliberately infecting Palestinians with coronavirus” an antisemite?
Yet the prestigious Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University just offered a position to the person who uttered these outrageous claims: Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
What is even more outrageous is that Erekat is going to be a fellow at Harvard’s “Future Diplomacy Project.” This is the very same person who counseled Yasser Arafat to reject the exceedingly generous offer made to him by Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David in July 2000.
Diplomacy is supposed to be the art of compromise. The only lesson that these students will be learning from Erekat is the art of rejectionism and incitement towards terrorism.
But Harvard is hardly alone here.
On Sept. 23, San Francisco State University’s Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diaspora Studies will be hosting a known terrorist, Leila Khaled. She was one of two terrorists from the Popular Front of the Liberation of Palestine who rose to fame on Aug. 29, 1969 by the notorious hijacking of TWA Flight 840. Then on Sept. 6, 1970, Khaled continued her notorious career by participating in the hijacking of El-Al flight 219, in which she is quoted as saying, “I have two hand grenades. If you do not open up the cockpit door, I will blow up the plane.”
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed credit for many of the terrorist attacks and suicide bombings during the five years of Second Intifada from 2000 to 2005. The number of victims of these terrorist acts in Israel was more than 1,000.
For this sort of egregious behavior, she is being offered a place at the table at a respected academic symposium.
I would like to say that these two recent examples are exceptions. My organization, EMET, has been conducting a detailed and thorough analysis of what has been going on within the halls of academia for many years, and the sad reality is that antisemitism, as defined by the U.S. government, is a virus that is alive and well, and metastasizing in the minds of students throughout the United States. And it is being given a tacit seal of approval by the university administrators who allow such invitations to terrorists and their enablers to be issued while they just look the other way.
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington.