Turman Hall at Emory University in Atlanta, also the Charles and Peggy Evans Anatomy Building. Credit: Daniel Mayer via Wikimedia Commons.

by Jonathan Feldstein

So, Emory has caved to the antisemitic anarchists who have tried to take control of the campus, both physically and ideologically. Emory announced that it will move this year’s graduation from the pristine quad, where I graduated 37 years ago (and at which every graduation has been held in recent memory), and move it to an enhanced auditorium 25 miles away. So much for parents paying premium dollar to be near campus this week.

It all adds insult to injury with Emory grossly mishandling the explosive way in which pro-Hamas/antisemitic students, staff and others have tried to deny students the right to exist on campus in safety, or to have a memorable graduation and the beginning of their future.

In a post on Emory’s website, President Greg Fenves announced, “Safety and security require us to adjust the plans.” Fenves has been at the eye of the storm, targeted by the pro-Hamas protestors. Last week the faculty passed a no-confidence resolution against Fenves, another of which is scheduled by the students.

The problem is that Fenves is to blame, but not because of the reasons the pro-Hamas protestors are claiming. It’s not only Fenves. He is answerable to the board, with which he has no doubt consulted widely over the past months. While some credit Fenves for calling the police (and I am sure the board and many lawyers were involved), to break up the illegal campus protests, one does not deserve “credit” for calling the police to end a problem that they created.

Collectively, they are responsible for the situation that has seen Emory being used to call for genocidal threats against Jews and the extermination of Israel. Maybe it was just the Rhyme Majors thinking that they were saying something cute like Humpty Dumpty, but “There is only one solution, intifada, revolution” is a direct call to kill Jews. The pro-Hamas protestors worship, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” meaning the destruction of the State of Israel. These are antisemitic incitement, not free speech.

Since the fall, Emory has allowed multiple instances of antisemitic threats, actual assaults, and hijacking of Emory property and communication systems to create the situation from which it is now retreating.

In a weak Thanksgiving message, Fenves sent a message to the entire Emory community, myself as an alumnus included. The moral equivalence and actual factual errors were astounding, and fertilized the ground for what’s happening now.

Rather than staking out moral clarity and truth, Fenves wrote “a large number of students, faculty, staff, and alumni will have no such relief from the emotional toll of the tragic war in Israel and Gaza.” As if the war just started spontaneously, with no massacre and taking of 253 hostages. I have not seen a single communication of his, or the board, denouncing these.

Fenves’ letter embodied moral relativism that would make the Contortionist Club jump for joy. His unequal equation, “mourning the lives lost, both Palestinian and Israeli… praying that hostages… still being held by Hamas will be released and for the Palestinian families who are suffering as the war continues across Gaza,” missed the mark so badly, comparing the apples of hostages being kidnapped and abused in Gaza, to the oranges of “Palestinian families… suffering.”

As the son of a Holocaust survivor, it’s astounding that nowhere has Fenves stated to the entire Emory community that Jew-hatred, and threats or assaults on Jews, anywhere, will not be tolerated.

Forty years ago, as president of Emory Hillel, I learned that Jewish student leaders from other campuses often faced hostile anti-Israel protests. Not having these problems at Emory, I engaged the Moslem Student Association, whose president, Ahmed, was a Syrian medical student.

Ahmed was a radical Moslem who denied Israel’s right to exist, and criticized Israel for its western openness. But we were able to talk, and be cordial. Among the things I remember so vividly was his hostility toward Israel “allowing” women to wear bathing suits. One day when he heard that Rabbi Meir Kahana would be speaking nearby, Ahmed asked me to take him to hear Kahana speak. Kahana was undeterred by having an Arab in the private audience, and was open about his views including expelling Arabs from Israel, views which Israel cited as racist, prohibiting him from running for Knesset.

On the ride back to campus Ahmed confessed he admired Kahana and, if he were Jewish, that’s how he would be. My bubble of naivete burst, thinking that I could prevent future hostility once I understood that in no way would he and all those he represented ever accept Israel. The question was to what extent they would fight to destroy Israel, and raise their children to do so.  Even the blind saw the answer on October 7.

Such naïveté was further debunked on every campus where protecting all students’ rights and freedom from threats of violence and intimidation had been hijacked. Emory disregarded the assault of a Jewish student because it was “off-campus.” But when a graduate student used an internal email list to propagate anti-Israel and antisemitic hate, Emory seemingly responded without consequences.

No wonder both students and staff have made Emory’s quad a war zone. When a professor participating in the illegal protested whined, “I’m a professor,” as she was arrested, as if she were above the law, Emory’s response should have been to fire her on the spot.

Emory’s response to the whining professor is a terrible lesson for students.

Without any unilateral, unconditional condemnation of antisemitism and threats to Jewish students, and allowing the unrest to take place to begin with, Emory has devalued my diploma, and tarnished its own reputation.

Emory has another problem with this Sunday’s auditorium graduation. Announcing that attendees may not “interfere unreasonably with the event or cause substantial disruption” may only be a lightning rod, and as it prohibits clothes with explicit wording, stickers, pepper spray, large bags, and backpacks, it’s just inviting a lawsuit that could have been avoided if Emory was not so wishy washy from the outset, and all these months since.

The class of ’24 entered wearing masks because of Covid, and now are graduating at a ceremony that has been hijacked by people wearing masks and keffiyehs, supporting Hamas’ genocidal goals.

Jonathan Feldstein is a graduate of Emory College. He lives in Israel where he is president of the Genesis 123 Foundation and host of the Inspiration from Zion podcast and webinar series.