Published in the Jerusalem Post
The philosopher Henrich Heine wrote, “Never underestimate the power of ideas. Philosophical concepts nurtured in the stillness of a professor’s study could destroy a civilization.”
Spanning the course of four decades, I have been a political activist for Israel and the Jewish people, centering most of my work on Capitol Hill. Over time, I have watched how ideas shaped in the college classroom have gradually and incrementally made their way into the corridors of power.
When I first began political activism in the 1980s, the memory of the Holocaust was still fresh, and members of both parties would line up to meet with the group I was then affiliated with.
I remember how the late Senator Daniel Inouye (D – Hawaii) spoke, his voice laden with emotion, of what he saw as a young Army officer, when he first entered the concentration camps. That vivid memory made him into a life-long Zionist.
As Inouye was speaking, a revolution was beginning to percolate on college campuses, beginning with the writings of Edward Said and his 1978 book “Orientalism” and culminating in “Critical Race Theory,” which views Jews as privileged and “hyper-white.”
Today, the Middle East Studies Association posts this statement: “MESA’s Board of Directors condemns the ongoing Israeli government assault on the Palestinian people … there can be no academic freedom and adequate access to education, so long as there is apartheid.”
What began in Middle Eastern Studies classrooms has metastasized throughout the humanities and the social sciences. By now, the “educated” have become the policymakers on Capitol Hill.
This summer, when educating people on Capitol Hill about the indoctrination and military training that students from Gaza receive in Hamas summer camps, including learning how to fire a gun and to jump through hoops of fire, one Democratic staffer said to me, “Isn’t it the same as what we get here? I went to the Boy Scouts and we learned to fire a gun.”
At another meeting, I was discussing a certain individual who was amply qualified for a position requiring Senate confirmation, who had worked for an institution combating antisemitism. I was interrupted by the staffer who candidly said, “We don’t care about antisemitism in this office. We care about the rights of transgenders, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, Hispanics and blacks.”
In the meantime, every day, the situation on college campuses grows bleaker for young Jews.
Last November, Rasha Anaya, a teaching assistant at John Hopkins University posted a poll on Twitter: “Ethical dilemma, if you have to grade Zionist students (sic) exams, do you still give their points, even if they support your ethnic cleansing?” Despite many complaints, she is still teaching at Hopkins.
At the University of North Carolina, Kylie Broderick, who teaches the only class on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has referred to Jews as “Zionist dirtbags” and refers to Israel’s establishment as “the Nakba,” scheduled his class’s first quiz on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year.
Jewish students deserve the same Constitutional protections as any other minority group.
I have been trying to get members to sign a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, saying simply that, and it has become increasingly difficult to get democrats on board. Once, this sort of letter would be a “no brainer” to obtain ample bipartisan support.
There is a war within the soul of the democratic party, which ultimately is a war of the soul of much of America, and within much of America’s opinion shapers and thought leaders.
Enabling or accepting antisemitism within one major political party signifies a certain rot within our society.
As the late Rabbi Jonathon Sacks said, “The appearance of antisemitism in a culture is the first symptom of a disease, the early warning sign of collective breakdown.”
Looking back historically, we know that Rabbi Sacks was right. We have got to clean up our act within academia, because it is causing a deep rot within our society that might not be so easily eradicated.
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