Fighting antisemitism on our campuses

December 12, 2023

by Rav Avi Weiss for NY Daily News

Imagine if the presidents of HarvardPenn, and MIT were asked in a congressional hearing, “Would you consider a call for genocide against Blacks or Asians or Latinos to run counter to your university’s code of conduct? Would you consider a call for genocide against the LGBTQ community to run counter to your university’s code of conduct?”

The answer, of course, would be an unequivocal yes. If these universities micromanage — police, even — the improper use of students’ preferred pronouns, they will undoubtedly go to all ends, as they should, to forcefully confront calls for violence by such unabashed haters.

Then why, when asked the very same question about Jews during a congressional hearing last week, did they resort to the feeble refrain, ‘It depends’? It was profoundly disappointing to see the presidents of these universities evade directly answering whether calls for genocide against Jews violate their university policies by arguing that it depends on whether it leads to violence, whether the threat is against a specific Jew, or on the context.

While Penn’s president, Liz Magill, has now resigned, the problem remains. Don’t these leaders realize that words make a difference? Words can lead to fatal deeds. Smart and ethical leaders stop hate at its inception rather than wait for it to harm, injure, and kill.

And of course, calling for genocide against any group is a call to kill every person in that group. All Jews are explicitly endangered.

When threats against Jews are not denounced as antisemitic, but threats against others are properly deemed as racist and bigoted — that’s a double standard. Viewing Jews differently than others is antisemitism.

So why did these presidents dismally fail in their responses about Jews? it is critical to trace whether their respective schools are funded or seek to be funded by antisemitic, terror-supporting countries. Qatar, for example, has given at least $4.7 billion dollars to American universities since 2001.

Another contributing factor relates to the various ideologies and academic frameworks that have permeated campuses in recent decades — intersectionality, “decolonization,” two of the most odious canards.

Whatever the reasons may be, one thing is certain: Presidents of universities are supposed to serve as model leaders, chosen because of their achievements and leadership qualities. A hallmark of any true leader is the ability to stand up for what is right with conviction, and fortitude, especially when the choice is difficult. History has taught us, however, that the intelligentsia can be void of moral conscience and flaccid in standing up against the voices of those who support anti-human rights positions.

It’s easy to accept money, especially massive sums of money, from wherever it comes. But it is the courageous thing, to know when to say no. Just as philanthropists develop an “ethics of giving,” meaning cultivating a sense of when, where, and how much to give, so, too, should there be an “ethics of receiving.” Universities would never accept money from violent thugs, from sexual offenders or murderers; and they should similarly reject contributions from sources that support terror — the murder of Americans and Israelis and innocent people all over the world.

When presidents do not set the correct example for their students, tragically, the forces of evil triumph. The prophet Isaiah states that young people are the ones who lead the way. And so, today, what is vitally necessary are Jewish students and non-Jewish students of moral conscience who are not afraid to speak truth to power — much like the brave Jewish students who spoke on the Hill last week. If students cower to fear and run from the challenge of standing up to antisemitism, they hand victory to the enemy.

Now is the time for all students on campus, not only Jews, to wear skullcaps, to wear Star of David necklaces, to light Chanukah candles and hang Israeli flags in the windows of their dorm rooms for all to see. Now is the time for them to send a powerful message to their university leaders, that racism, bigotry, and antisemitism are two sides of the same coin.

As these people of good will of all faith traditions oppose bigotry and antisemitism they will be educating all Americans — starting with university presidents who have shirked their responsibilities by shamefully condoning antisemitism — that what they are fighting for is, in fact, the ultimate message of American freedom and democracy.

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