Academia is turning against the Jews, again.
As universities try to compete for more students and faculty, homogenous opinion is spreading on campus, and academia has metastasized from liberal to illiberal bias.
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When the letters of admission arrived in the mail, Miha Schwartzenberg was “the proudest Mom on Earth.”
Her son was admitted to five top universities in the U.S.
“Today, I’m afraid for his safety to tell publicly which university he chose,” she said. “And I’m ashamed to talk about something which I thought was a big accomplishment, when it became a universal joke.”
The universal joke that Schwartzenberg noted is what one satirical Twitter account called Harvard University’s “new Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity standard to address antisemitism. It will be called DIE Jews.”1
Elon Gold, a Jewish American comedian, also took aim at some of America’s top universities, saying Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and MIT seem to be more concerned with pronouns (he, she, they, them) than nouns (murder, rape, beheading, and kidnapping).
Chabad at Harvard was apparently told to take down their Chanukah decor at night because it might be vandalized.
“We can’t possibly help you prevent that. Sincerely, University with $51 billion in the bank,” one Twitter user sarcastically wrote.2
On a more serious note, a Harvard Jewish alumni group recently claimed they have seen data to suggest that the Jewish population at the university has declined from 20-to-25 percent in the 1990s and 2000s, to 5-to-7 percent today — and that almost all this decline occurred in recent years.
These same universities that are increasingly seen as breeding grounds for antisemitism have accepted billions of dollars in previously undisclosed donations from Middle Eastern countries like Qatar — and beneficiaries merely call it a coincidence.
To be sure, antisemitism on college campuses and within academia isn’t anything remotely new. During the early Middle Ages, higher education in Europe largely centered around the monastery and was therefore dominated by Catholic and Christian men. Jews were rarely admitted to these universities and faced a hostile environment when they were.
In the 19th century, even as a tide of liberalism swept across academia, there were restrictions on the admission of Jewish students by a quota, as well as ostracism, intimidation, and violence against Jewish students. Not to mention, limitations on the hiring, retention, and treatment of Jewish faculty members.
Nowadays, though, institutionalized antisemitism is a much different animal on college campuses and within academia. DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) is the new name of the game, but both Jews and Israelis are often excluded from these initiatives and painted by some DEI personnel as “white oppressors” or “white colonizers” akin to apartheid.
In a new Harvard/Harris poll, 67 percent of respondents aged 18-to-24 agree that “Jews as a class are oppressors and should be treated as oppressors” — while 60 percent believe that Hamas’ murder of 1,200 people in Israel on October 7th is justified by Palestinian grievances.
These trends are part of a new cult-like worldview characterized by an ideology called “intersectionality” — the tenets of which have quickly spilled beyond trendy humanities courses in academia.
At its root, intersectionality teaches that the relative victim status of various groups is the deepest truth, and this framework must drive our interpretation of reality. Truth, moral claims, beauty, dignity, the explanatory value of a research insight — all of these must be subjugated to a prior determination of the historical power or powerlessness of certain groups in society.
The moral confusion on too many campuses after the October 7th Palestinian massacre fits a familiar pattern: The acceptability of the speech depends on the speaker, not on the objective nature of speech itself. Individuals from oppressed groups are given tremendous leeway to target oppressor groups through bullying, micro-aggressions, disruptions, and threats — a victimology that enables Palestinians and their supporters (the oppressed) to target, intimidate, and harass Jews and Israelis (the oppressors).
When U.S. senator Dan Sullivan visited his alma mater, Harvard, last weekend, he walked into a library and “couldn’t believe” his eyes, saying:
“Nearly every student in the packed room was wearing a kaffiyeh (a Palestinian scarf),” he said. “Fliers attached to their individual laptops, as well as affixed to some of the lamps in the reading room, read: ‘No Normalcy During Genocide — Justice for Palestine.’ A young woman handed the fliers to all who entered. A large banner spread across one end of the room stated in blazing blood-red letters, ‘Stop the Genocide in Gaza.’”3
In this upside-down system, violence by “the oppressed” is just speech, whereas an oppressor’s speech is violence. Sometimes an oppressor’s silence is even violence. But one thing is clear: When the rape of Israeli women cannot be unequivocally condemned because of their status as Jews — “oppressors” — and when calls for genocide require additional “context,” many of academia’s “best minds” are unable to make basic moral judgments.
Take, for example, a liberal Jewish lawmaker and climate change policy expert who was uninvited from addressing a UC Berkeley class after students discovered what they considered to be “pro-Israel” social media posts, questioned the “legitimacy” of his views on environmental activism and accused him of supporting “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing.”
Intersectionality is also perverting academic hiring processes, with many employers requiring applicants to submit a “diversity statement” that outlines their past, present, and future commitments to DEI.
“Many even asked me to detail how (not if) my research contributes to fostering diversity,” said one Phd student. “Getting a job as an academic scientist depended more on how well I signaled my commitment to enacting woke racism than being a good scientist.”4
If Harvard president Claudine Gay wasn’t a person of color and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, they’d likely have shown her the door by now (as was the case for University of Pennsylvania president Liz Magill, a white woman). But in today’s academic climate, being a DEI double agent suddenly justifies a high-profile job, even in the absence of professional qualifications.
In practice, the commitment to diversity, which many universities view as part of their larger mission to improve society, is reflected in drop-offs in the Jewish percentage of student bodies.
At the University of Pennsylvania, the percentage of Black students barely changed between 2010 and 2016, a time when its Jewish population sharply declined and the percentage of Asians and international students predominantly rose.
“The admissions data allowed Penn to virtue-signal that it was doing something for diversity,” said one source familiar with Jewish life at the school. “But what it really was doing was swapping out wealthy Jews for wealthy Asians.”5
As universities try to compete for more students and faculty, homogenous opinion is spreading on campus, and academia has metastasized from liberal to illiberal bias. Rather than wrestle with hard questions about human dignity, individual agency, and free speech, many universities seem poised to double down on fanaticism.
One of the glories of embracing illiberalism is that you are always right about everything, and so you are justified in shouting disagreement down. Academia that starts out assuming it knows the answers can be far less valuable to society than academia that starts out with a humbling awareness that it knows very little.
The bias has become so pervasive, it is practically unconscious. By their nature, information bubbles are powerfully self-reinforcing, and many campuses have little idea how closed their world has become, or how far they are from fulfilling their academic compact to show the world without fear or favor.
In the face of this, university leaders find that it is so much easier to compromise than to confront — to give a little ground today in the belief you can ultimately bring people around. This is why academic leadership is losing control of its principles.
For now, to assert that academia plays by the same rules it always has is to commit a hypocrisy that is transparent to conservatives, dangerous to liberals, and bad for higher education as a whole. It makes academia too easy for conservatives to dismiss and too easy for progressives to believe. The reality is that academia is becoming a reality through which progressive elitists talk to themselves about a world that does not really exist.
It is hard to imagine a path back to saner academia that does not traverse a common ground of shared fact. It is equally hard to imagine how academia’s diversity can continue to be a source of strength, rather than a fatal flaw, if students and faculty members are afraid or unwilling to listen to each other.
Academia’s creed used to have its foundation in liberalism, in the classic philosophical sense. The exercise of a campus’ curiosity and empathy, given scope by the democratic protections of free speech, equipped students with the best information to form their own judgments. The best ideas and arguments would win out.
The faculty’s role was to be a sworn witness; the student’s role was to be judge and jury. In its idealized form, academia was lonely, prickly, unpopular work, because it was only through unrelenting skepticism and questioning that society could advance.
Illiberal academia has a different philosophy that is more concerned with group rights than individual rights, which they regard as a bulwark for the privileges of white men.
And they do not just want to be part of the cool crowd. They need to be. To be more valued by their peers and their contacts — and hold sway over their superiors — they need a lot of followers on social media. This means they must be seen applauding the right sentiments of the right people on these platforms. Now academia is becoming another place for “followers,” a term that mocks the essence of academia’s role.
This is a bit of a paradox. The new academic ideology seems idealistic, yet it has grown from the idea that there is no such thing as objective truth; that there is only narrative, and that therefore whoever controls the narrative — whoever gets to tell the version of the story that the campus hears — has the whip hand. What matters, in other words, is not truth and ideas in themselves, but the power to determine both in academia’s mind.
The boundaries between commentary and facts or truths are disappearing, and students have little reason to trust that faculty members resist rather than indulge their biases.
And yet academia insists to the public that nothing has changed. By saying that it still holds itself to the old standard of strictly academia for academic purposes, it leads us further into the trap of thinking that what is being learned and taught are independent and impartial.
In reality, many students are being served a very restricted range of views, some of them presented as comprehensive views, by institutions that still hold themselves out as independent of any politics.
It matters that conflicting views do not just appear before different students in politically different campuses, but instead in the same campus, before the same students, subject to the same standards for fact and argumentation. That is also, by the way, an important means by which faculty members can learn, by speaking to audiences who are not inclined to nod along with them.
The lessons are not just about how to uproot antisemitism on campuses, but about how much academia has changed — how digital technology, the institutions’ new “business” models, mega foreign contributions from autocratic countries like Qatar, and the rise of new ideals among its faculty members and “customers” (i.e. students). The outcome is an altered understanding of the boundaries between reality and narrative, and of the relationship between truth and justice.
To the shock and horror of Jews across the world, three presidents from some of the world’s most prestigious academic institutions couldn’t find the words to condemn calling for genocide against Jews. But the opportunity these three presidents threw away in not clearly condemning hate speech against Jews goes deeper than a free speech setback.
What seems most important and least understood about this episode is that it demonstrated in real-time the ideals that many people are abandoning.
College campuses are far from the only problem here. In America, during the first two months of the Israel-Hamas war, there were 905 rallies including antisemitic rhetoric, expressions of support for terrorism against the State of Israel, or so-called anti-Zionism.6
This equates to 15 rallies per day, made up of large crowds that call for the extermination of Jews, that cheer the campaign of sadistic violence and systematic rape by Hamas — and demand more of it.
Think about how might be perceived by an outsider: a society with global influence and permeation that is completely losing its mind.
The Mossad: Satirical, Yet Awesome on X
John Podhoretz on X
“An Antisemitic Occupation of Harvard’s Widener Library.” Wall Street Journal.
Colin Wright on X
“Ivy League Exodus.” Tablet.
“ADL Reports Unprecedented Rise in Antisemitic Incidents Post-Oct. 7.” ADL.