Ivy League Presidents Were Defending Bullying Against Jews, not Speech

This blatant discrimination is the inevitable result of progressive, anti-West DEI bureaucracies that have permeated academia and are anything but diverse and inclusive.
December 10, 2023
(L-R) Dr. Claudine Gay, President of Harvard University, Liz Magill, President of University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Pamela Nadell, Professor of History and Jewish Studies at American University, and Dr. Sally Kornbluth, President of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

When Ivy League presidents used the constitutional argument of free speech in their now-infamous Congressional testimony responding to attacks against Jewish students, explaining that it depends on “context,” they conveniently ignored two key aspects of that context.

First, Jews were not complaining about speech; they were complaining about bullying, intimidation and harassment. As David Frum wrote in The Atlantic, “On university campuses and in many other places, anti-Semitic speech regularly crosses the line into threats, intimidation, and outright violence against Jews…progressives who once argued that free speech is violence now claim that violence is free speech.”

The other context they never mentioned is the progressive ideology that has invaded academia. This compels everyone who wants to keep their jobs to toe the party line and discriminate against anything that doesn’t fit that ideology. That’s why the presidents squirmed and equivocated during their testimony: they knew the intimidation against Jewish students came not from the right but from the popular progressive left. They tried to have it both ways, but when push came to shove, they couldn’t bring themselves to offend the ideology that runs their show.

It would have been too embarrassing to admit that colleges rarely invoke free speech for conservative speakers when progressive mobs threaten them and shout them down, or that they would never tolerate racist speech from the right. So, when they suddenly invoked free speech to explain away the attacks on Jews, the double standard became too obvious.

Ironically, they ran into another buzz saw—the “enough is enough” crowd of Jewish donors and activists who have had it with the hypocrisy. They are seeing terrified Jewish students after 1200 Jews were murdered on October 7 and saying: This is our breaking point. Progressive shmagressive. Now we take the gloves off.

They’re not alone. The outrage in the wake of the congressional debacle has been widespread. Even Democrats, including the governor of Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro, were appalled at the failure to protect Jewish students. The fallout began with the resignation of Liz Magill, president of the University of Pennsylvania. But resignations from the top will hardly be enough. The problem is endemic. It goes much deeper than a president. When an institutional culture is impregnated with such blatant bias, there’s only so much any president can do.

This blatant discrimination is the inevitable result of progressive, anti-West bureaucracies like Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) departments that have permeated academia and are anything but diverse and inclusive.

“The real issue on campuses isn’t antisemitism but the anti-Western ethos that has colonized large swaths of the curriculum,” Heather Mac Donald wrote in The Wall Street Journal. “Elite schools once disdained Jews because they were seen as outsiders to Western civilization. Now they are reviled as that civilization’s very embodiment.”

The rise in brazen attacks against Jewish students shouldn’t surprise us. It’s been brewing for a long time in the classrooms themselves.

“Students explain that their hatreds come from what they learn in class, that the West is built on white supremacism and oppression,” Mac Donald writes. “Israel is cast as the Western settler-colonialist oppressor par excellence.”

Philanthropist Bill Ackman, who has been a leader in the movement against the ideological bias in college culture, summarized it succinctly in a Dec. 3 letter to Harvard President Claudine Gay. “The problems at Harvard are clearly not just about Jews and Israel,” he wrote. “Harvard also discriminates against Asians and ‘straight white males.’” Harvard’s diversity office, he added, “is an important culprit in this discrimination on campus as it sees the world in a framework of oppressors and the oppressed, where the oppressor class includes white males, Asians, Jews and other people perceived to be successful and powerful.”

The anti-West progressive poison behind the Jew hatred, in short, runs wide and deep. It’s engrained in every tentacle of academia. It won’t be rooted out overnight.

But there’s a silver lining—the Jewish revulsion to the poison also runs deep. There’s a certain we-don’t-give-a-hoot-anymore-what-you-think aspect to the attitude and the activism; a sobering realization that the Jew-hating bullies are not advancing arguments or looking for vigorous debates. Just as they gleefully tear down posters of Jewish hostages, they are out to crush Jews, not simply oppose them.

They took the gloves off a long time before the Jews finally decided to.

Commenting on the unraveling of campus speech, especially the hate speech directed at Jews, Frum of The Atlantic observes that “Speech [today] is not like a market. It’s like a battle. The goal is not to enlighten, but to dominate. Adversaries must be overawed, intimidated, and silenced.”

After the savage massacre of October 7, followed by the bewildering rise in Jew hatred, a great number of Jewish activists in America have decided they will no longer be intimidated by the progressive set. Whether it’s to fight the harassment, the double standard, the hypocrisy of DEI or the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel indoctrination that passes for education, these influential voices are putting campus power players on notice.

They will know they’re having an impact if the spoiled progressives who have poisoned academia continue to freak out.

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