"Anti-Semitism" on campus

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Sep 30 13:09:33 MDT 2002

A rather detailed but superficial account of "anti-Semitism" on campus.
Apparently, while snooping around the bathroom stalls in our building,
Columbia Teachers College Dean Arthur Levine missed my graffiti which is
neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Islamic:

Here I lie in stinky vapor,
Because some bastard stole the toilet paper,
Shall I lie, or shall I linger,
Or shall I be forced to use my finger.


Chronicles of Higher Education, October 4, 2002

A Surge of Anti-Semitism or McCarthyism? Harvard president's speech and a
new Web site stir debate on bigotry and free expression


It's unlikely that any of those in the packed sanctuary on Harvard
University's campus expected the words of Lawrence H. Summers to cause such
a stir. Most of those in attendance simply wanted to hear the university's
president's annual morning-prayers address.

But what Mr. Summers said that morning last month has been heard far beyond
the walls of the Memorial Church. He warned of an "upturn in anti-Semitism"
around the world, citing the painting of swastikas on Jewish memorials and
the burning of synagogues in Europe.

It was his criticism of some in academe, however, that attracted the most
attention. In particular, he said, those who demand that colleges divest
their stock in companies that do business in Israel are taking an action
that is "anti-Semitic in effect, if not intent."

These academics include 71 Harvard professors who, along with 56 at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have signed a petition asking the
two universities to take such a step with their holdings, because of what
the petition calls "human-rights abuses against Palestinians at the hands
of the Israeli government."

Some have praised Mr. Summers for saying aloud what many academics have
been thinking. But many others have accused him of attempting to stifle
debate on an important issue, and of unfairly labeling as bigoted many
professors on Harvard's campus and elsewhere.

The timing of the controversy coincided with the creation of a Web site
that asks students to report professors they believe are biased against
Israel, and then posts "dossiers" on them so their actions can be
"monitored." The site's tactics have been called blacklisting by some
faculty members.

At a time of bitter debate over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and talk
of war with Iraq, many scholars suggest that the Summers speech and the Web
site hinder academic freedom. Can professors express their opinions --
whether in their writing, in the classroom, or on a petition -- in tense
times without acquiring an unwanted label? Supporters of Mr. Summers and
the Web site, meanwhile, say that people who are pushing hateful or
inaccurate ideas are trying to hide behind academic freedom.

An Unexpected Opinion

Mr. Summers caught almost everyone at Harvard by surprise with his speech.
For Alan M. Dershowitz, a professor of law at Harvard and an outspoken
defender of Israel, the surprise was a pleasant one. He congratulated Mr.
Summers for "saying it like it is." And he issued a challenge in the
Harvard Crimson to debate any of the professors who had signed the
divestiture petition, which he called "a form of anti-Semitism." He added,
"There is no other rational basis why a university would want to divest
from Israel but not from Jordan or from China. ... Singling out the Jewish
nation for this kind of de-legitimization is bigotry."

Ken Nakayama was among those caught off-guard by the speech, but for a very
different reason. The professor of psychology at Harvard helped create the
petition. "It is upsetting, because it is the president of the most
important university in the United States, and one would hope he would have
a more balanced view about the free exchange of ideas, rather than
questioning the motives [of those who signed the petition] and linking them
in a vague way with terrorists and anti-Semites," Mr. Nakayama says.

No faculty member has asked to have his or her name removed from the
petition since the address, Mr. Nakayama says. In fact, he says, he has
received e-mail messages from several professors asking whether they can
add their signatures. The speech also has put a media spotlight on similar
petitions, which are circulating at about 50 colleges. Over the past few
months, the movement seemed to have lost its momentum. In fact, a petition
against divestiture was signed by 439 Harvard professors and 143 MIT
professors, far more than those on the opposing petition. Mr. Summers had
previously said there would be no divestiture of Israel-related stocks at
Harvard -- and no college appears to be moving in the direction of divestiture.

When Mr. Dershowitz called for a debate with pro-divestiture professors, he
singled out Paul D. Hanson, a professor of divinity and Near Eastern
languages and civilizations. Mr. Hanson, who is master of Winthrop House, a
dormitory at Harvard, has declined the invitation. Some Jewish students who
live in Winthrop House have said that his support of the petition makes
them uncomfortable.

While Mr. Hanson continues to support divestiture, he now says he wishes
that the petition had made clear that Israel is not the only party at
fault. "I've met with dozens of our Jewish students to discuss my views on
the matter," he says. "Misperceptions resulted, and I regret that."

As for the president's comments, Mr. Hanson says Mr. Summers "certainly has
a right to speak out when he perceives the ugly head of anti-Semitism."
But, the professor adds, "it's really wrong to utilize terms such as
anti-Semitism in such a loose manner."

Some faculty members who didn't sign the petition still objected to Mr.
Summers's speech. Marc Hauser, a professor of psychology, says he was
"saddened and disconcerted" by the president's implication that those who
signed the petition are anti-Semitic. "I thought that the conflation of the
two issues was inappropriate, and I hope Larry Summers will apologize for
his comments," he says. Mr. Hauser adds that he doesn't take seriously Mr.
Summers's contention that he was speaking as a "concerned member of our
community" and not as president of the university: "That's like George W.
Bush saying, 'Oh, this is off the record.'"

Is Divestiture Anti-Semitic?

The Harvard president's speech has attracted nationwide attention. An
editorial in The Wall Street Journal applauded him for speaking his mind
with "clarity, precision, and force." Jewish organizations, like Hillel, a
national student group, praised the comments as timely and accurate.
"President Summers is saying, correctly, that hate speech is hate speech
even when it is uttered on a college campus," Richard M. Joel, Hillel's
president, said in written statement.

Other college leaders -- several of them, like Mr. Summers, Jewish --
commended Harvard's president for raising the issue of anti-Semitism. Among
them are Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, president of George Washington
University, who says that while he hasn't seen evidence of increased
anti-Semitism on his campus, it is important to remain alert to signs of
bigotry. "The two heads-up occasions recently are San Francisco State and
Concordia," he says, referring to recent unrest on those campuses.

At San Francisco State University, some students yelled "Death to Jews!"
and "Hitler should have finished the job," while at Montreal's Concordia
University, a speech by Benjamin Netanyahu, former prime minister of
Israel, was canceled after protesters smashed windows in the building where
he was to speak. "Both of them give us reason to pay attention to what
Summers has said, and to be proactive," says Mr. Trachtenberg.

But Mr. Trachtenberg warns against linking divestiture -- which he is
against -- with anti-Semitism: "It is possible to be anti-Israel without
being anti-Semitic. It is also possible to be pro-Israel and not be
particularly pro-Jewish. Politics make strange bedfellows."

Arthur Levine, president of Teachers College of Columbia University, agrees
with Mr. Summers that anti-Semitism appears to be on the rise. Recently,
when visiting a state college in the Northeast, he says, he noticed
graffiti on a men's-room wall that said, "Let's kill the Jews." He said he
looked in several stalls and found other graffiti, both anti-Jewish and
anti-Islamic. (One of the messages said, "Let's kill Osama bin Laden and
everybody who looks like him," according to Mr. Levine.) "The best way I've
found to gauge the climate of a university is to look at the walls of its
men's rooms," he says.

Like Mr. Trachtenberg, however, Mr. Levine was not willing to support Mr.
Summers's contention that those who support divestiture from Israel-related
stocks are anti-Semitic. "I can't go as far as that," he says.

Skewing the Truth?

Professors across the country who support divestiture reacted to the speech
with shock and anger. "I thought [Summers's comments] were preposterous and
quite ludicrous," says Edward Said, a professor of English at Columbia
University, whose advocacy for the Palestinian cause includes years of
service on the Palestine National Council. "It's the classic Zionist ploy
to defame people by identifying criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. It
just ain't so."

Ian S. Lustick, a professor of political science at the University of
Pennsylvania, is against divestiture but nonetheless condemned Mr.
Summers's comments. "I think it's absolutely unfair to think of the
divestment issue as anti-Semitic," he says. "It's crippling to debate, and
it's particularly objectionable for people of responsibility in American
universities to say things that cripple debate."

Mr. Lustick has also been involved in the controversy over the new Web
site, Campus Watch, that lists professors who its creators say are biased
against Israel. He had been listed on the site, but his name was removed
after he complained that his views had been misrepresented. The Web site
claimed that the professor had been critical of Jewish fundamentalism while
ignoring Islamic extremists. In fact, according to Mr. Lustick, he has at
times been critical of both.

He isn't the only scholar accusing the Web site of skewing the truth. Juan
R.I. Cole, a professor of modern Middle Eastern and South Asian history at
the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, is one of the eight professors
currently listed on the site. "I support freedom of speech, and so I'm glad
to be in the company of those other professors, but it's bewildering that
they have put me on this list," he says, noting that he has written little
about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, in fact, calls himself "an
outspoken hawk in the war on terror."

The site also criticizes Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Near East languages
and civilization at the University of Chicago, for dedicating his study of
the Palestine Liberation Organization to "those who gave their lives during
the summer of 1982 ... in defense of the cause of Palestine and the
independence of Lebanon." Actually, the book is dedicated: "To those who
died; to those in Beirut and South Lebanon who survived to face an
uncertain future; and to those dispersed by the war. ..." Mr. Khalidi calls
Campus Watch "a well-financed campaign of black propaganda."

The site was created by Daniel Pipes, who is director of the pro-Israel
think tank Middle East Forum and a columnist for the New York Post. He says
that he has received "hundreds and hundreds of letters" that he calls "very
disagreeable," but that he is not deterred by those who accuse him of
inaccuracy or of McCarthyite tactics. "I'm impervious to insults," Mr.
Pipes says. "The strong reaction suggests we have hit just the right note,
and that we will be effective, ... and Middle East specialists will behave
in a more careful manner."

In one form of backlash, though, some scholars have started "turning
themselves in," so to speak, to the Web site to demonstrate their
solidarity with those already on the list. Mr. Pipes says that he is not
sure whether all of those professors will be listed, but that the site's
organizers "will keep an eye on them." He promises that the list will grow

Rhetoric over Middle East issues has heated up at colleges across the
country. At the State University of New York at New Paltz, a scholar
withdrew from the planning committee of a women's-studies conference
because she objected to one guest's harsh criticism of Israel in a
biographical statement. And the university's administration refused to
support the event after Jewish groups complained that most of the invited
speakers espouse anti-Israel views. Organizers say the conference,
scheduled for October 19, will go on as planned, with money raised from
sources outside the university.

Meanwhile, at San Francisco State University, some of the outright
hostility between the two factions seems to have died down, at least for
now. In May, pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli student groups clashed on the
campus, shoving each other and hurling epithets. The university reprimanded
both groups but doled out harsher punishments to the pro-Palestinian group,
which the administration said had left its designated rally area and
interfered with the pro-Israeli demonstration.

But these days San Francisco State's campus is quiet, according to its
president, Robert A. Corrigan. On the issue of divestiture petitions, he
says, he has heard differing views among faculty members and students. "We
have all been aware of an increase in anti-Israel sentiment, and a lot of
people are reading [the support of a divestiture petition] as having
anti-Semitic sentiments to it," he says. "It's a tough line to draw."

While Mr. Corrigan believes that civility has returned to his campus, he
remains worried that heated rhetoric could easily turn into something worse
again. "As a friend of mine said recently, 'When the bombs start dropping
on Baghdad, things might change significantly.'"

Louis Proyect

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