Jewish World Review May 29, 2002 / 18 Sivan, 5762

How Harvard and M.I.T. professors are planting a seed of malevolence

Critics Rev Up Antagonism Toward the Only Minority
It's Trendy to Denigrate, Warns Ruth Wisse | Earlier this month at San Francisco State University, a crowd of Palestinians and their supporters threatened to kill Jewish student demonstrators if they did not "go back to Russia." By these standards, the petition drawn up by a group of professors from Harvard and MIT is a paltry thing.

The signatories merely call on the US government to halt military aid and arms sales to Israel, and on their two universities to divest from Israel and from US companies that sell arms to Israel until certain conditions are met. Nary a threat of physical violence against the Jews or (as yet) against the universities should they fail to accede to these wishes. Brutality like so much else at these elite schools is gloved in language of academic refinement.

Yet the divestment petition is corrupt and cowardly in ways that a mob assault is not. Corrupt because it lays out its demands with the wiliness of a fox stalking the hens. The petition requires that Israel comply with certain resolutions of the United Nations-the terms of which it distorts to say what those resolutions do not mean. The signatories declare themselves "appalled by the human rights abuses against Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli government," by Jewish "colonization" of Palestinian territory, and by other putative Israeli abuses. They thereby co-opt the potent language of justice and rights to accuse the Jews of precisely the crimes committed against them by Arab despots.

How very clever to call upon Israel to obey this or that resolution of the United Nations when Arabs states remain in perpetual defiance of the entire UN Charter! The Charter is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all members; members are to practice tolerance and live together in peace and settle their disputes by peaceful means. Yet when flouting the UN voted the partition of Palestine in 1947 by a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly, laying the ground for the establishment of Israel, the Arabs attacked the new state, flouting the resolution--and therefore the very basis of participation in the UN.

The preposterous demographic and political asymmetry between the Arab-Muslim states and the sole Jewish country has allowed the Arabs to wage against Israel the longest, most lop-sided war in modern history. The failure of the UN to expel the Arab countries until they accepted its basic principles turned the potential Family of Nations into a Roman coliseum with Israel in the pit. Now comes a team of faculty from Harvard-MIT to join the circus, attempting to make Israel pay, literally, for the aggression against it.

Boycott is one of many weapons that Arab leaders have used against Israel in the past. The Harvard and MIT petitioners urging divestment from Israel are merely trying to extend the Arab boycott to Cambridge, MA. Defamation is another tactic that the Arabs use to excellent advantage. The UN resolution of 1975 sponsored by the Arab and then- Communist blocs labeled Zionism racist--when it was actually Arab racism that denied the Jews their homeland. Harvard and MIT petitioners use this same tactic of inversion to blame Israel for the consequences of the perpetual Arab war against it.

The enemies of Israel in the Middle East have acquired a new advance team on the banks of the Charles.

In recognition of the petition's malice, a group of Harvard and MIT faculty organized a counter petition (on website to oppose divestment and to condemn the "one-sided attempt to delegitimize Israel":

We are appalled that, in response to the tragic situation in the Middle East, our colleagues should choose to associate their names with a distorted position that ignores the history of the last few years and revives rhetoric long discredited by its use among extremists as code for the destruction of the Jewish state.

The counter petition will no doubt garner many more names than the call for divestment and boycott. And this Friday, Lawrence Summers, President of Harvard, announced that the university would not divest.

Yet the original signatories will have planted a seed of malevolence in the expectation that it will sprout. In the climate of public opinion since 9/11, the petition is cowardly as well as corrupt: its ideological basis is anti-Americanism, which is no longer quite accepted on campuses and must therefore be prosecuted by other means. The most prominent signatories are noted for their long-standing agitation against the so-called crimes of American capitalism, against US "colonization" of third world countries, against putative American abuse of human rights. Since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon brought the highest civilian toll in American history, America's ideological critics are still finding it tough to promote Al Queda as effectively as they once did Fidel Castro or Ho Chi Minh. Not that it isn't being tried.

Just the other day, in one of Harvard's most elegant conference rooms I heard a Harvard alumna, now a professor herself, mock America for misrepresenting the brave fighter Osama Bin Laden as a religious fanatic. Some professors routinely cite the misdeeds of "the world's self-proclaimed superpower" as the reason for Islamist "rage." Yet as long as most Americans are still smarting from the blow against their country, it is much safer to condemn imperfect democracy by prosecuting Israel rather than the US administration.

So the internal critics of the United States rev up antagonism toward the haven of the Jews, the only minority on campus it is trendy to denigrate. They do this in the language of human rights, but on behalf of autocrats and dictators whose political priorities for over half a century have been the repression of their own people and the destruction of the Jewish State.

Some members of the faculty of Harvard and MIT have used the great privilege of free speech to form a "Campus Coalition for Tyranny." What an unsightly feather in the cap of the Ivy League!

Ruth Wisse is a professor of Yiddish literature and comparative literature at Harvard University. Comment by clicking here.


© 2002, Ruth Wisse. A version of this column first appeared in The New York Sun