Jewish World Review Sept. 27, 2002 / 21 Tishrei, 5762
The face of antisemitism
When Lawrence Summers became the president of Harvard last year, not
even his greatest admirers predicted how resolutely he would make the
university's motto -- "Veritas" -- his own. Almost from the day he was
inaugurated, Summers has insisted on speaking unpopular truths: about
the disrespect shown to Americans in uniform, about the rot of grade
inflation in Harvard's classrooms, about the absence of "mainstream
values" among "coastal elites" -- even about the failure of a celebrity
professor like Cornel West to do serious academic work.
Last week, voicing another unpopular truth, Summers spoke out
against the spread of Jew-bashing -- not only in Europe and at UN
conferences, but at American universities.
"There is disturbing evidence of an upturn in antisemitism globally,
and also . . . closer to home," he said on Sept. 17. "Profoundly
anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive
intellectual communities. Serious and thoughtful people are advocating
and taking actions that are antisemitic in their effect if not their
Actually, even antisemitic intent can be found on American campuses
these days. At San Francisco State University, for example,
pro-Palestinian demonstrators recently confronted supporters of Israel
with signs reading "Jews 3D Nazis" and chants of "Hitler should have
finished the job." Earlier this month, anti-Israel rioters at Concordia
University in Montreal smashed windows and hurled furniture to protest a
scheduled speech by Benjamin Netanyahu.
Fortunately, such naked Jew-hatred is still rare in academia. What
Summers had in mind was something less blatant but no less disgraceful.
"Some here at Harvard and some at universities across the country,"
he said, "have called for the university to single out Israel among all
nations as the lone country where it is inappropriate for any part of
the university's endowment to be invested. I hasten to say the
university has categorically rejected this suggestion."
The divestment campaign Summers was referring to demands that Israel
be treated as a pariah, a country so toxic that American universities
shouldn't even own stock in companies that do business there. It is
modeled on the anti-apartheid movement of the 1970s and 1980s, and its
planted axiom is that there is no important moral difference between
Israel -- a free and tolerant democracy at war with dictatorial enemies
bent on genocide -- and the former white-ruled South Africa. That is a
position only a moral idiot could endorse.
Supporters of the divestment effort at Harvard and elsewhere were
quick to condemn Summers for his "McCarthyesque" attack. "This is the
ugliest statement imaginable," fumed John Assad, a neurobiology
professor at Harvard's medical school, "to paint critics as
But Summers didn't "paint critics" as antisemitic or anything else;
he characterized their actions as "antisemitic in their effect." He
was not ascribing base motives to those who support the divestment
campaign. He didn't presume to read their hearts. Rather, he was
pointing out the impact of their behavior. One who supports a campaign
that singles out Israel for demonization and obloquy is taking an
antisemitic action, whether he intends to or not.
Are Israeli policies fair game for criticism? Of course. But it is
not "criticism" to falsely smear Israel as racist -- not when the Arab
world seethes with a hatred of Jews more rabid even than the Nazis'.
It is not "criticism" to portray Israel's lawful presence in Gaza
and the West Bank as an illegal occupation, yet never murmur a word of
objection to China's occupation of Tibet, or Syria's of Lebanon, or
Turkey's of Northern Cyprus, or Russia's of Chechnya.
It is not "criticism" to lay the blame for the violence of the
Middle East at Israel's doorstep while ignoring the immense risks that
Israel has taken and the sacrifices it has made in pursuit of peace with
It is not "criticism" to accuse Israel of apartheid, when it is the
Arab world that preaches "Kill the Jews!" and dances in the street when
terrorists do so.
This is not criticism -- it is calumny. It butchers the truth and
subjects Israel to an outrageous double standard. It abets the cause of
the world's foremost Jew-haters -- people whose explicit goal is the
liquidation of the Jewish state. A professor who signs his name to
something so grotesque is committing an antisemitic act.
"In our own day," Norman Podhoretz once wrote, "Israel has become
the touchstone of attitudes toward the Jewish people, and anti-Zionism
has become the main and most relevant form of antisemitism."
Antisemitism used to express itself in demanding that good Aryans
boycott Jewish shops. Today it demands that good universities boycott
the Jewish state. It may look different on the outside, but it's the
same old poison underneath.
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Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.
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