Viewing collegiate anti-Semitism as new history

Journalism is the first draft of history, they say.

Written fast, with deadlines bearing down on the reporter, those drafts are incomplete at best, deeply flawed at worst.

Then Penn President Liz Magill on the grill

Having been on vacation when the presidents of three elite universities were grilled by congress, I did not write about the first day, or the second day, or the third day, as the story took lefts and rights, turns and detours and dead-ends. 

Journalists covered each tig and jog, without being able to see how the story ends.

Historians, however, have the luxury of writing with the knowledge of how events resolved themselves.

Today, I am an historian, not a journalist. I know the denouement. I don’t have to imperil myself making predictions that might not come true. My role now is to analyze, and explain, what happened and offer my opinion.

The controversy was ignited by the atrocious massacre, rape, torture, and kidnap of Israeli (and other) civilians.

That was followed by the predictable ferocious Israeli response, which was followed by the predictable anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian chants of “genocide” and “cease fire.” 

What was not predictable were the attacks on American Jews, Jewish students, Jewish businesses, and Jewish institutions. This was something new.

All of this led us into a discussion of the limits of free speech.

Let me be clear: Almost every broad claim made by the American Hamas Caucus is a lie. Starting with genocide and colonialism, running through ethnic cleansing, it is all a great, big, fat lie, as I have written in the past.

The chant of, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” is a call for the destruction of Israel which is actually a call for genocide. I’m sure most of the student blockheads chanting it have no idea of its meaning. It is disgusting.

It is also political speech, protected by the First Amendment.

What does that mean?

It means the government is prohibited from interfering with it. It does not mean there might not be other consequences.

That brings us to the congressional hearings examining anti-Semitism on campus, which is an actual concern.

The presidents of Penn, Harvard, and MIT, all were asked to condemn on-campus calls for the genocide of Jews.

First, I don’t think those words were used. What was said was the arguable equivalent of “from the river to the sea.”

Second, even if it were an expression about killing Jews — that is protected speech. God awful, inexcusable, but protected, as long there is no exhortation to action. 

The fumbling presidents — some analysts suggested they were over lawyered — had met before the hearing. Sounding like they were sharing one brain during the hearing, they tried to nuance the question.


Here is the answer they should have given: The anti-Semitic statement is repulsive, it is hateful, it is anti-American, and while I heartily condemn it, I would not prohibit it because it is protected speech. Freedom sometimes contains a bitter pill.

And that is my position, too.

I despise the American Hamas Caucus, most especially the few Jews who are so open-minded their brains fall out, but the answer to lies is telling the truth. 

Once you start down the path to shutting up opinions you don’t like, it’s just a matter of time before the pendulum swings and it is you who are being stifled.

With the academicians, there’s a little rub:  They don’t really believe in free speech. They believe in microaggressions and other Woke crap like safe spaces and speech codes.

Penn finished next to last for free speech in the annual rating by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Only Harvard ranked worse than Penn.

Many people, especially conservatives, have long believed that too many American universities, whose teachers and administrators are overwhelmingly Left, have traded free inquiry and speech for political correctness and pushing progressive politics.

CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria talked about this sea change in higher education in a recent show.

This realization is part of the reason — astonishing tuition is another — higher education has lost its luster for many Americans.

In a way, it is karma that the university presidents got trapped in the snare of speech.

Speech was used by some heavyweight donors to demand the university presidents apologize, and/or be fired. 

That is exercise of speech, but should the wealthy be allowed to dictate? I don’t think so, and the universities so threatened ought to tell them to shove their money where the sun don’t shine.

But they didn’t, and Penn president Liz Magill was ridden out of town on a rail for her shining moment of moral cloudiness while on the congressional grill. 

I have nothing for or against her, I just wonder if professional hari kari was the punishment that fit the crime of stupidity.

Before long — you knew this would happen —  stories were bubbling up, asking if three male executives would have been treated so roughly by designated-villain U.S. Rep Elise Stefanik.

Ah, so Stefanik is a misogynist! Of course. If the race card isn’t handy, reach for the gender card. (I did not see it, but surely someone must have been writing that having women lead three of the top universities in the land must  be the result of DEI.)

I mentioned the race card. How long did it take for Harvard president Claudine Gay to be accused of plagiarism? 

Wow. When this hot mess started, no journalist could have seen this coming, but me, acting now as a historian, it seems inevitable that this story, any story, would have fault lines of gender, race, and class.

So we know what has happened, reams have been written about it, but we also know it ain’t over yet. 

10 thoughts on “Viewing collegiate anti-Semitism as new history”

  1. I don’t know if this statement can be attributed to any one person, but I agree with it: “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.” Yet I find myself struggling with the ‘how’ of enforcement. I.e., who will set the limits, and quis quistodiet ipsos custodes? So as repugnant as the thought of useful idiots marching in support of Hamas here in the US (including, to my astonishment, Jews — whatever happened to NEVER AGAIN!), I want to let the idiots blather, to show the world what a free country we really are. By the same token, those marchers should obey the law: when they block traffic they are trampling on my rights and should be arrested and prosecuted. As for college deans and presidents, a title does not necessarily bring with it smarts; one may have a title and multiple degrees but be unable to find one’s ass with both hands.

  2. Will these universities ever experience longevity of their leaders again? Amy Gutmann survived 18 years knowing what to say and what not to say. Now it seems there will be a merry-go-round of interim leadership roles as walking the woke line becomes a career hazard , as well as the fact that behind the scenes, donors will be driving the train.
    How three people in these leadership roles couldn’t think on their own feet and communicate effectively is of concern or is our society responsible for our continual self-editing to the point our responses result in the Tower of Babel.

  3. When will my Jewish friends stop giving millions of dollars to these WOKE Anti-Israel Universities. When will my Jewish friends vote for the best candidate rather than voting for the straight Democratic ticket. Things won’t change unless things change.

  4. Very clear and concise piece, Stu! You simply cannot have “limited” free speech. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition. Your response to Sefanik would have been SPOT-ON. I have a t-shirt that reads “We the people means everyone.” It is my favorite shirt.

  5. Could not have said it better myself. The thought police drove me nuts when I taught at Penn — and that was over 23 years ago.

  6. Well written and the comments so far are spot on. I always say that either accept all offensive speech or of you are going to censor, do it with a consistent standard (which is very difficult to define). The real outrage at the universities allowing this free speech in question stems from all the previous policing of much more benign things, including some references in Stu’s article. I will also add an example like Condi Rice not being allowed to speak at Princeton.

    My suggestion is to stop all the thought-policing.

  7. Insightful as always. I’ve known for some time through my law practice that most college and university presidents are simply another type of politicians. Candidates recirculate from a limited universe reccomended by a small group of consultants. Retreads. What was truly outstanding was with the benefit of coaching by expensive lawyers, these three flunked a jr high civics question. And to think that Magill likely gets severance and is able to return to the law school. She should return as a paying student as she obviously did not learn anything the first time around. Truly pathetic. !!

  8. Somewhere along the line the education community has failed. It appears that the young fools who are demonstrating for Hamas never learned their history. They didn’t learn about the Holocaust, the second World War is ancient history to them just as the first World War was to me. There is no empathy for the survivors and their descendants. The presidents of the universities probably had the same education.

    While I hoped to never see the American antisemitism we’re seeing today, I can’t say it surprises me a lot. Humans are very clannish beings; loyalty and support goes to immediate family first, then extended families, then organizations (the NRA, the KKK, the Lions Club, the Masons, the high school sports team, etc.) and maybe the local, state government and the nation. If you’re not one of us, you either don’t matter or you’re one of them and we know they’re no good. Perhaps we’re not as different from the rest of the world as we think. Every group needs some other group to, at best, look down on, or at worst, to hate.

Comments are closed.