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Virulent Antisemitism and the Rot at Our Universities

Antisemitism on university campuses exposes expresses a centuries-old hatred that challenges the signal achievements of Western civilization.

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Virulent Antisemitism and the Rot at Our Universities

It is time for blunt talk. Jewish students at universities are being harassed and threatened in unprecedented numbers, with disturbing vitriol. That’s more than a danger for those students. It is a profound danger for a liberal, tolerant democracy. It is time to call it out and oppose it. It’s time to end it.

The attacks and violent demonstrations shine a particularly harsh light on the sorry state of higher education. The public has watched mass demonstrations against Israel on campus after campus. The demonstrators never mention the victims of the Hamas massacres, never condemn the terrorists, and often go beyond their support for innocent Palestinians to cheer Hamas.

University leaders, who postured on every fashionable issue, have responded with bland, spineless statements. It’s no surprise that parents are rethinking which universities their children should attend, and major donors are doubting whether universities are worthy of their support.

For Jewish students, these threats are real. They face harassment, intimidation, and bullying. The situation has been deteriorating for years, but the scale and ferocity of the harassment rose dramatically after Hamas launched its terror attack.

When some brave students have spoken out in Israel’s defense, they have faced the jackboots of campus bullies. Instead of protecting those students, universities have abandoned their fundamental duty to ensure a safe environment and promote open discourse about serious issues. The situation is most toxic at elite universities and schools in major cities, where anti-Israeli students are reinforced by angry local activists.


It is too mild to say, “This is the gravest, most antisemitic environment Jewish students have faced in recent years.” It’s worse than that. This is the most hostile environment Jewish students have ever faced in America.

Never before have Jewish students been subjected to this kind of venom simply for their heritage. True, their admission was limited by quotas until the mid-1960s. True, they were denied membership in fraternities and sororities and routinely excluded from the faculty. But they were never subjected to this kind of raw hatred. As the Dean of Berkeley’s law school, Erwin Chemerinsky, a man of the left, put it, “Nothing has prepared me for the antisemitism I see on college campuses now.”

This open hatred puts the lie to three oft-told “justifications” for violence and intimidation on campus.

  • It is just aimed at Israel, not at Jews.
  • It is just aimed at creating a Palestinian state, not eliminating the Jewish one.
  • It is just aimed at Israel’s response to the Hamas attacks.

None of those are true.

First, although the anger is focused on Israeli students and faculty, the evidence is overwhelming that it is directed at all Jews. There are countless examples. More on them later.

The second lie is that these anti-Israel protests merely seek to establish a Palestinian state so they can live in harmony, or at least cold peace, with Israel.


There are two serious problems with that claim. One is that a Palestinian state with full sovereignty would almost certainly form alliances with Israel’s most lethal enemies, who would supply them with weapons, funds, intelligence, and training and perhaps establish military bases within a few miles of Israeli cities. That ominous prospect puts sharp limits on Israel’s willingness to cede full control to any Palestinian state.

As for a “two-state solution,” that aspiration is true for some, including President Biden, but it is not true for militants or their fellow travelers on campus and beyond. Their actual, stated goal is the slogan repeated at all demonstrations, “Palestine shall be free, from the river to the sea.” A nation stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean would completely eliminate Israel.

That’s hardly a new goal. Arab and Muslim rejectionists have demanded it since the Jewish state was founded in 1948. Hamas proclaims it in its charter. So do all Islamist organizations and many Muslim countries. They refuse to use Israel’s name, calling it “the Zionist entity.” Hamas’ flag makes the same point visually. Its map of Palestine covers all of Israel. Yet students constantly chant this slogan out of malice or ignorance. What they are openly proposing is a “final solution” for the Jewish state.

The third lie is that these protests are entirely concerned with Israel’s response to the Hamas attacks. Israel’s military response has certainly intensified the protests, which will grow as the fighting escalates. But the protests began before any Israeli response. They began while Hamas was still marauding through villages, killing innocents, raping women, and taking hostages. Although these early protests merely claimed to support Palestine, many also celebrated the terrorists and spewed the vilest hate at Israel and America.

A credulous mainstream media perpetuated all three lies. Some journalists probably believed them. Others didn’t bother checking because the false “facts” confirmed their worldview and advanced their political goals.


The most obvious, despicable, and consequential of these media lies was that “Israel’s military killed up to 500 innocent people in an attack on a Gaza hospital.” The main problems with that story are that some of it never happened, and the rest was a vast exaggeration.

Why did major media sources say it did? Because Hamas said so, and they believed it. The headlines did more than repeat the lie. They screamed it. The journalists and their editors failed in their basic duty to check the facts.

From the outset, Hamas knew the story was a wild exaggeration. After all, they spun it up and spread it, cynically, because it aided their cause. Israel’s communication officials should have responded quickly and effectively (they didn’t) since they knew almost immediately that the story was baseless. It was a misfire by local Islamic terrorists, backed by Iran. That conclusion was supported by audio of terrorists talking about the misfire. About 30% of their rockets fail and kill their own people.

Israel responded too slowly to these deliberate lies because their communications specialists were trying to verify the information amid the fog of war. Their due diligence was not replicated by Western media, the Arab-Muslim street, regional political leaders, or pro-Palestinian protesters on college campuses and the streets of Europe and North America. All of them embraced the Hamas lie because it confirmed their prejudices and advanced their cause.

Left-wing groups avoided questioning the lie for one additional reason. They are now tightly aligned with the hate-Israel movement and want to sustain their coalition with militant Muslims. It gives both groups more clout. Its most visible representation is “the Squad” in Congress. It also dominates campus politics. Pro-Israel students encounter this belligerent coalition every day.


The lies about the hospital bombing have the same DNA as the “blood libels” leveled against Jews since the Middle Ages – throwing babies down wells, making Passover matzos out of Christian blood, and on and on. They were tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury. The fury was directed at Jews. It still is. The latest libel ignited massive protests across the Middle East and Europe and led Arab leaders to cancel their scheduled meetings with President Biden. Its resurgence in the West is a terrible sign for our democracy.

Harrowing stories from universities underscore the gravity and pervasiveness of this aggressive anti-Israel movement and its inexorable morphing into antisemitism. We have learned, for example, of Jewish students locking themselves in a library on a Manhattan campus, trying to protect themselves from anti-Israel protesters pounding on the doors.

We have seen countless videos of pro-Palestinian students shouting down peaceful Jewish protests. We’ve read vile social media posts from faculty calling Jews “pigs” and “excrement,” beyond the usual false charges of “apartheid” and “settler colonialism.”

At Cornell, horrific, antisemitic messages were posted on the campus message board. One, cited by the student newspaper, bragged it was “gonna shoot up 104 West,” the address of Cornell’s Center for Jewish Living. It added, “Allahu akbar! From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free! Glory to Hamas! Liberation by any means necessary” (posted October 29, 2023, by “kill jews”). We’ve learned of a Stanford instructor forcing all the Jewish students to sit in a corner, as a “Palestinian exercise.”

We’ve seen the familiar call from ”Students for Justice in Palestine” (SJP) that “Zionism must be dismantled” at all universities. That means expelling all Israeli students and faculty, abolishing study-abroad programs, ending faculty collaboration with Israeli scholars in medicine, science, and high technology, and eliminating all pro-Israel organizations on campus. That will never happen. But it’s the thought that counts.


Some of these disturbing acts are isolated incidents. Many, though, are integral features of broader, antisemitic movements. Together, they have cumulated and taken a toll on Jewish students. They would have a different meaning if they prompted students of goodwill to unite in their condemnation and support of beleaguered Jewish students. That open support has been all too rare.

What is on full display here is more than antisemitism, more even than the moral degradation of our universities. It is a rising, toxic tide of illiberalism, directed first at Israel, then at all Jews, and ultimately at what is most valuable in Western civilization.

That movement germinated from neo-Marxist college faculty, beginning in the humanities, took hold with their students, spread to K-12 education, and won significant financial support from major foundations and leftist donors. That illiberal tide comes with strong support from militant Muslims. It has inundated Europe and is rising in America.

Now is the time to turn it back. The stakes couldn’t be higher. They are the most profound, hard-won values of Western civilization, from free speech and free markets to democratic governance and religious freedom.

Its enemies say they hate Israel. They do, but many of them hate all Jews. They say they love Palestine. They do, but they often go further: They cheer terrorist movements, harass Jewish students, burn flags of Israel and America, parade with maps promising the extinction of Israel, and chant slogans demanding it.


They do all those things. And they won’t stop there. They never do.

This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.

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Peter B. Ritzma Professor Emeritus at | | Website | + posts

Dr. Charles Lipson taught international relations at the University of Chicago, where he was the Peter B. Ritzma Professor in Political Science and the College. His research deals with international cooperation and conflict and with political aspects of the world economy. His most recent book on international relations, Reliable Partners: How Democracies Have Made a Separate Peace, explains one of the most striking features in world politics: why democracies do not fight wars against each other. (Princeton University Press, 2003). Dr. Lipson has also written extensively on international trade, debt, and investment. His book, Standing Guard: Protecting Foreign Capital in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, has been widely praised for combining politics and economics. It is concerned with the problems faced by successful corporations when they operate in difficult political environments around the world.

Professor Lipson's most recent work deals with the problems of forging international cooperation after the Cold War. He is currently writing about the sources of international order in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


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