Jews cannot fight antisemitism in academia alone

Jews cannot fight antisemitism in academia alone

Princeton University in New Jersey. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Asher Stern

In academia, a space once reserved for critical thinking and open dialogue, a disconcerting trend has emerged: The rise of antisemitism disguised as scholarly discourse. Academic institutions meant to encourage diversity and a free exchange of ideas are witnessing a troubling surge in hostility towards Jewish and Zionist students, faculty, speakers and ideas.

Examples of this unchecked behavior abound, such as calls for an intifada at the University of Michigan, an antisemitic commencement speech at CUNY School of Law and even exclusionary practices like denying Zionist speakers a platform at UC Berkeley-sponsored student clubs.

These incidents have all faced a similar reaction: An uproar in the Jewish community and nothing much beyond that.

This plague has reached as far as Princeton University, with the inclusion of Professor Jasbir Puar’s book The Right to Maim in the 2023-24 course syllabus. The Right to Maim promotes the antisemitic blood libel that Israel intentionally maims Palestinians and harvests their organs.

This book, while ostensibly a scholarly endeavor, sidesteps objective analysis and ventures into the realm of Jew-hating conspiracy theories, thus fostering an environment of hatred against Jewish and Zionist students and staff.

The assertion that Israel intentionally seeks to “harvest” or create a “mass debilitation of Palestinian bodies” is not only unsubstantiated but also deeply offensive and dangerous. As an echo of the infamous blood libel that falsely accused Jews of using Christian children’s blood for ritualistic purposes, it is a trope with a long history of fueling hatred and violence against Jewish communities.

Princeton University prides itself on its commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive academic environment, as enshrined in its “Rights, Rules and Responsibilities” charter. This charter explicitly states that the university’s mission includes promoting “a respectful and inclusive learning environment for all members.” At the moment, this appears to mean respect and inclusion for everyone except Jewish students and faculty.

While academia should promote truth and critical thinking, presenting works like The Right to Maim as legitimate scholarship sacrifices intellectual rigor for sensationalism. Academic freedom must allow diverse perspectives, but it should not promote hateful stereotypes.

Once claims such as these are given the imprimatur of institutions like Princeton, they are validated and become more prevalent in the public and academic discourse. Thus, growing antisemitism in academia has far-reaching implications. It normalizes hatred, creates an unsafe atmosphere and sets a dangerous precedent for discriminatory behavior—not only in academia but in society at large.

The late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks once said: “Jews cannot fight antisemitism alone. The victim cannot cure the crime. The hated cannot cure the hate. It would be the greatest mistake for Jews to believe that they can fight it alone.”

Combating this trend requires unity among minorities. We must learn that we cannot stand alone against the tide of hatred. We require allies in the fight. By doing more than raising our voices in the echo chambers and by reaching out to partners, we become stronger. 

We must also remember that Jews aren’t the only targets of hatred. Just as we stand strong against antisemitism, we ought to stand strong beside our allies against any form of hate. Education and empathy bridge gaps in knowledge, nurturing a spirit of inclusivity needed to combat such hatred effectively.

As the world becomes more interconnected and the dissemination of knowledge accelerates, academia’s role in shaping future generations’ understanding of complex issues becomes increasingly significant. This makes the fight against antisemitism in academia even more important.

By identifying and addressing the dangers of antisemitism in academia, we can collectively safeguard the sanctity of education and ensure that our institutions remain places of enlightenment and progress rather than breeding grounds for hatred and bigotry.

Source: JNS