Scary, Astonishing, as University Presidents Heap Credence on Calls to Eliminate Jews
It's been a while. This is my first post since the October 7th attack and the Israel-Hamas War. Yesterday's testimony by presidents of Harvard, MIT and Penn gives a go-ahead to threats on Jews.
The nation yesterday witnessed three of the nation’s leading educators testify to Congress that talk of Jewish genocide can be acceptable.
It was a gross, despicable, and appalling display of evil anti-semitism. The presidents of Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Pennsylvania were glib. They waffled, dodged, and weaved in their spineless certainty that anti-semitic attacks are okay — in context, that’s what they said.
As a Jew, this was frightening to listen and watch. Their testimony to the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce was beyond disappointing.
It was terribly revealing about the state of thought and opinion today on some of the best campuses in the United States. We can debate on most days if universities are out of touch with the mainstream of America. On Tuesday, there was no doubt of this.
Watch this five-minute clip from the hearing prepared by the staff of the chief interlocutor, Rep. Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York.
What does it mean for American Jews that fealty to identity politics on some of our most laudable campuses has come to this?
Why are these presidents smirking and fidgeting? They should be angry and direct! They should be in charge, not blithering supplicants.
How many adjectives can I throw at this display of an academic wrong-headed mess? Ugly. Appalling. Anti-semitic. Tone deaf. Abusive. Reprehensible. Irresponsible. Unforgivable. Horrible. Fomenting. Disgusting. Faithlessness. Arrogant.
I could go on.
One of the central points: These university presidents think it’s okay to allow calls on campus for the genocide of Jews, so long as it does not induce any action. I wonder if this is how it felt in Germany after Adolf Hitler was elected chancellor in 1933.
Disbelief. Anxiety. Concern. Fear.
These presidents should have grown a backbone. They should be in no uncertain terms denouncing notions of genocide and something that feels like the prelude to pogroms. They should know what is right and what is wrong. They should take a stand. Instead, they dance on the head of a pin. They fear offending some people or some groups. Who invokes this fear? Faculty? Alumni? Some sets of donors? Muslims? Palestinians? Misguided and ignorant young adults shouting “Intifada Now!” without knowing of what they speak? The same youth who also shout “from the river to the sea?” Is it grant-making organizations? Government agencies?
To whom are these presidents knuckling under?
Or is it a philosophy? Is it a perversity of diversity, inclusion, and equity? Are calls for ejection of Jews acceptable and tolerable if the inevitable violence on campus results in every identity group being attacked equally? Should alumni follow suit in the cities and towns where they live?
Should Harvard Yard be soon reflected in my town green?
Astonishing. Again, unforgivable. Irrational. Strange. Un-American.
This is not about policy differences over Israel’s conduct of its war of response to Hamas’ provocation. No, this is about straight-up attacks on Jews for being Jews.
The most highly educated young adults in America, on college campuses coast to coast, have been calling for Jews to be dispatched, to be eliminated. That’s scary.
I’m happy to read that today, all three presidents are under withering attack.
Mostly from CNN, I learn these details:
Partisanship not a factor. Rep. Stefanik is a Republican. Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro is a Democrat. From CNN: “… Shapiro, speaking outside a falafel shop in Philadelphia that had been targeted by protesters, called Penn President Liz Magill’s statements ‘unacceptable’ and ‘shameful.’” (Shameful is a good adjective I should have used in my list above.) “Shapiro called for the UPenn board of trustees to meet and discuss whether Magill’s testimony represents the values of the university and board.” Damn right! As far as I can see, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey, also a Democrat, has not followed Shapiro’s lead and called for similar board deliberations at Harvard and MIT. She should do so immediately. For a more complete account, see The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Corporate America says “despicable.” “Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a post on X he was ‘ashamed’ to hear the testimony, calling it ‘one of the most despicable moments in the history of US academia.’” Also, “David Weild, a former chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Market, said there should be no wavering when students feel threatened. ‘I can’t believe we are having this conversation in the US Congress,’ Weild said in a post on LinkedIn. ‘I’m a Christian. Shut the hate speech down on all sides. People deserve to feel and be safe.’”
Penn billionaire backer disillusioned. “Private equity billionaire Marc Rowan wrote a message to Penn trustees saying he heard from hundreds of alumni, parents and leaders who were shocked by the hearing, including at least one who hoped the hearing was fake. ‘Unfortunately, this is not fake and the University is suffering tremendous reputational damage,’ Rowan wrote in the message, obtained by CNN. ‘How much damage to our reputation are we willing to accept?’”
Hedge fund billionaire intensely critical. “Hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman called for the presidents of Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania to ‘resign in disgrace,’ citing disgust with their testimony. ‘Throughout the hearing, the three behaved like hostile witnesses,’ Ackman wrote in a post on X, ‘exhibiting a profound disdain for the Congress with their smiles and smirks, and their outright refusal to answer basic questions with a yes or no answer.’ Ackman, a Harvard graduate who has been a vocal critic of how universities have addressed antisemitism, posted a clip from the exchange at the hearing where the university leaders were asked about calls for the genocide of Jews. ‘They must all resign in disgrace. If a CEO of one of our companies gave a similar answer, he or she would be toast within the hour,’ Ackman said on X. ‘The answers they gave reflect the profound moral bankruptcy of Presidents [Claudine] Gay [of Harvard], Magill and [Sally] Kornbluth [of MIT].’”
Stefanik, a Harvard graduate, says not to wait for resignations. Stefanik issued a news release late today saying: “… [W]hat was probably the most tragic aspect of the hearing to me was there were a number of Jewish students from those schools in the audience sitting behind them, and to watch, just the fear, as they’re listening to the presidents of these universities fail to answer a basic question of moral clarity, it was abysmal. They don’t deserve the dignity of resigning. They need to be fired.” [Boldfaced italics emphasis added.]
I am, of course, compelled to examine the statements by the president of my alma mater, Vincent Price — yes, that’s his name — of Duke University. President Price’s statements strike me as milquetoast, plebeian, and utterly non-surprising. But not offensive or waffling. Just ordinary. Under the circumstances, this is an advancement! Interestingly, he is also professor of public opinion and also former provost at Penn.
I also checked the news and opinion pages of Duke independent daily student newspaper, The Chronicle. I found the controversy at Duke has been limited and genteel compared to other campuses. Thank Heavens. Not every campus is a wreck.
Let me take a moment now to bring you up to speed about me.
It’s been a while since I have posted. Two months to be precise.
I’ve been offline and restricting my daily news intake since the gruesome and awful Hamas attack on Israel of October 7th.
As a Jew and incidentally as a two-time visitor to Israel, I feel this attack in my core.
I have been in the Negev Desert on the road between Tel Aviv and Be’er Sheba that runs several miles east of the kibbutzim that were struck so mercilessly by Hamas. So many people killed. So many hostages. So much war induced. Tragedy inflicted.
It happens that earlier this year, I took an Ancestry DNA test. I never doubted it, but still it was striking to see the results: I am 100% Ashkenazi Jewish. This is personal.
At this point, here’s a summary of what I should have opined during the past two months:
Israel did not incite the attack from Hamas. But we now know that, similar to the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Israel possessed ample intelligence to know some kind of Hamas attack was being prepared. Little was done with the intelligence.
Israel had every right to fight back.
The hostages needed and need to be rescued.
Hamas must be destroyed. Hamas integrated its leadership locations into the fabric and fiber of the Gaza Strip and Gaza City, including hospitals. Ugly as it is, Hamas made civilian casualties in Gaza a certainty.
The pauses for hostages exchanged of Israeli-held Palestinians went reasonably well. But that doesn’t mean a cease-fire is yet warranted. Israel has more work to do to protect itself.
Israel needs relations — formal diplomatic or informal non-diplomatic — with Saudi Arabia to encourage development of a two-state solution to the Palestinian question. How will this work? As my father would answer, “Yes.”
This post was revised about 90 minutes after its first publication. No new information was added. But the sections were reordered for better readibility and impact.